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How I spent my winter vacation

James Island in La Push

I returned yesterday from five days on the Olympic Peninsula. At the beginning of Winter Quarter, I realized I needed to go away and decompress somewhere. I didn't want it to be complicated. No airports, for example. No fancy resorts or hotels. For a while I thought of going to the southern Oregon coast, but then I remembered that there was an area much closer to home that I've wanted to explore for a while. In particular I've long wanted to visit the Hoh rainforest -- one of the few temperate rainforests preserved anywhere in the world. So I asked my friends on Facebook for suggestions of places to stay on the peninsula, and Zel pointed me to the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push. On Monday I drove to La Push, which is about five hours from Seattle via Olympia and Aberdeen. (The welcome sign for Aberdeen actually says, "Come As You Are." Kurt Cobain must be spinning in his grave.)

La Push turns out to be the reservation of the Quileute tribe, and the tribe owns and runs the resort. They proudly advertise the fact that they do not provide the rooms with TVs or phones, and my cellphone could not get a data connection out there. To get a wifi connection I had to go stand in the lobby of the front office. La Push is a tiny town with a fishing marina, a convenience store and one restaurant, the River's Edge, that wasn't open most times I checked. I finally made it into the restaurant on Thursday afternoon and had a lovely piece of fresh steelhead that was served with surprisingly delicious breaded green beans. Other than that, if I wanted to eat out I had to drive to Forks. Since my motel room came with a kitchenette, I picked up supplies to make breakfast and sandwiches.

First Beach at dusk

I was off in my own little world, and it was brilliant. I spoke very little to anybody, although I did have a very funny exchange with the housekeeping staff when I asked them for more coffee and they offered 500 packets. The ladies were feeling frisky! (One of them later asked me if I was Quileute, which surprised the hell out of me.) I posted a couple of pictures a day to Facebook, which kept me in welcome contact with my virtual peeps, but other than that I was all on my lonesome. During the days I went on hiking expeditions, and in the evenings I drank fine beer and read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and an incredible art book about Magritte called Attempting the Impossible. In the mornings I read fanzines over breakfast. At night I fell asleep to the sound of waves and, on the first two nights, rain. Otherwise it was very quiet out there. Far removed from the world, or so it seemed.

Hall of Mosses in the Hoh rainforest

On Tuesday I went to the Hoh and hiked the two short trails by the visitor's center. The Hall of Mosses focuses on, well, moss. The Spruce Trail takes you through some different terrain. The forest was awesome. Driving to La Push just about all I saw was clear-cut hillsides and mono-cultural replant areas -- very dull to the eye. Getting into an old growth forest was like stepping into the magic kingdom in comparison. The massive trees -- spruce, cedar, and fir -- are awe-inspiring, whether they are standing tall or moldering on the ground where they've fallen. The creeks were crystal clear, and a bobbing grey bird that I think I've also seen on the Crooked River perched on a twig over crystalline water and serenaded me for a full, fluent minute. It was drizzling, as it should be in a rainforest. (The Hoh gets a 140 inches of rain per year, compared to Seattle's pitiful average of 36 inches.) There was still snow on the ground from the storm that also inundated Seattle two weeks before, but temperatures were mild. After the Hoh I drove down 101 to Ruby Beach, which featured several beautiful stacks -- bits of headland that have been carved into islands by the sea.

Tattoosh Island seen from Cape Flattery, with Vancouver Island in the distance

On Wednesday I drove up through Neah Bay -- the Makah reservation -- and on to Cape Flattery, the northwestmost point in the lower 48. I had been there once before 25 years ago with my old girlfriend, Robyn, and I thought about her a lot on the drive and the hike out to the cape. Good memories, after all this time. The cape is just amazingly beautiful. I saw a sign saying that a cougar had been spotted on the trail in July, and I worried about what I'd do if confronted by one. I was all alone at first, but eventually more people showed up, so I stopped worrying about the big cat. The views out there are just mind-blowing, and I got very excited. You can see across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Vancouver Island, which brought up other pleasant memories. Then two utterly magnificent golden eagles flew overhead, leaving me feeling I had been visited by spirit guides. Come soar with us! Well, my heart was soaring. Afterward I drove down to Hobuck beach and ate a sandwich in a little park before driving back to La Push through scenic back roads. I stopped in Forks to have a margarita at the Mexican restaurant -- but mostly so I could use their wifi to check e-mail and post to Facebook.

The stacks and tidepools at Second Beach

On Thursday I was actually feeling pretty worn out. I was just starting to unwind, but I also still felt drained by this very low level cold I've had since the snow storm and also by the recent stresses at work, as well as the excitement of the adventure. I thought I'd take it easy and just visit Second Beach. (First Beach is the one that the resort sits on, and there's also a Third Beach further up the road.) Turned out the hike to Second Beach was more strenuous than I had expected it to be, but the beach was absolutely splendid, with more scenic stacks, an endless expanse of flat sand, old growth pines on the hillside, and tidepools as the tide receded. It was a sunny day, and so warm that I took off my coat and cap and grumbled about having to carry them around. I spent two hours wandering around the beach, flipping out on the beautiful environment in this secluded pocket of the world. A couple of guys were camping there, and that reminded me of a half-forgotten camping expedition somewhere on a peninsula beach with friends from Portland, probably also back in the '80s, my 20s, when I was more prone to do things like that.

I had already extended my stay by one day (I originally reserved the motel room for three nights), and I considered extending it yet another day. In the end that didn't fit with my other plans, but it left me wanting to return immediately. I'd like to check out Third Beach, and I'd also like to try the nine mile hike at Ozette Lake. The trail is apparently a triangle with one leg running along the beach. I'd like to lay in bed all day reading Stieg Larsson novels, listening to the ocean. The cheap winter rates at the resort last through February, so it's a thought, if not exactly a plan.

On Friday I drove north to Port Angeles and looked around the waterfront for a bit. I tried Port Townsend as well, since I've never been there, but was really put off by the traffic. I made it as far as the Port Townsend Brewery for a pint of stout, and then I headed off to Port Gamble. Didn't have time to look around much, but it looked very quaint and worth a longer visit. Stopped in Silverdale at Silver City Brewing for a pint of hefeweizen, and then hit Bremerton to visit Jessica Amanda Salmonson and Rhonda Boothe. (My phone was invaluable in finding the breweries and the house in Bremerton, now that I was back in the world of data signals.) Rhonda was at work, so Jessica fed me a bowl of vegeterian chili and then showed me a samurai film called Shinsengumi shimatsuki (1963) (IMDb gives the English title as Shinsengumi Chronicles, but that's not what the DVD called it.) Jessica is way more knowledgeable about Japanese history and culture than I am, and she was able to explain the background of the convoluted story. It was excellent, and it was great to see her again. I saw Rhonda only briefly as I headed out the door to catch the 6:40 ferry to Seattle.

So all in all an excellent adventure. I decompressed, although I could've used a couple more days of that. I highly recommend the Quileute Oceanside Resort to anybody who wants to get away from it all. They do feature a bit of Twilight fan service, since one of the major characters (Jacob) is apparently a Quileute Indian from the res. (Forks, which is home to Bella, is completely run over by Twilight tourism.) The setting is marvelously beautiful, and the staff is very friendly at the same time that they stay out of your hair, or maybe that's only if you don't have any hair. It was pretty much perfect, and just what the doctor ordered. I return still feeling a little physically worn down, but rejuvenated in spirit.

Giant old growth driftwood on First Beach, with resort cabins in the background


( 20 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:13 am (UTC)
What a fab getaway. Thanks for writing it up; just looking at the photos brings a sense of calm. OF course, I now want to see the Hall of Mosses for myself.

I hope a trip back works out for you soon.
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:50 am (UTC)
Yeah, I want to get back to the Hall of Mosses too. It was as though each tree were its own micro-ecology.
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:49 am (UTC)
time considered as a helix of semi-precious beers
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
The story of my life, I'm afraid. I wasn't sure I'd be able to hit any breweries, since I was on the wrong side of the peninsula for the ones I knew about, but then everything fell together on the trip back. Like magic!
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:51 am (UTC)
I read your sentence as "it was dazzling, as it should be..." for a second. And when I saw the picture of the Hall of Mosses I said oh yeah.

Beautiful! We're going (if time and whatever permits) to the peninsula in March during break between spring and winter quarters.
Feb. 5th, 2012 01:55 am (UTC)
I have other pictures from the Hoh that are probably even more on the dazzling side. One of the things that at first upset me and then cracked me up after I got home and downloaded my 277 photos were how many of them were blurry and useless. What eventually cracked me up was that it was evidence that I was so excited that I was rushing through the process of taking pictures. I wasn't focused enough to do it right half the time. Too charged up!
Feb. 5th, 2012 05:44 am (UTC)
I can't tell you how many times I've had that exact same experience. I know well what you're feeling. And laughing it off is about the best reaction.
Feb. 5th, 2012 05:06 am (UTC)
I'm so glad for you, Randy. A wonderful report, lovely pics. Hope you can take a few more days out there soon.
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:07 pm (UTC)
Dude! You provided much of the reading material. I also read about 100 pages of The Tattooed Girl. Fascinating stuff, although I think Eva Gabrielson comes off as not just righteously angry but maybe a little bit damaged as well.
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:51 am (UTC)
That sounds so amazing! I feel like I was there, and, well, at least wish I was there. Good for you. And thanks for sharing the photos!
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
I think you'd love it there, Kim. I had Quadrophenia going through my head every time I walked the beach. Because the beach is a place where a man can feel he's the only soul in the world that's real. Especially when you really are the only one on the beach!
Feb. 5th, 2012 07:24 am (UTC)
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:09 pm (UTC)
Feb. 5th, 2012 08:32 am (UTC)
That's neat, and the more interesting for me, as my tentative post-Potlatch plan is to spend two days taking a swing around the Peninsula: a scenic drive rather than a decompression session like yours. I expect I might have time for either Cape Flattery or La Push (neither of which I've ever been to), but not both. I do want to get to the rain forest, which I haven't seen for a very long time.
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:17 pm (UTC)
I guess I'd say Cape Flattery is more spectacular, but it's also further out of the way (i.e. off 101). It takes a while to get out there, and you have to come back the same way. The trail to the viewpoints on the cape is .7 miles, so you also have to be prepared for a 1.5 mile hike. It's well worth it, however.

In La Push, there's First Beach, which is very beautiful, and then there's also a spot where you can get a scenic view of the Quillayute River. There's not much to see in the town itself, at least that I could discern, although I'm now curious to learn more about the tribe. One of the interesting tidbits I picked up was that La Push is apparently a Chinook jargon term that comes from the French "la bouche" -- which means "mouth", as in the mouth of the river.
Feb. 5th, 2012 11:17 am (UTC)
Gorgeous. I wanna go! I remember doing a tiny bit of temperate rain forest what must be directly north near UBC. its a great part of the world you live in..
Feb. 5th, 2012 06:20 pm (UTC)
It's weird that it took me so long to get out to the rainforest. I love rainforests! I practically grew up in one. But somehow I never found my way out there until now.

I've read varying claims about existing temperate rainforests, but one thing I saw on this trip claimed that there's one in New Zealand and another in Chile.
Feb. 15th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
Wow, that looks stunning. Not to mention a nicely chilled holiday. Sounds splendid all round.

I had no idea you had rainforests. Do you think you could get some sloths to move in?
Feb. 15th, 2012 05:09 pm (UTC)
I don't see why not. Sloths are temperate by nature, aren't they?

One of the signs indicated that in the upper canopy you find flying squirrels, but they aren't visible from the ground. Bummer!
Feb. 15th, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
Although invisible flying squirrels are pretty cool. Probably ninjas.
( 20 comments — Leave a comment )

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