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Published: September 16th 2017
The drive from American Heritage Campground in Olympia WA to Conestoga Quarters RV Park in Port Angeles WA on Wednesday, August 2, 2017 was accomplished, for the most mart, on the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway
or US 101. That route extends around three sides of the Olympic Peninsula – generally, from Olympia northward along the western shore of Puget Sound until you need a boat and then westerly through Port Angeles along the Strait of Juan de Fuca until the aforementioned boat is required and then turning southerly to the Columbia River and the Oregon state line where there is a bridge and no need for the aforementioned boat! When someone says go north on US 101, pay attention. They might be referring to the Puget Sound portion or, perhaps, the Pacific Ocean portion. Today’s portion of northbound US 101 is serpentine, two-lane and saturated with things people for the most part. There were occasional glimpses of the western side of Puget Sound, but there were few opportunities to stop for a photo op, even for a Smart Car. Regardless, the traffic was moderate (unlike the drive through Seattle metro the previous Wednesday), and the drive was uneventful which both are good.
morning fog created a delayed departure for my first Olympic Peninsula conquest. I began by travelling west from Port Angeles on a short segment of the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway (US 101) before it curved to the southwest. From US 101, I turned onto WA 112 or the Strait of Juan de Fuca Highway
. The byway passes through various landscapes on its way to the boundary of the Makah Reservation where the byway becomes the Cape Flattery Tribal Scenic Byway
. The Makah are the southernmost of the Wakashan linguistic group and are the only members of this group living in the United States. The other bands are First Nations peoples living on the west coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. In addition to the world-renowned Makah Museum
, the Makah Cultural and Research Center includes the Makah Language Program, the Archives and Library Department, the Makah Education Department and the Tribal Historic Preservation Office.
The Makah Museum houses and interprets artifacts from the Ozette Archeological Site – a Makah village partly buried by a mudslide 300-500 years ago and discovered in 1970. The museum, through these artifacts, provides a glimpse of pre-Anglo Makah life. The exhibits feature 500 artifacts including whaling and fishing gear, basketry and replicas of a canoe
and a full size long house. The facility has numerous interesting artifacts; however, photography is not allowed and my conscience won’t allow me to regurgitate memory-dependent “facts.” If one is driving the Cape Flattery Tribal Scenic Byway to reach some other destination anyway, the attraction is only a parking lot away. I inquired about the availability of the $10 Makah Recreation Permit required for most tourist activities on the reservation and got the permit right there on the spot at the museum.
With my Makah Recreation Permit hanging from the rearview, my next stop was Cape Flattery (permit required), the northwesternmost point in the contiguous United Sates. Cape Flattery was so named by Captain James Cook on March 22, 1778 who "flattered" himself that he would soon find a calm port. Don’t ask me, I’m just the reporter! To its north is the point where the Strait of Juan de Fuca joins the Pacific Ocean, and to its northwest is uninhabited, off limits Tatoosh Island, home to the Cape Flattery Lighthouse
. Cape Flattery Lighthouse stood sentinel at the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca from December 28, 1857 until it was decommissioned in 2008. The Cape Flattery Trail
is a clearly
marked 1.5 mile out and back trail with a modest 200-foot elevation change. From a cliff top observation platform, the hiker is rewarded with spectacular vistas of the rugged coastline and distant views of the Cape Flattery Lighthouse.
I backtracked on the dead-end Cape Flattery Tribal Scenic Byway until I reached the Hoko-Ozette Road (another dead-end road) and headed to Lake Ozette just to see what was there. Given the time of day and the drive I was facing to return to the RV park, I took advantage of a short nature trail – only one of the numerous hiking opportunities (permit required) near Lake Ozette. Are the attractions on the northwesternmost tip of the lower 48 worth the drive from Port Angeles? The attractions individually, no; the attractions cumulatively for the time-conscious vacationer, no; but the attractions – the museum, the relaxing scenic byway, the nice hiking trail, the panoramic vistas – for the retired traveler, my subjective yes.
Another foggy/hazy/smoggy morning greeted me on Saturday when I had a handful of attractions awaiting me about an hour east in Port Townsend WA
. I decided to give the weather a chance to lift and made a late morning departure.
Much to my delight, the last mile or so of the drive to my first destination, the Northwest Maritime Center, took me through a quaint seaside community bustling with tourists and weekend warriors. Numerous watercraft, mostly sailboats, were being readied for use on what was predicted to be a beautiful afternoon. Scattered along the wharf and around town, placards tell the Port Townsend story.
One placards notes that the Port Townsend City Hall, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, was built in the 1890s but years of exposure to earthquakes, weather and mere stop-gap repairs had taken a toll. In 2005, fused by a sense that “a city loses its soul if it loses its center,” citizens united behind a restoration effort that included a much-need addition AND incorporated seismic safety into the historic structure. The addition literally supports the old structure, and seismic bracing and mechanical systems intermingle to tie the two buildings together. The Northwest Maritime Center campus is another great example of transforming a liability doomed for destruction into a vibrant asset that has pumped life into an aging community.
The Northwest Maritime Center
web site tells us, “The Wooden Boat Foundation was founded in
1978, after the first and highly successful Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival,” and “The mission of Northwest Maritime Center is to engage and educate people of all generations in traditional and contemporary maritime life, in a spirit of adventure and discovery.” I was greeted with an, “Open, Come on In” sign. Inside, several people were busy refurbishing boats, one of whom noted I must visit the pilot house on the third floor. I lingered a few minutes observing the activities in the work area and went to the second floor where I could get an overview of the endeavors. On the third floor, I discovered the pilot house, as advertised. This multi-million-dollar “video game” (as described by one of the staff) is a training device for sailor wannabes and for honing the skills of the not-so-completely-seasoned skipper. After a short introduction, I was at the helm. The Northwest Maritime Center is not a reason for coming to Port Townsend, but it surely puts a ladle of gravy on the taters.
A couple of blocks into the heart of the tourist activity, I began to hear piano music that was reminiscent of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with a voice, well
not so much. There on a street corner was the source, and it was not an electronic keyboard but an actual grand piano at the corner of State and Main! A lady nearby was dressed as though a working girl from Miss Kitty’s Longbranch Saloon on Gunsmoke. Perhaps she was with Piano Man, perhaps not. I lingered for a spell, threw a couple of bucks in the beer pitcher and continued my foray in souvenirville. Since hiking was not on the day’s agenda, I walked 8-10 blocks, crossed the street and returned. Along the way, I found a mom-and-pop eatery with fried oysters on the menu. Sounds good to me!
I next headed for Whidbey Island and Fort Casey State Park
, home to Admiralty Head Lighthouse
. Of the two lighthouses that have been built on Admiralty Head, only the second remains. In 1858, the United States purchased 10 acres on a bluff at the east entrance of Admiralty Inlet for $400 and constructed a wooden, two-story house that had a light tower projecting from the gable. A fourth order Fresnel lens, which was visible for 16 miles, shone from the lighthouse for the first time in 1861; however, the construction of Fort Casey in
Fog Shrouded the Point Wilson Lighthouse
Fort Worden Historical State Park - Port Townsend WA
1890 forced the relocation of the lighthouse to a position close to the site of the present lighthouse. That first lighthouse was demolished in 1928, and a second, 30-foot-tall lighthouse was built of brick and stucco in 1903. The thick walls were meant to withstand earthquakes and the concussion of Fort Casey's guns.
I knew beforehand that Admiralty Head Lighthouse is not open for public tours. I did not know, however, that the Admiralty Head Lighthouse is secured behind a fence that makes close examination and photography of the exterior nearly impossible. I also did not know that the lighthouse location would be blanketed by heavy fog. A quick look and a couple of photographs highlighted my short stop.
My second stop was Fort Worden Historical State Park
, home to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center
and the Point Wilson Lighthouse
. I was told upon my 1:40 PM arrival at the marine science center that there would be a “public feeding” at 2 PM. I wasn’t sure which sea critter was going to be fed and wasn’t sure which member of the public was going to be victimized; however, I was willing to wait and see! Most of the specimens are invertebrates in touch tanks and generally fall
I Don’t Have a Clue, but Interesting Nonetheless
Port Townsend Marine Science Center - Port Townsend WA
into the sea urchin, star fish, sea anemone groups of marine critters. After a short instructional session, the curator and volunteers assisted the children with a one-on-one “public feeding.” No munchkins were harmed during the performance of ….
Across the street at a sister site, there is a skeleton of an orca whale, Hope (as so named by area students), who became beached near Port Townsend and eventually found a new home and a second life as a public education tool. A short video documents the futile efforts to save the beached whale. One of the more interesting and unique exhibits displays sand samples from around the world. I was quite surprised by the variety.
My next stop was the aforementioned Point Wilson Lighthouse. Somewhere I got information that the lighthouse was open to the public on Saturdays from 1-4 PM; however, a sign claims the lighthouse has been closed to the public since it was automated in November 1976. Since that date was before Al Gore invented the Internet, this error was not a typo but rather a mistake by the web designer or yours truly. Probably the latter. I walked to the beach and watched several
fisherpeople along the shore, drove around the fort, enjoyed the buildings and headed for my next, and final, destination – another lighthouse.
The short drive to Marrowstone Island and Fort Flagler Historical State Park
, where Marrowstone Point Lighthouse
is located, was interesting but nothing spectacular. The information I had about the lighthouse was that the grounds and tower both are closed to the public but that the lighthouse can be viewed from the beach. The sun was beginning to break through the persistent layer of whatever was making the day less than spectacular, but there were no signs from the parking area indicating which direction to travel. Visually clueless, I decided to forego the attraction and venture back to Port Angeles on “the road less travelled.” Exiting U.S. 101 at Simdars Rd, I meandered my way through Sequim and Dungeness before being forced back onto the four-lane divided highway, U.S. 101, for the final miles back to the RV park. Today was the kind of day I envisioned when I began The Great Adventure
in 2010. There was historic architecture to admire, locals to enlighten, tasty food to enjoy and tourists to watch. Had the sun shone more and had the lighthouses been accessible, it
would have been classic!
Sunday morning greeted me with yet another gloomy day. I have absolutely nothing to complain about from a weather perspective; however, if the gloom is going to prevent me from seeing the mountain peaks and other vistas, it might as well be offering some relief to these drought-stricken folks. I had a short agenda for the day but had a couple of contingency plans in my hip pocket if the weather broke. I had read in an Olympic Peninsula Travel Planner booklet that Port Angeles sported several murals and pieces of sidewalk sculptures scattered about town. That was all the excuse I needed to get some exercise and see the community. Sunday mornings are generally good mural days. Many murals have been painted onto the side of a building that abuts a customer parking lot. Since many businesses don’t open until noon on Sundays (if at all), a few people are sleeping off a festive Saturday evening, some are still at the campground and most are getting ready for church service; the parking lots are usually almost or completely empty. That makes for better viewing and better photography.
I spotted a half dozen or
so murals and a dozen or so metal sculptures. I think I understand why I like murals so much. First, most are historical accounts of a community’s heritage. Second, I can look at the painting and actually understand what the artist was trying to portray. No guesswork. No interpretation. It’s right there in blue, yellow, red, green, brown and chartreuse. Pure and simple, murals make sense! When one adds in the sense of community pride they convey, nothing more need be said. Most of the sculptures, on the other side of the coin, remain a major bewilderment to me. They’re not headless horsemen, because they have no horse. They are not Civil War veterans, because they are too disfigured. They are not stick figures, because they are three-dimensional. I’m not sure what they are supposed to represent, and the artist left no obvious clues.
Some of the murals are removed from the downtown business district. It happened that the last mural I sought was emblazoned on the Feiro Marine Life Center
– how convenient, my next stop anyway! After enjoying the exceptional set of murals, I sauntered into the facility. This small marine life center contains touch tanks and is geared to
the young explorer. I enjoyed the exhibits for a few minutes and headed back to the murals. They are what gives me reason to recommend this attraction. On the way back to the truck, the ferry from Victoria, British Columbia was discharging foot traffic and vehicles. I paused to watch the vehicles as they cleared customs. Interesting. During the entire duration of my adventure, the sun never made an appearance but actually began to break through the clouds about 3:30 PM, after I was resting quite comfortably in the Bighorn.
Monday found me taking a drive to the western portion of Olympic National Park and Sol Duc Falls. I debated making the drive 1) since most of the one-hour route to the falls turnoff would be on the itinerary again during my next relocation on Wednesday hence; and, 2) with all of the overcast skies that I, truthfully, had been expecting; I needed something more than a walk in the woods to motivate me. A waterfall was just what the psychiatrist ordered. Near Lake Crescent, which abuts the highway in places, there was a major construction project – traffic was backed up in both directions as far as the
eye could see. The delay was major enough that most drivers turned off the engine during the wait. When the blockade was lifted for the oncoming traffic, I began counting vehicles but stopped at 50 and would estimate the count was about 70-80. I was hoping the construction would be completed sufficiently to avoid long delays by Wednesday next.
I arrived at the very large Sol Duc Falls
trailhead parking lot without further issues and made the enjoyable 0.8-mile, one-way walk through old growth forest to the impressive cascading waterfall. The well-marked, well-groomed trail has a 200-foot elevation change which calculates to a 4.73 percent grade. There is a foot bridge over the Sol Duc River just a few yards downstream from the fall, as well as vantage points both upstream and downstream from the bridge, so getting a great view and some nice pictures is very easy. While at the fall, I heard a loud, explosive verbal outburst in a foreign language. Looking to see what generated the commotion, I saw a young man standing next to the bridge railing with a very small child balanced on his shoulders. The child’s mother was, understandably, quite concerned about the postulated preschooler’s
Note the “Green Barrage”
Sol Duc Falls - Olympis National Park WA
positively perilous perch. Returning to the parking lot, I thought an evacuation order might have been issued. Dozens of people were headed to the fall or beyond, as indicated by their large, crammed backpacks. Indeed, the parking lot was plumb full.
I had a melancholy, lethargic week in Port Angeles. Although I expected the weather to be overcast and foul, I had been so spoiled by great weather heretofore in 2017 that I just couldn’t find the motivation to explore the major reason for my stay in Port Angeles – Olympic National Park. I find hiking in sunshine much more invigorating that hiking through fog. I won’t even bring up the subject of photography – particularly the inaccessible lighthouses I was planning to shoot (since I knew climbing would not be an option) or the prohibition of photography at the Makah Museum (which not only assists me with the blog today, but will allow me to revisit the attraction from my rocking chair). Port Angeles is a blue-collar community, while Port Townsend is a quaint town that is great for shopping or people-watching. Cape Flattery is a very interesting natural area, but it is far removed via an arguably
“scenic” byway. The murals I found in Port Angeles were interesting, but the sidewalk art was disappointing. All in all, the week was okay. Uncle Larry came, he saw and now he knows – now, you do as well.
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