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Dentalia Shells
These thin, tubular mollusks formed the currency of commerce throughout the Pacific Northwest as long as 3000 years ago. Pre-European civilization is often considered a barter economy, with, for instance, coastal tribes swapping oolichan grease directly for prized Oregon obsidian. Commodity traders, however, could rely on this wampum to close a transaction when interest in the goods was decidedly one-sided. Called hykwa in Chinook jargon, dentalia shells possessed all the necessary attributes of money, being portable, recognizable and durable but rare and desirable enough to foster trade. Being available in a variety of sizes, the tusk-like shells were even divisible into small change. Professional traders are known to have tattooed measuring lines on their forearms as a handy calculator of individual shell values. Only a handful of groups, including the Nuu-chah-nulth in the vicinity of Tofino, possessed dentalia in quantities sufficient enough to make them wealthy. Harvesting the deep water mollusks was no easy undertaking however. From a dugout canoe a long, broom-like apparatus was thrust straight down into the muddy sea bottom then retrieved. With any luck a shell or two would be trapped amongst the stiff twigs at the end of the handle. Dentalia were also ostentatiously displayed as symbols of wealth and power in the form of body adornments. Perhaps most recognizable are the breast plates invariably worn by cheesy Hollywood Indians.
Illustration by Manami Kimura
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08
Feb
2007
argaiv1747
San Juan Islands-Shaw Island E-mail
(6 - user rating)
Written by Brian Grover   
Terrain: Flat
Traffic: Light
Season: Year Round
Distance: 22 km
Access: See section intro, Getting to The San Juan Islands.

At 20 square kilometres, Shaw Island is the smallest, least developed of the San Juans. A general store, a historical society museum and a county campsite comprise the amenities on Shaw Island. The cycling circuit is a mere 22 km of well-paved country roads from which you'll glimpse virgin stands of timber, historic farms and an active commercial salmon fishery. You may even want to scout the beach for agates at South Beach County Park [(206) 468-2580.]

Arrive early at Shaw Landing and head directly for the only campsite on the island. If in need of provisions pause for a moment after disembarking from the ferry. The general store at Shaw Landing is the only place on the island where groceries can be procured. Be forewarned that, since the Little Portion store is operated by a group of Franciscan nuns, it remains closed on Sundays.

To reach the park follow the road around the head of Blind Bay, turning left upon reaching Squaw Bay Road. South Beach County Park, about a kilometre further on, sadly has just 12 tents sites. If you find it full you may wish to do a quick circuit of the island then catch the ferry onward to Orcas Island in the afternoon. Those who crave a certain amount of solitude far from the hurly burly of other more tourist-infested campgrounds will find South Beach County Park a sheer delight however. The south-facing beach, a crescent of fine sand and gravel nearly a kilometre long, winds around the peninsula along the east side of Indian Cove and into Squaw Bay. Enjoy taking long walks, beachcombing and observing the abundant shore birds here as the rest of the foreshore of Shaw Island is off-limits due to the tyranny American real estate law. The shore at the western end of the island is a nature preserve.

Cyclists are limited to exploring the rural nature of inland Shaw Island rather than the maritime features ringing it. From South Beach County Park continue along Squaw Bay Road making a right at Hoffman Cove Road. At the island's principal intersection you'll find the Little Red Schoolhouse which still operates as a one-room school for the children of Shaw Island's 163 year-round residents. Kitty-corner to the historic school a log cabin serves as the island's museum. Visitors are welcome every Monday and Saturday.

Continue peddling north along the Ben Nevis Loop Road turning right where it rejoins Blind Bay Road. If time allows follow Neck Point Road 5 km out and back for more of Shaw Island's pleasant rural landscape. If unable to camp over on Shaw Island follow Blind Bay Road all the way back to the ferry landing. A short detour along Smugglers Cove Road reveals more of the island's foreshore. Smuggling, incidentally, has a long history throughout the San Juan Islands. A myriad of islands and heavy maritime traffic have made eluding interdiction easy. Illegal immigrants from China, wool, whisky and, to this day, British Columbia's fine hemp products, have all found their way into the States from its neighbour to the north via these waters.

bearpaw

 

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