Saturday, October 24, 2009

'Round the Olympic Peninsula

From Port Townsend, we continued on Highway 101 along the north coast, passing through more small fishing towns and marveling at the beautiful scenery. We visited Neah Bay, a quiet village on the Makah Indian reservation, where we toured an interesting museum and learned that the Makah tribe is the only tribe allowed by treaty to hunt whales. From here, we drove to the trailhead for the Northwestern-most point in the continental US, Cape Flattery. The 1.5 mile trail is described as requiring "moderate exertion" - we must have missed the fine print that said that
was for the downhill portion. The trail to the point is a series of wooden staircases and dirt path down to to a wooden platform overlooking the ocean, a hike well worth the views of the rugged coastline and lighthouse on the adjacent island. After a short, refreshing 3-hour crawl back to the parking lot, we headed home to a night of rest and Bengay.
Our next trip was to the town of Forks, a small town that has been overrun with teens and pre-teens since the movie "Twilight" the story of a teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire, was filmed here. Having raised a teen-age daughter, we didn't find this particularly unusual. Signs highlighting the movie are everywhere: the high school that the heroine, Bella attended, the Thriftway Market where she bought groceries, and on, and on. Locals told us that it's not unusual for a summer crowd of 15,000 to visit on a Saturday. Yikes. But we weren't here to see Bella, but to visit the Hoh Rain Forest, a few miles outside of town. This area, like much of the coast, is a "temperate rain forest" and receives an incredible 12-14 feet of rainfall a year. We walked along beautiful trails through the thick, moss-covered forest, with large sword ferns everywhere. Some areas look more like a Louisiana swamp than a Pacific Northwest forest. Along the trail were interesting tree formations; one looked to us like the head of a Pileated Woodpecker, anther resembled the head of a unicorn. Although we enjoyed the visit, this area is no

different than many other areas along the coast, and some, especially the areas of the redwood forests, are even more beautiful (and wet). But it was a nice day and there were no "Bella was here" signs.
We continued South and stayed in Westport, a vibrant fishing village, where each day we walked the docks and drove the back roads to small bays and rivers. It was quiet during our stay, with many of the dockside shops and restaurants closed for the season, but is a popular place to visit during the summer. There were hundreds of Brown Pelicans, a variety of Gulls, and even large flocks of migrating Marbled Godwits, a shorebird we'd never seen in such a large group. In Westport, we watched an interesting scene of fisherman trying to catch coho (silver) salmon from the docks. Each year, fingerling salmon are released in the harbor basin and they return 2-3 years later to spawn. By now, many are in the 12-14 pound range and provide a real challenge for anglers in a "combat fishing" environment - we watched as a salmon was sighted and 12-15 anglers frantically rushed together to fling lines into the water. One angler had almost landed his salmon when a Steller Sea Lion popped out of the water and grabbed it. Sitting in a dockside restaurant with a good view of the action was more entertaining than watching any TV reality show. Down a ways from Westport, we toured what for us was a big surprise -the local cranberry bogs. There was an extensive area of the rectangular sunken fields, and the harvest was ongoing. These bogs were not flooded like the ones we were used to seeing on the TV commercials, but were being harvested by small, self-propelled machines that looked like miniature threshing machines. There was even a cranberry festival in the small town of Grayland, with cranberry baked goods, sausage, and ice cream. It wasn't exactly the highlight of our trip to the area, and only took 30 minutes before we'd seen everything. But we shared an "elephant ear" which always makes a festival better.
We enjoyed our stay in the area, but after too many lunches of Albacore Tuna and chips, it was time to raise the jacks, fire up the engine, and continue our journey down Highway 101. Next stop, Astoria, Oregon - C'mon back!

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