Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 3, Day 20, Quinault Lake to Cape Disappointment to Portland


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Published: July 9th 2018
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7/30 Fog hugged the lake on this chilly, foggy morning so I enjoyed our fireplace as long as possible before we bundled up and began the day with breakfast in the glassed in Roosevelt Room overlooking the lake and the Quinault resort. We had a window table with a lovely view. Dave watched as a Douglas squirrel perched himself on the windowsill lusting after his breakfast. As I sat eating my amazing pancake breakfast I wondered if President Franklin D. Roosevelt enjoyed the same experience as he sat eating his meal in this very room. Apparently he did because nine months later President Roosevelt signed legislation that created the Olympic National Park.

I had reserved an early morning guided tour of the lake but on this chilly morning I wondered if I had done the right thing. At 10am we left the warmth of the inn to walk down to the beach for our boat tour of the lake. The sun burned off the fog soon after we were out but the breeze still carried a damp chill off the lake. Our knowledgeable guide Judy said the region gets about 15 feet of rain each year, and with less drying weather, it has the largest biomass of almost anywhere on earth. This temperate rainforest has BUNS (big trees, uneven canopy, nurse logs and stumps and snags that are now hidden beneath the waters) so motoring on the lake can be a challenge.

Prior to 1889 Lake Quinault was known to only a few trappers and hunters (cougar, black bear and elk roam these woods). Native Americans lived in the area seasonally in homes called Long Houses crafted from local cedar trees. The Quinault tribe signed a treaty with the US in 1859 for this land. By 1890 homesteaders had heard of the great beauty of the area and began to stake claims with rights to this area and the generational history and ownership to the current owners. Since then, both Native Americans and homesteaders have lived together with respect for each others cultures.

Quinault means river with a lake on it. The Cascade Creek spills into Lake Quinault near Quinault lodge. At its deepest the lake measures approximately 350 feet deep. Our guide pointed out a log boom that forms a breakwater to protect the salmon hatchery run by the Quinault tribe, who own the lake up to the waterline. King, Coho and Sockeye salmon start their life here then travel to the ocean, returning to spawn. There is a spring run and a fall run for these fish. The fishermen mark the fish when they are 6 inches long to monitor the breeding program. There are firm restrictions on water craft to protect the purity of the lake and river. The young people in the Quinault tribe have rowing training and competitions. Judy, our guide, said she has heard them bellowing sing song rhythm commands as they beat a drum that echoes across the lake.

The wind can roar down the lake at a dangerous 60mph carrying with it downed trees that end up on the lower banks. I noticed a lot of clear cutting and asked about it. Apparently the logging is now controlled since the endangered spotted owl, an indicator of a healthy forest, needed to be protected. The Quinault tribe also logs but responsibly.

Back on shore we packed up and said goodbye to this beautiful resort. As we were leaving the Quinault resort area I noticed again the beautiful intense blue hydrangea bushes at the base of the cedars, spruce and fir trees that lined the road. When I first arrived I had asked about the randomness of these non-native plants and was told they were likely planted in the 1900s. They have been there as long as the staff could remember.

Not far down the road we drove in search of the world’s record Sitka Spruce. We found a signed path with directions about 1/2 mile from the main road. Lake Quinault is also called the Valley of the Rain Forest Giants with bragging rights to the World’s Largest Spruce measuring roughly 58 feet wide, and 191 feet tall. At just over 6 feet (Dave) and under 5 feet (Kelley) we were dwarfed even by the tree’s buttress.

We headed south on 101 passing Aberdeen where we (I) made the big decision to head to Portland via Astoria. It would take a little longer but this winding and beautiful road beats driving on highway 5 any day. Also, when off the main highways, I find the back roads to be the best way to find a unique out of the way restaurant for lunch. Taking a short detour off 101 in the logging town of Raymond we found a bar that had outdoor picnic tables and a flashing orange sign that said Homemade Soup. The Pitchwood Inn and Alehouse, even in the mid-afternoon, had people at the bar and sitting at tables which said to us either it is the only place in town or it must be good. Signs above the bar featured a long list of craft beers alongside their alcohol content. We ate a late lunch (I had a delicious avocado turkey BLT on organic whole grain bread. Yum! Dave had a beef stew, slightly spicy for him though). Throughout the small town were carvings and tributes to the loggers who made a living there.

We continued on 101 S meandering through lush golden grassland with blue-gray mountains in the distance, and expansive low lying sloughs with blue rivers coursing through, until we passed through farmland and then more densely wooded areas (and areas of clear cutting). I decided to turn left on a road pointing to Astoria, later discovering that had we stayed on 101 we might have made the Lewis and Clark Center before it closed, but our first view of the Columbia River was pretty spectacular and almost worth it. Along the way we found an historic marker identifying the location of Fort Vancouver, established by the Hudson Bay Company in 1824, but unfortunately the marker was all that we found. We continued on.

This was an area that, after reading all the historical books on the exploration and development of this northwestern region that I could, (especially the thrilling Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire by Peter Stark) I was determined to see the mouth of the Columbia River for myself. After a few false starts and groans from my husband, I pressed on to try to make it to the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center before it closed. I parked the car in the parking lot below a Chinook Welcome sign inviting guests to enjoy the Chinook Indian Country and asking people to respect their land. Another sign tells of Comcomly, the great Chinook Indian chief, who lived with his tribe at the present location of Fort Columbia. In 1811 Washington Irving wrote an interesting narrative of the founding of Astoria and the new Astorians’ first meeting with the hospitable one eyed Chief Comcomly.

I left Dave to rest in the car and dashed straight up the hill. When I reached the crest of the hill I read the inscription above the entrance to the museum, a quote from Thomas Jefferson, that reads “The object of your mission…the Pacific Ocean”. Then I saw the rangers begin to lock up the museum. Breathless from my climb I begged and pleaded for a few minutes inside which they granted me. Maps and charts, tributes and testimony describing the extreme weather conditions and help from the French Interpreters assisting Lewis and Clark gave more understanding of the epic 1810 to 1813 Astor Expedition and the men who charted this rugged and dangerous unknown country that Lewis and Clark, the only white man corps, had muddled through only a few years before. Standing here I tried to imagine the dangers, hardship and adventure that lay before these men in Astoria, the Columbia River Gorge and the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. I love travel and adventure but I wondered if I would have had the stuff it takes to embark on such an expedition. I read and absorbed as much of this wonderful museum as I could before I had to leave.

Once outside the museum,
North Head Lighthouse on Cape DisappointmentNorth Head Lighthouse on Cape DisappointmentNorth Head Lighthouse on Cape Disappointment

Near the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
I wandered around breathing in the strong sea air as I stood on the ancient basalt cliff imagining the lives of the First Peoples, the Chinook and other Native Americans, and the explorers who came to tame the land and its native peoples.The vast Pacific Ocean and the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, the accomplishments of Lewis and Clark, the destination that Thomas Jefferson and John Jacob Astor gave their men to conquer on their behalf, lay before me. The North Head Lighthouse on Cape Disappointment, standing 65 feet tall on this rocky promontory, is still functioning, marking the headwaters of this challenging river, the gateway to the Pacific Northwest. I did not take time to hike the many trails but I stood in awe for as long as I could. Cape Disappointment was named by British fur trader John Meares in 1788 after his inability to locate the mouth of the Columbia River. The river was named in 1792 by Captain Robert Gray for his ship the Columbia Rediviva. The North Head is one of the windiest locations on the West Coast clocking as much as 120 miles per hour. I later discovered you can stay overnight in the lighthouse. Another time.

I could have stayed longer drinking in the history and the view before me but with an anxious partner wanting to arrive in Portland before dark, I knew I had to leave. Another goal of mine was to drive across the famous Astoria Bridge, next on my agenda (not Dave’s). At least this destination was on the way to Portland where we had reservations for the night.

The Astoria-Megler Bridge is an iconic statement that connects the state of Washington with Oregon over the Columbia River. This free 4 mile long green cantilever-span bridge can withstand winds of up to 150 mph. In the early 1960s this bridge replaced a ferry system that had been the only means of connection from this part of Washington to Oregon and back. The bridge celebrated its 50th birthday in August of 2016. I had read reports warning of heavy traffic slowing drivers to a halt on the bridge, in a way I wished for more traffic because I think I might have enjoyed the trip more if the traffic did move slowly because then, as a driver, I would have been better able to see the dramatic scenery around me.

Thankfully we arrived in Portland before dark, in spite of the city’s traffic congestion, to find that the Portland Whitehouse Bed and Breakfast was more than your average B&B. This stately historic Greek Revival mansion (which by the way is for sale) was built in 1911 for a wealthy Portland lumber baron. It is located in the historic Irvington neighborhood of Portland and is probably the most impressive building around. They offer tours for those not staying at the B&B but because we had a room here we felt intimately connected to these well appointed rooms. Strolling through the house I found so many antiques and collectibles, especially in the living room, that I was afraid to move lest I break something. We climbed the grand staircase to our 2nd floor Garden Room with its own private deck and bath. Lanning, one of the owners, had left our door open and the light on with soft classical music playing to greet us when we arrived. Chocolate and cookies were left on the table along with purified water and a bottle of Pinot and wine glasses. We were here to relax! The historic mansion, rich with antiques is quite beautiful and we slept so well on that huge soft bed. This is what a Bed and Breakfast experience is all about.

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