Friday, February 25, 2011

Three Days in the Olympic Peninsula

(Part I of a three-part series on my 2010 vacation in the Pacific Northwest)

I hate winter. One of my most effective coping devices involves either planning future vacations or reliving vacations I've taken in the past. In the spirit of getting through the winter, then, here's the first of a three-part series devoted to my excursion to the Pacific Northwest in September of 2010, when my husband and I toured through the Olympic Peninsula, Seattle, southern British Columbia, and the Mt. Baker wilderness.

Part I will confine itself to our three days in the Olympic Peninsula. Our route is depicted below. The various locations I describe will match the letters on the map.

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Sept-03-2010: Dan and I flew six hours from New York City to the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (A), then drove three hours west of Seattle to our first night's destination: Lake Quinault Lodge (B) in the Olympic National Park.

View of the main lodge from the dock

Lake Quinault Lodge, built in 1926, is one of the "great lodges" of National Parks. PBS has a series of videos called Great Lodges in which they explore these unique historic accommodations built in various scenic locations in the US and Canada.

Dan, taking in sunset over Lake Quinault from an Adirondack yard chair on the lawn

With the lodge behind us and the lake in front of us, we began to unwind from our long day of travel. We laughed as new mounds of dirt appeared on the lawn next to our chairs, the result of some industrious gophers. We also enjoyed watching the antics of the Steller's jays, a West coast bird we don't see very often. A peaceful, colorful sunset over Lake Quinault made us know that our vacation had truly begun.

Sept-04-2010: Still jet-lagged, we woke up before 6 AM and decided to go for an early morning hike. We rambled around a 3-mile loop through some really lush rain forest terrain.

After our hike we had breakfast in the lodge before checking out. The morning's drive took us north on Route 101, first through wooded areas then along the Pacific coastline. We stopped at Kalaloch Lodge (C) to stretch our legs and enjoy some incredible ocean views.

Morning mist over the Pacific Ocean

Driftwood at the mouth of the Kalaloch Creek

Our next destination was the town of Neah Bay where we visited the Makah Museum and Cultural Research Center (D). The exhibits in the museum are devoted to the many artifacts from the nearby village of Ozette, buried in a mudslide more than 500 years ago. A storm in 1970 exposed the artifacts, and archaeologists working with the Makah people were able to study the details of life long ago, previously known only through oral tradition. For more information, please browse the links below:

After several hours in the museum, we stopped at Washburn's General Store in Neah Bay to pick up our parking permit for Cape Flattery (E), the northwest-most point of the United States. Leaving the car in the parking lot (where there is no view whatsoever), we hiked on elevated walkways out to the point.

Some of the trees were quite amazing!

After a short walk, this view opened up.

This vantage point reminded me of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

We wished for binoculars or a telephoto lens - or both - for a better look at the puffins and starfish on the rocks below us. Even without magnification we spotted a sea lion a few times as he broke the water's surface to breathe.

Waiting for sunset...

... which proved to be well worth the wait!

Returning to the car, we drove about 45 minutes on Route 112 to the town of Sekiu where we checked into The Bay Motel (F) and got a bite to eat at the diner next door. Around 10 pm we collapsed into bed after a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Sept-05-2010: At breakfast in the diner we had sweeping views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The friendly town of Sekiu attracts fishermen and their families, so the first thing people asked us in the diner was if we had caught anything. No one seemed to mind that we were there to hike.

Our third day's drive took us back into the woods, going east on Route 101 towards Lake Crescent (G), a beautifully clear and calm glacial lake. At our first glimpse of it, we found a place to get out of the car and admire it.

Southern shore of Lake Crescent, looking north

Lake Crescent is a real gem. Glaciers dug out a very deep valley which flooded about 7,000 years ago. Officially, the depth of the lake is said to be 624 feet (190 m), but unofficial measurements of 1000 feet (300 m) have been recorded. A lack of nitrogen in the water inhibits the growth algae, making the water crystal clear. When you combine the clarity of the water, the depth of the lake, and some reflection of the blue sky above, you get water that's intensely blue. I have never seen such a beautiful lake.

View from the dock outside the Lake Crescent Lodge

The Lake Crescent Lodge is another one of the great historic lodges in the Olympic National Park. This accommodation consists of a collection of guest houses and lakeside cottages in close proximity to the capstone Main Lodge, built in 1916, which contains a lounge, dining room, and gift shop.

After a stroll around the grounds and time spent on the dock taking in the sweeping views, we retired to the Main Lodge to relax in the sun room.


We could easily have spent several days at Lake Crescent.  In fact, we vowed to do that on our next trip west. For now, though, it was time to move on.

Hurricane Ridge (H) was our next stop. There, it's possible to drive to an elevation of 5,200 feet (1,585 m) for spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains.

Hurricane Ridge has notoriously unpredictable and rapidly changing weather. As we started up the mountain, we were greeted by some pretty dense fog. We weren't sure we would see anything at all at the top. Luckily, though, the strong winds opened up some nice mountain vistas.

The Olympic Mountains as seen from the Hurricane Ridge Visitor's Center

Despite the fact that we were running a little behind schedule, we decided to take one of the short and easy hikes.

The trail took us past gnarled and fallen trees

Fog hovered just behind patches of snow and mountain wildflowers

After some hot chocolate and a bite to eat in the Visitor's Center, we climbed back into the car and headed for Port Orchard (I) to visit the newest member of the Hood family, three-month old Conner, and his proud parents, Kyle and Lisa.

After relaxing in Kyle and Lisa's home, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner where Conner attracted women like a magnet and enjoyed himself as much as we did.

It must have been close to 10:30 pm when we said our goodbyes and drove down to Seattle. We had hoped to ferry across Puget Sound, but the ferries weren't running very often at that late hour so we took the long route. We arrived at our motel (J) just before midnight.

Our three-day whirlwind tour of the Olympic Peninsula had ended. We got a taste of the terrain and hopefully someday we will go back for a longer stay and more extensive hiking.  For now, though, we were ready to embark on the second segment of our trip - adventures in Seattle and a brief foray into British Columbia.

© 2011, Linda Mason Hood
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1 comment:

Derek said...

Wow, that was a long detour down to Tacoma rather than taking the Bainbridge Ferry. If you had it to do over again, would you have waited for the next ferry?