Exploring the northern Olympic Peninsula; July 2014

My wife Pat, my brother Michael and I spent eight days exploring this area from our “base,” a rented house near Port Angeles, Washington.  Here is how it went!

Getting there

Monday 7/21: We left home early in the afternoon and drove up to Edmonds to catch the car ferry to Kingston. We had a picnic of chicken wraps at a window table in the cabin. We drove on westward; just after crossing the Hood Canal Bridge, we got stuck in a line of cars waiting to get around a crash scene. A trailer truck had run off the road into a wooded gully. Two big tow trucks and other emergency vehicles were clustered there. Workers had retrieved some pieces of the truck.  The cab had broken away from its frame; it must have been a rough ride for the driver.

After a long wait, we inched thru the bottleneck and completed our drive to Port Angeles. We bought some groceries and found our rental house in hilly country west of town. It’s a very nice house and much about it seems new; even the hot pads by the stove are new.

We returned to town in search of dinner. All the restaurants are on the east edge of town, toward the bridge and ferry and civilization. We picked Traylor’s Cafe because it had crab Louie, which Pat likes. AAA had given it two diamonds, but it only deserved one of them.

Marymere falls

Tuesday 7/22: We wanted to see the sites of the removed dams on the Elwha River and hike up Boulder Creek. As it turned out we did none of these things; but we had a good day.

Marymere Falls

Marymere Falls

We followed some back roads to Lake Crescent, stopping at the general store in tiny Joyce for gas. We wanted to ask a ranger about limited access to the Lake Mills area of the Elwha about which I’d read in Seattle. But the Storm King Ranger Station was closed. We hiked to Marymere Falls; this took much longer than we’d expected due to the need to photograph the lovely woods and stream.  (Click any picture to enlarge it.)

Salt Creek and Striped Peak

Salt Creek

Salt Creek

We returned to Joyce to buy some things, and drove up to the coast to see the Salt Creek estuary. The RV campground on its West Bank wanted to charge us $6 per person to use the beach. The county park on the east bank was free, so that’s where we went. The wetlands at the mouth of the creek were very pretty. Beyond the estuary we found a little beach curled around a tree-topped sea stack. A tall cliff rose behind the beach; this was the foot of Striped Peak, a steep hill that for some reason stands isolated from the foothills further south inside Olympic National Park.

We had supper in Joyce’s Blackberry Cafe; my blackberry milkshake came with a refill in a steel cup. It was a wonderful treat, tho the straw wasn’t much use. We decided to drive to the top of Striped Peak to see the sunset. The east end of the hill had lavish homes. After we passed the last of these, the road turned very rough and narrow. Tree branches scraped against the car as it clambered over enormous potholes and washouts. The road ended in a big loop.  We stopped at a clearing near the peak that had a view across the Strait of Juan de Fuca of Canada’s Vancouver Island. But we couldn’t see the sun, and the mosquitoes were large and fierce.

A young couple had arrived in a four-wheel-drive SUV before us; they’d gone around the loop the other way.  The man asked us whether we thought the loop road we’d driven was rougher than what lay ahead.  We said yes, and he looked pleased.  “That’s just what we’re looking for!”  Pat commented later that the girl was driving the SUV.

We retreated before dark. I think we probably gave that couple bad advice.  On our way out, the road was worse than ever.  The car bottomed out a couple of times; but Pat managed to extricate us without mishap.

Lake Aldwell

Wednesday 7/23: A rainy day. We went to town in hopes of going on the underground tour, but missed it by minutes.

20 lakebottom weedsWe explored the bottom of former Lake Aldwell on the Elwha River; it was drained in 2012 when a dam was demolished to restore the salmon habitat. Now it’s a gravelly valley with sudden steep-sided ridges that I guessed are old side-channels of the river. Grass, weeds and wildflowers have been quick to populate the new space, and we saw that thousands of little trees have been planted. Here and there are the enormous stumps of cedar trees that were hand-logged in the late 1800s before the dam was built in 1914.

Sol Duc river and hot springs

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls

Thursday 7/24: We drove to the Sol Duc River today and hiked up to see the falls. I erected my tripod on the bridge over the falls and tried the shutter-priority setting with the slowest speed the camera would permit, and the result was reasonably good. Beyond the falls, the trail on the south bank divided and wandered among huge trees and boulders in the jungle-like rain forest. We enjoyed pretty views of the river; but all these trails petered out, so we crossed back to the north bank. The trail on this side proceeded up the valley without meandering, but ascended out of view of the river.  So we gave up on it too, and returned to the hot springs resort at the end of the road.  In all we hiked about 5 miles.

Mike and I soaked in the historic Sol Duc Hot Springs. The pools were crowded and not very hot; the lodge was small and uncomfortable. Well, now we know!

Port Gamble and Point No Point

Friday 7/25: While Pat took the ferry back to the mainland to attend a friend’s 70th birthday party, Michael and I roamed around the Kitsap Peninsula. We started in Port Gamble, visiting the small but good historical museum. The town was the creation of the Pope and Talbot lumber company in the mid-1800s. It had a strong connection to San Francisco, but little to do with Seattle until the company developed suburbs of the city, including West Seattle. Today Port Gamble is still a company town; the community is struggling to buy its own land and avoid commercial development.

Decaying ferry landing at Port Gamble.

Decaying ferry landing at Port Gamble.

We walked down to the waterfront to look at the decrepit remains of lumber piers and a car ferry dock. Mike pointed out the hand wheel used to raise and lower the ferry dock ramp. The little harbor is full of old pilings. The nearby breakwater is made of chunks of reinforced concrete; maybe some of them were part of the dismantled Puget Hotel in the upper town.

We strolled around the town. There are many nice old houses, but we found none that was open for tours. They are either empty, used for offices or made into boutiques. A large wedding tent was preparing to host a private event. Yuppy tourists sip lattes and eat in an outdoor cafe from which pop music blares. A block away, a handsome house whose wide porch faces the bay is carefully painted and its gardens tended. But thru the windows we could see that the empty rooms are uglified with linoleum, etc., and plaster is crumbling from the ceilings.

We moved on to Point No Point to see the cute lighthouse and walk on the beach. Later we returned to Port Gamble with Pat in search of dinner. But the only promising restaurant had peculiar, expensive fare; so we drove on to Sequim for Thai food.

Cape Flattery

Saturday 7/26: We followed SR 112 west to the end of the road in the Makah Indian Reservation. The reservation’s charge for a one-year recreation permit is $10.  This is the same amount that Mt. Rainier National Park charges for a one-week permit.  However, the Reservation’s facilities are primitive, undersized and vandalized.  For example, think “toilets;” I won’t say any more.

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery

We hiked a short, rough trail to a viewpoint on Cape Flattery, the northwestern-most corner of the contiguous states. Returning hikers told us that they’d seen a gray whale nosing about in a cave; but he’d wandered off by the time we got there.

The trail was “improved” with narrow boardwalks, steps and slippery wheels sawn from logs. Roots, rocks and mud made up the rest of the trail, where we could see it between the tourists. No beach awaited us at the trail’s end–only cliffs, sea stacks and caves carved by Pacific gales. Trees here were twisted like bonsai, or had branches on only one side. About half a mile off the cape stood Tatoosh Island. Its coast was a cliff, and it was large enough to accommodate a small forest and a big lighthouse.

A horde of tourists in shorts and sandals tramped continuously up and down the trail, taking pictures of each other and herding their bored children and excited dogs.  Someone with a runny nose who doesn’t like to put used Kleenex in his pocket distributed them on the ground instead, perhaps so as not to get lost.

Elwha River

Sunday 7/27: We drove around Lake Mills, which is in the process of being drained as Lake Aldwell was two years ago, and hiked up the Elwha River.  The trees were mostly huge and old, and upholstered with lots of moss and ferns.  Michael noted one tree that hadn’t finished falling down and was already sprouting nursing saplings.  And he pointed out a zone of young trees that doesn’t have any stumps, so seems not to have been logged.  I guessed that it might have been land that pioneers cleared, or a landslide.

Humes Ranch

Humes Ranch

While Pat paused to take photographs at an overlook, Michael and I pressed on.  We visited Michael’s Cabin and Humes Ranch, two pioneer cabins whose shells the park service maintains as historical buildings.  They stand deep in wilderness, in remote hand-cleared meadows high on the slope above the roaring river.  It’s intriguing to imagine these hardy souls living here at the same time Port Gamble was importing civilization from San Francisco.  Mike and I hiked 4.6 miles on this day.

The mosquitoes were almost as bad as on Striped Peak.  Pat led us to a hilltop above the trailhead’s sole picnic table for lunch, but we couldn’t escape them that easily.  I had doused myself with bug repellent, but they seemed to think it was just hot sauce.  We went to town for groceries and settled down in our rented house for dinner and a movie (“The Help”).

The Lake Ozette to Sand Point trail

Monday 7/28: we packed lunch and supper and drove to the west coast again, to the Lake Ozette park campground south of Cape Flattery.  After consuming the supper (we’d changed our minds along the way), we followed the nice trail 3.5 miles out to the beach.  Half of the nearly-level trail was on boardwalks, due to the soft boggy soil.  Much of the rest was on gravel berms held in place by wooden frames.  These sections were annoying because many of them had such a tall hump in the middle to prevent water from collecting in puddles that it was hard to keep our footing.

An hour and 10 minutes later we ran into the coastal mist.  Moisture collected in overhead tree branches and dripped on us, while surf boomed somewhere in the distance.  Beyond the shoreline campground, we found a rugged stone-and-gravel beach with lots of driftwood.  The tide was out and the water was calm; we guessed that the surf we’d heard was hitting rocks and islands somewhere in the murk out to sea.  There were plenty of craggy rocks, with stretches of orange kelp between them.  Seagulls foraged in the detritus, regarding us with annoyance.

45 Sand PointA young ranger and his girl friend strolled up the beach.  He was three months into his first season as a paid ranger, after two years of volunteering.  He advised us that the best sea stacks were to the north around a point made invisible by fog.  So Michael and I set out to walk up the bay to see them.  As I expected, when we reached the point we could see everything there, but not the part of the bay we’d started from.  The walkable beach ended just short of the point.  One would need to scramble up over the headland or not be too particular about wading at low tide to get around it.

Back at the shoreline campground, we lolled on the sand and ate the lunch that had been re-purposed as our supper.  After four hours on the bay, we left at 7 PM so as not to be caught by darkness in the forest.  It took us 1.5 hours to get back to the car, despite the mosquitoes that prodded us along.  In all, Mike and I hiked about 8 miles, and we were tired.

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge

Tuesday 7/29: We took a detour on our way to the Kingston ferry landing to tramp around Hurricane Ridge.  It’s a long, high platform-like mountain chain south of Port Angeles with deep views into Olympic National Park.  The upper meadows still had copious wildflowers.  We enjoyed sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island and even Victoria.  Lunch was in a forested picnic area a mile beyond the day lodge, heavily patrolled by gray-and-white “camp robber” birds.

Getting back

95 Discovery Bay RRJust before the turnoff from SR 101 to SR104 and Kingston, we stopped at an abandoned restaurant.  Pat napped while Mike and I looked over the restaurant.  It consisted of several cabooses and a switch engine, set up on a short bit of track and converted into a pizza and espresso place.  “Discovery Bay Railroad” was painted on the engine.  The lawn was mowed, and some flowers in the garden were hanging grimly onto life; so it seemed to be a recent business failure, or else somebody was taking care of it.  Later I found an online review of the restaurant that had been posted in 2006; it said the pizza was quite good.  Making a left turn into the parking lot from fast-paced SR 101 was scary; the awkward location must have starved the place to death.

At Kingston we found that the 5:15 ferry was already full even tho we were on time to board it.  I found a news article on Google reporting that mechanical problems with a ferry on the Winslow route had resulted in people driving north to Kingston to board the ferry there and get around the blockage.  While we waited for the next boat, Mike and I strolled up to the gluten-free bakery for goodies.  The bakery was located in the lower floor of the former Kingston Hotel.  A massage therapist’s office occupied the upper floor.

Things have changed a lot out here since my parents had a cabin near Kingston in the 1950s.  The corner general store where they used to shop is now a vacant lot with an empty foundation.  The town extends further west along SR 104 than I remember, as a kind of hilly strip-mall.

After our ferry ride we had a nice dinner at Arnie’s Seafood Restaurant in Edmonds.  It was a pleasant end to a very good trip!

99 map

… More pictures …

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