Rugged, Unbroken Wilderness ~ Neah Bay, WA

“…But for us there was no wilderness, nature was not dangerous but hospitable, not forbidding but friendly. Our faith sought the harmony of man with his surroundings; the other sought the dominance of surroundings.  For us, the world was full of beauty; for the other, it was a place to be endured until he went to another world.  But we were wise. We knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard.”  ~  Chief Luther Standing Bear

Neah Bay, home to the Makah Tribe, was to be our last stop on the Olympic Peninsula. Ancestral Makah were highly skilled mariners who traversed the treacherous waters of the Pacific with relative ease, and their tradition as fishermen remains today.  Wanting to learn more about this proud people, our first stop was the Makah Cultural and Research Center.

This small museum is recognized as our nation’s finest tribal museum, with a stately totem pole gracing the entrance, a full-size longhouse replicated, and four cedar dugout canoes displayed.  The finest artifacts are those extracted from an archeological dig in nearby Ozette.  This felt like sacred space to me, so it was not surprising that photography was prohibited.

No photos beyond this point.

Beginning in 1970 and continuing for 11 years, the Makah Tribe and Washington State University collaborated to recover over 55,000 artifacts from Ozette, a village just south of Neah Bay that once served as one of five year-round homes for the Makah.  A tragic mudslide changed all that in the early 20th century when a group of longhouses was entombed, preserving them and their contents for over 500 years.  This center is the sole repository for those findings.

The orientation film we watched included several interviews with local residents, whose passion for maintaining their ancestral traditions was clearly evident.  The last fully fluent Makah speaker died in 2002, but there are still elders who remember something of the language today, and young Makah are working to keep their ancestral language alive.  The center houses the Makah language program used in the schools still today to preserve and teach their native tongue.

For our short stay in Neah Bay we chose to camp at Hobuck Beach Resort, a no-frills campground that is nothing more than a grassy field for dry camping, but it serves its purpose.  The sound of the nearby beach lulled us to sleep at night.

The next morning dawned clear, a perfect day I hoped for viewing Cape Flattery Lighthouse and the rugged coastline.  And if you are lucky, unlike us, puffins may be seen bobbing in the cold waters offshore.   A short hike through fern-draped forest brought us to the furthest northwestern edge of the lower 48, Cape Flattery, with sunny, unobstructed views of untamed coastline and a sole sentinel, Cape Flattery Lighthouse, sitting one-half mile off the cape on Tatoose Island.  First built in 1854 with a 65-foot tower, it is one of the oldest lighthouses in our nation and is now deactivated. Due to its archeological significance and a home for nesting birds, the Makah restrict access to the island.

Don’t be deceived by the façade. Magic happens within.

After reading other blogger posts, I was determined not to leave Neah Bay without a stop at Take Home Fish Company, aka Kimm’s Place.  The thought of melt-in-your-mouth smoked salmon danced in my mind as we pulled up to the curb, kicking my salivary glands into high gear.  I could almost taste the buttery flesh.  But the greeting we received stopped me in my tracks.  They had just sold their last morsels. 😦  We had one more shot tomorrow for this delicacy.

Feeling a bit dejected, we settled instead for lunch at Linda’s Wood-Fired Kitchen, where Terry recognized one of the speakers from the film at the Makah Center the previous day.   He was one of the village artisans, a master at carving totem poles.

The marine layer was determined to join us the next morning as we prepared for our final hike on the Olympic Peninsula.  With swirling fog tendrils reaching out to us through the old-growth forest, we made our way to Shi Shi (pronounced ‘shy shy’) Beach.  An interesting 2-mile hike, with the use of ropes near the end, led to a sandy beach with tumbled sea stacks and roaring surf.  Lingering fog added a mysterious quality to the day.  We continued our hike another two miles down the beach to Point of Arches, where low tide provided views of ochre stars.  Normally we would have stayed longer to play in the tide pools but there was another treasure drawing us back to town.  I was not about to miss our window of opportunity at Kimm’s again.

Pulling up to the ramshackle blue trailer for a second time, we found the salmon still in the smoker, but the proprietor took pity and pulled out everything that was ready. Oh my, this was by far the best salmon we had ever put into our mouths…a perfect ending to our time in Neah Bay.

Next Up: To the Islands

Tidepools, Waterfalls, Moody Beaches ~ Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, encompassing 1441 square miles of the Olympic Peninsula, is known as “a gift from the sea” by its native residents.  It has three distinctly different ecosystems – jagged, glacier-capped mountains, more than 70 miles of rugged Pacific coastline, and majestic stands of old-growth trees and temperate rain forest.

Although we had carved out a month to visit the Olympic Peninsula, time became elusive.  The Pacific Northwest weather can be a fickle gal so staying put awaiting a clear day can quickly find you rushing to catch up to your fleeting schedule.

Leaving South Beach on a clear, cloudless day, we hoped for a clear view of one of the more scenic beaches, Ruby Beach. Beaches on this craggy coastline have as many moods as do we, sometimes bright and clear but other times dark and brooding, laden with fog.  Our initial visit to Ruby Beach was the latter, but I so love all the many moods of these coastal beaches.  Misty, foggy days, a freshness to the wind as if it had been infused with ozone…oh my!  The light mist seemed to heighten smells, enhancing the richness of the sea air.

Mora Campground, just north of La Push was our next stop in Olympic NP.  Like many other national park campgrounds, unless you are packing a tent or pulling a small RV, you may want to seek camping outside the park.  We had scoped out this campground to visit Rialto Beach and hike to the sea-carved arch, Hole-in-the Wall, at low tide.  Two trips to Rialto were needed as our first attempt brought us to an invisible beach of dense fog.  Later that evening she was still a brooding beach but with enough visibility to make our way up to Hole-in-the Wall.  Low tide revealed little interesting sea life but made for a nice three-mile out-and-back walk near sunset.

Bleached driftwood strewn along the beach reminded me of prehistoric bones picked clean by the sea, enhancing the eerie feeling.

Then it was on to the mystical land of vampires and werewolves, thanks to Stephanie Meyer’s successful “Twilight” series.

This sign did the trick. No vampire or werewolf sightings in the area.
This sign did the trick. No vampire or werewolf sightings in the area.

Many travel to the north Olympic Peninsula to retrace the footsteps of some of their favorite “Twilight” characters, the epicenter being Forks and La Push.   Although none of the movies were filmed in either of these small towns, tourists still flock to the area to visit sites such as the Forks High School, where Bella and Edward met, and La Push, where Bella visited her werewolf friend, Jacob.  Click here to see where the movies were filmed.

Forks is one of the region’s logging capitals and Washington’s wettest town, charting 100+ inches of rain per year.

We had read that Second and Third Beaches were both great for tide pooling. As our time was short we chose one, Second Beach, and hit the jackpot at low tide. The area was bursting with ochre sea stars, green sea anemones, and aggregating anemones.

Stepping away from the coast for a few days, we moved east to Sol Duc Hot Springs Campground, where we hiked the six-mile Sol Duc Falls/Lovers’ Lane Loop. The Sol Duc Falls is a segmented waterfall, quite the stunner, and the old-growth forest we hiked was lush.  The Sol Duc River that meanders through the forest serves as a key waterway for coho and chinook salmon.  It is one of the few places where salmon run in every season.  This area is also home to the Sol Duc Hot Springs, which has an interesting Native American legend tied to it.  You can read all about it here.

This forest, like others, had a smell reminiscent of cotton candy, transporting me back to my childhood. Images of sticky smiles, colored pink and blue, danced before me as I dodged tree roots in the path, while the smell of spun sugar teased my memory.

Smoke-filled Lake Crescent

After one night in Sol Duc Valley we were on the move again, stopping at Fairholme Campground on Lake Crescent.  This lovely lake is known for its brilliant teal-colored waters and extraordinary clarity, due to a lack of nitrogen in the lake that inhibits algae growth.  Instruments have recorded depths in excess of 1000′, although many records reflect a maximum depth of 625′ in this glacially carved lake.

Kayaking was on the agenda but two fires nearby caused smoke to settle over the lake.  Biking the Spruce Railroad Trail made the list instead for a nice 15-mile bike ride.

We then took to the forest and hiked 2 miles to little Marymere Falls, where a side trail ended at Historic Lake Crescent Lodge.  We both agreed this would be a great place to come back and stay.

This rounded out week two of our enchanting time in Olympic National Park.  It was time to  get back to civilization.

Land of Diversity ~ Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Snow-capped mountains, temperate rain forests, fog-shrouded beaches, and wild coastline – this is the Olympic Peninsula.

Over 3600 square miles of land in western Washington, largely unmapped until 1898, encompass the Olympic Peninsula.  Although not an island, it is technically bordered by water on all sides: to the north, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, or the Salish Sea as it is known by the locals, separates the US from Canada; on the east the Puget Sound extends nearly 100 miles; the vast Pacific Ocean crashes into the rugged west coastline, creating dramatic tree-topped sea stacks; and the only fresh water barrier is the Chehalis River on the south.

The Olympic mountain range dominates the center of the peninsula, the second largest range in Washington behind the Cascades.  This is not a tall mountain range, Mt. Olympus being the tallest at just under 8,000’, but can still boast about 266 glaciers crowning their peaks.  The most prominent of these glaciers, eight of them, cover 10 square miles of slopes on Mt. Olympus.

The Olympic peninsula contains many salmon-bearing rivers, several natural lakes, many state parks, and one national park, Olympic, where we focused our explorations.

The Wild Olympics Campaign is underway to protect additional wilderness areas within the peninsula, protect salmon under the Wild and Scenic River Act, and provide Olympic National Park a way to acquire additional land near the park from willing sellers.

Olympic National Park protects one of the largest stretches of wilderness coastline in the lower 48 states, over 70 miles.  Rough seas have resulted in treacherous shoreline, no doubt helping to preserve this remote and pristine coast.  Eight American Indian tribes continue to call small fishing villages along this coastline home, working to keep their ancestral traditions alive.  Today the coast appears much as it did when their ancestors paddled cedar canoes past rocky coves and beaches.

Even today severe weather and currents have doomed many a ship that has challenged this remorseless shoreline.  Lives have been lost and thousands of gallons of spilled oil have devastated immaculate beaches, killing sea birds and disrupting delicate ecosystems.

We planned a month here to soak in the beauty of the national park and surrounded headland, absorbing as much history of the area as possible, with the added bonus of meeting several sets of friends along the way.

Our first week on the coast proved to be a laid back time.  With a holiday and the potential for crazy busy campgrounds, we booked a reservation at Kalaloch Campground in Olympic National Park, ensuring we had a place to call home for the 4th holiday.  Although our Arctic Fox is small in stature, our campsite was an unlevel tight fit.  Adjacent sites were close together as well, but we were happy to be here so quickly set up and headed to the beach to walk in the fog and shake off some road dust.

Terry being enveloped by the fog

When we returned to camp our neighbor had his rap music cranked up and felt the need to berate his wife and children in front of the rest of the campground.  Surprisingly the kids were much better behaved.  As this continued throughout the day we made it our mission the next morning to find a suitable campground for the holiday weekend. South Beach was our answer.  Though nothing more than a gravel parking lot, we had a beachfront site where we enjoyed brisk ocean breezes, long walks on fog-shrouded beaches, lovely sunsets, and easy access to day trips.

We explored the Lake Quinault area, where the 1926 historic Lake Quinault Lodge stands.  This area is often called the Valley of the Rain Forest Giants, being home to some of the largest and most impressive trees, such as the largest Sitka spruce tree in the world (how do they know this?).

We had read much about the Hoh River Rain Forest, which is purported to be one of the best examples of a temperate rain forest in the world, so this became another of our scheduled day treks.  We hiked the Hoh River Trail, winding through a forest of spike moss-laden trees.  It doesn’t harm the trees but can weigh as much as four times that of the trees own foliage.  We both agreed that this rain forest looked very dry, likely the result of this year’s drought.

Beyond this we were content to walk miles of driftwood-strewn beaches for the week and our fireworks were compliments of Mother Nature. 🙂

This was our fireworks display on the 4th, at South Beach.
This was our fireworks display on the 4th, at South Beach.

Next Up:  Moody beaches and tide pools