Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 3, Day 19, Hoh Rainforest to Quinault Lake


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Published: July 9th 2018
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7/29 It was 46 degrees when we woke but quite comfortable on our cabin, although our neighbors were very noisy moving furniture with crying children late at night and early in the morning. Smells and sounds from the campfire lured us out of our warm cabin to the outdoor bonfire kitchen. True to Bill’s word we enjoyed a terrific Cowboy Breakfast including a generous-sized healthy pancake with a fried egg breakfast cooked by chef Tammy, outdoors by the fire under the wooden mortice and tenon gazebo. Bill built the gazebo, cabins and most of what was around here. He was a font of information explaining the local history, telling stories about the Spanish invasion on the Nikali ship around Neah Bay in 1792. Bill built a monument to the history of this interaction in Neah Bah with the Makah people which we saw later. He said the best spruce trees are found here in this region and as a result, were harvested and shipped along the Spruce RR Trail from Aberdeen to Port Angeles. "The Goat”, so named, sat warming herself by the breakfast campfire, while chickens were at my feet begging for scraps. Bill walked around refilling cups of his Cowboy Coffee out of an old classic metal pot as he continued his history lesson.

Before we left for this trip we had learned about a character named Mick Dodge who lived in the Hoh Rainforest. National Geographic television has a series dedicated to his hermit-like lifestyle in the rainforest that, as part of our trip research, we watched before coming. It turns out that Mick Dodge actually lives in Huckleberry Lodge when he is not sleeping in the Hoh. Mick built the yurt on the resort property a few years ago and named it Mick Dodge Lodge that Bill now rents out because Mick had left for California for a time. Mick has since returned and now the weathered 65 year old sleeps outside in the Huckleberry Meadow and every morning drives his van into the Hoh.

By 10am we were packed and on our way to explore the Hoh Rainforest. It was 74 degrees in Forks as we drove out of town. Following 101 south we soon made the turn for the Hoh Rainforest onto Upper Hoh Road but it was a long drive in on the slow moving road along the Hoh River to the Hoh Rainforest Visitors Center. Only 15 minutes down the road I saw the infamous Mick (Mic) Dodge of National Geographic nature stories, by his van working out in his "H" (Hoh) tree near the memorial to the Russian-American Nikolai Voyage of exploration that Huckleberry Bill had built. We stopped and chatted with Mick about his life in the Hoh and asked some people who joined us to take our picture with him. Mick obliged but required us to take off our shoes for the photo. Total immersion he said. He was full of stories and advice including information about trails and his Forest Immersion experiences. He said to get the book "Women to Recon With" that is about this area. Mic/Mike advised us to take a secret trail to the left before the Hall of Mosses to see a fabulous mountain view. We found no such path and no one, including the rangers, had heard of it. It will remain a secret to us.

Back in the car we traveled through dense rainforests on the edge of the open glacier-fed Hoh River where we spotted a herd of Roosevelt elk sitting in the gravel at the edge of the river. With all the traffic behind me I couldn’t stop the car so we continued on towards the Hoh Visitor Center. We were lucky when we arrived to find a parking space in the over-crowded lot since it appeared to be more crowded than most places we had visited. We learned about the various hikes in the area and that the word “Hoh” is a Native American term meaning “fast moving water” that well describes the Hoh River in the spring. With water still dripping off the trees we hiked and walked along easy paths three quarters of a mile long in the Hall of Mosses stopping often to admire the ghostly clubmosses and epiphytes hanging from boughs in the big leaf maples. I felt like I had landed in a fairy land. Many of these trees are over 200 feet tall including Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir. We had opted out of the Ranger-led hike but it still took us well over an hour to cover the trail. It was yellow jacket season in this area and being allergic to bees I was lucky to escape without using my epipen! Returning to the car we left the way we came in on the Upper Hoh Road towards 101. On the return leg there was enough room to park so we stopped to look at (and photograph) the elk herd lounging at the rivers edge. I was surprised they were still here since they were in the exact spot when we spotted them about an hour and a half earlier.

It was around noon when we drove 27 miles south from Forks on 101 to Ruby Beach to see its iconic sea stacks. Dave stayed in the car resting his sore knee while I headed down the steep path towards the sea. It was a good thing Dave didn’t join me. I discovered that at the bottom of the path there was a jungle of beached logs that had to be negotiated to get down to the ocean. Not easily done. A sign read: “Beach logs are the bones of a rain forest picked clean by the sea”. The sign also said that drift logs are dangerous and can suddenly roll in high tide. Thankfully today the tide was out and on the expansive beach I found many people walking, sunbathing and taking pictures. I joined them! I love to explore tidal pools and the intricate animal markings on the sea-worn driftwood. Some people built forts out of smaller logs and sea stones. The heavily treed sea stack reminded me of a similar scene on a remote beach on the coast of Mexico. I had a difficult time finding my way back up over the slippery logs to the path I came down on but when I finally did I woke Dave and we left and drove south to the nearby Kalaloch Lodge for lunch.

Driving south on 101 the trees disappeared and long stretches of beaches soon came into view. At 3pm we stopped for a late lunch at the lovely Kalaloch Lodge overlooking the sun-sparkled ocean. This place had been much recommended by friends for both lunch and a place to spend the night but when I was making reservations in the early spring the lodge was totally booked. Once again with a view to the ocean we enjoyed a nice late afternoon lunch. It was very good but with quite generous portions. We each had three spicy cod tacos and again, we should have split one order (we never seem to learn) but the food was good. Inside, the lodge walls were decorated with colorful wooden plaques designed by the local tribes. After lunch we enjoyed a walk around outside the lodge enjoying views over fences lined with sweet scented wild roses to the sandy inlets below, peppered with sun-bleached logs. Swallows darted around us feasting on their own lunch.

Reluctantly we left, piled back into the car with promises of more good things to come. While Dave napped I enjoyed the changing scenery on 101 south from open ocean views to woods to meadows to dark evergreen forest as we approached Quinault Lake and the Quinault Lake Lodge. What a perfect resort! Our spacious king fireplace room was in the new wing attached to the historic inn that overlooked the lake and the many tall spruce, cedar and fir trees. The lodge, located in Olympic National Forest, was built in 1926, designed by Robert Reamer in a rustic style reminiscent of the Old Faithful Inn we stayed at in Yellowstone National Park. The cedar shake exterior reminds me of Cape Cod while the warm brown tones and decorative painted details of the timber framed interior is definitely rustic western style. The chimney is decorated with a totem pole shaped rain gauge that measures rainfall in feet! It is now operated by the Aramark Corporation.

We stepped out onto our private balcony to watch children play lawn sports below. Beyond the lawn there were swimmers and boaters on the lake. We reluctantly left our room with a view (they said at the front desk that we had the best room and I believe it!) to walk around the lovely resort. Reminiscent of my youth on Lake Winnepesaukee, the old cement seats, the wooden chairs, the lake and even the sound of the water; it all brought a rush of childhood memories. We relaxed by the lake, played some games, went for a trail walk and returned totally rejuvenated. We saw an eagle soaring overhead and as his white head and flashing tail swooped I tried to capture him with my inefficient lens but I enjoyed the sight.

Since we had a late lunch we decided to split a ham and cheese sandwich from the Quinault Mercantile across the street. Their sign reads: "We may not be fast but we are good". Truer words were never spoken! The Mercantile is a great throwback to a slower time of the country stores and small lakeside markets of my youth. While waiting I poked through the assortment of mosquito sprays, bandaids, Christmas ornaments and games commonly found in old shops like these. When we got our sandwich it was reasonably priced and very good but you really must have patience. I think each slice of bread and piece of meat was handled with great care because the completed order (one sandwich) took forever. But I didn’t mind the slow pace at all. I bought a small box of Cabernet that I could use again tomorrow night. No matter, we ate our dinner relaxing on our private porch overlooking the water, sailboats and mountains while children played lawn games below. A perfect end to a perfect day!

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