Olympic Peninsula

Well, we moved to Oregon! I don’t know many people here and I’ve already taken photos of the houses of the people I do know, so I thought I’d write about some of what we are seeing and doing out here. I also still haven’t had my broken lens repaired so the photos were all taken with either a Lomo or my camera phone. Living in Portland allows you to stumble out your front door and into the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest with a minimum amount of hassle. It is quite a change to leave the house, not have to fight insane traffic, and quickly arrive somewhere wonderful.

We recently took a drive up to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula for some camping and sightseeing. From Portland, it is about a five hour drive up I-5 and then over to 101.  Entering Aberdeen, WA there is a Kurt Cobain tribute sign greeting visitors stating “Welcome to Aberdeen- Come As You Are.” We drove through, passing a teen halfway house outside of which a young pregnant woman was smoking a cigarette with a group of friends. Aberdeen was also once known as the “Hellhole of the Pacific” and at various times in the past had an extremely high per capita murder rate.

Leaving Aberdeen quickly behind, you are greeted by towering forests, braided rivers, lakes and eventually the coast. The Peninsula is home to five Indian nations: the Quileute, Makah, Ozette, Hoh, and Quinault, each holding land that represents a small portion of their former territories. Also contained on the Peninsula is the Olympic National Park (designated in 1938) that includes sections of the coastline and the mountainous interior. The coast contains several wildlife refuge and wilderness areas and is protected by the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

On the way up we stopped on the side of the road to buy firewood for our highly anticipated night of camping for the first time in many years. While the wood was being loaded up, a man who was the parked across the road came over and introduced himself as Tony and shook my hand. I told him my name and he said, “You ladies camping tonight?” “I think we are,” I responded not wanting to give away too much information to a complete stranger. He had a huge grin, was about 6’4″ and very large. “Nice earrings!,” he enthused while looking directly at my chest.  And before I could respond, he flung his arms wide and said, “Gimme a hug!” leaning towards me. I breast blocked with my right arm and gave him a pat on the back with my left hand while giggling. Priscilla came back to the vehicle and asked, “Do you have a dollar?” I turned my back to my hugger, gave her the dollar and told her that I had a forced hug the jolly big man.

We secured one of the last spots at a beach campground that said “Full.” It’s always best to check! We were one of the few tent campers, the remainders bing RVs and one hippy van. After setting up camp we walked along the beach and witnessed the flight of thousands of sea birds. For over thirty minutes a dark line of birds flew south along the coast. As we arrived back at the campground, people were surf fishing with the setting sun.

It was soon revealed that our wood was not in fact dry enough for catching fire. Many attempts resulted in brief flames followed by choking smoke. So we sat in the dark in our camp chairs, looking out to sea, while all around us our fellow campers were warming themselves around indecently sized campfires. I had a short-lived minor freakout when I was convinced all the RVers would turn into vampires and get us in the night. P. said they were not vampires, just retired folk, and that we would be fine. Getting zipped up in my sleeping bag, I quickly remembered that camping can be quite cold even in summer and inevitably uncomfortable, which can push nonsensical thoughts of vampires right out of your mind. Unable to fall asleep, I left the tent and took a walk around the campground. A thin elderly man rode past on a bicycle, gravel from the road popping in the tire spokes, while the stars stretched the sky and surf fishing suits hung drying on the backs of RVs.  Night came on with waves hitting the coast, lowered voices around dying campfires and far above the sound of huge engined jets flying from Seattle out over the Pacific.

I was up early (having survived the night!) and walked the beach watching the fishermen casting out in the blue dawn light. Back at camp I made ramen and coffee and had a nice chat with a woman who lives in Sequim, a town on the northeastern side of the peninsula. She and her husband were retired, having taught school for many years on the western coast of Alaska, 400 air miles from Anchorage. She said the accelerated pace of retirees buying homes in their town dropped off after the economy went bust, some people having lost all savings, so buying a retirement home in a small community was no longer an option. She suggested we check out Port Townsend on the east side if we had the time. I also had another lively morning chat with a woman about the cleaning of the bathroom facilities and her daily morning diuretic.

We broke camp and drove into the Hoh Rain Forest, which receives 12 to 14 FEET of rain a year. It is a fairyland of mosses, ferns and lichen. Big leaf maple were draped in spikemoss, the forest sluiced in green, bearded and shaggy. There were even several sightings of fairy barf lichen.

We continued north on 101 and lunched in the town of Forks, “famous” for being the shooting location of the Twilight movies. Maybe my vampire fears were not so far fetched after all… There were Twilight vampire tours and many of the local businesses had managed to work the word “Twilight” into their names, regardless of the service or product being offered.

Later in the day we walked the coast at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, where bald eagles flew overhead, their beaks massive and bright yellow and Vancouver Island rose in the distance.

We stopped for the night at Port Townsend, located on the Quimper Peninsula, at the suggestion of the woman at the campground. Victorian houses topped with widow walks flanked the hillsides overlooking the water. Walking along the water to the historic downtown area, we glimpsed Mt. Rainier snowy in the distance. We were thirsty and in need a a drinking establishment. A white bearded man walked past wearing a red t-shirt that exhorted “Save the Ales!” I thought he would know. “Excuse me, can I ask you a quick question?” I said catching up to him on the sidewalk. “You can ask me a long one if you’d like. I’m not in a hurry,” he cheerfully replied. He told us we had just passed his favorite bar “Sirens.” We chatted a bit and he told us he’d grown up in Portland but had been in Washington for some time and enjoyed his life there.

In Sirens, we were the most youngest patrons by decades and the older I get the more this kind of thing is extremely gratifying. We ordered drinks and sat outside on the wooden balcony. After P. had something wet from the sky land on her head, a concerned man at the next table told us we were sitting in a dangerous place for gull droppings. He had once seen a whole table of ladies get besmeared with white gull poop (they were intoxicated and found it hilarious), so we took his suggestion and moved under one of the umbrellas.

Later as the waitress brought us the local Hood Canal pan fried oysters (PFO to the locals), the gulls lifted off a nearby roof and starting crying and raising a ruckus flying in all directions but staying grouped together. “Watch for the eagle,” the waitress said as she put the food down. “There is always an eagle when this starts,” and sure enough a bald eagle flew into the grouping of gulls, slashing through, talons outstretched and then silently flying away. “Always an eagle,” she said.  I overheard from conversations around us that gulls nest on the rooftops and the eagles sometimes go for the easy kill if they can get through the commotion.

We watched a kingfisher hunting from a pier below us and a harbor seal swam past heading in the direction of Canada. The man who had given us directions to the bar followed shortly after the seal, rowing a dinghy out to his anchored sailboat in the bay. When we left all the inside tables were occupied and a quartet of fiddles and guitars was playing celtic inspired music.

In the morning driving to get coffee, we saw an aggressive deer chase along the road. On the way back there were three adult deer and two bambis crossing the road. We left the town and made our way down the east side along 101 and back home. I’m excited to return to the peninsula for more exploring and some backcountry camping in the future.

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2 Responses to Olympic Peninsula

  1. kccornell says:

    Wonderful! I feel like I’m there! Can’t wait to come visit and do some exploring with y’all!

  2. Great pics! Looks gorgeous!

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