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Et In Olympia Ego

I spent the weekend and yesterday on the Olympic Peninsula, a place I've visited a dozen times over the years, from the clamming beaches to the artist colonies to the Indian reservations. This time I saw the furthest portion of the peninsula, and the weather cooperated fully: we had two sunny days in the rain forest region that gets 160 inches (400 cm) of rain per year.

Over time, I've figured out that the peninsula is big enough to require at least 3 days to traverse, and is better approached clockwise, going through the gloomy industrial hells of Tacoma and Aberdeen (Kurt Cobain's home town) first, the better to enjoy the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the ferry ride on the final leg. That's the route we took this time as well. Aberdeen and Hoquiam don't really look any better in full sun than they do under the traditional downpour.

My favorite sections included the views of Crescent Lake and the Quinault Lodge. We stayed at the QL itself for two nights in the "barky" section; an annex called the Boathouse that is entirely for travellers who bring their dogs. The original lodge was built in 1926, and later visited by FDR. His visit inspired the creation of the Olympic National Park in 1936. In fact, there's quite a tradition of wilderness lodges on the wild west coast of the Olympics, from Kalaloch to the Sol Duc resort (which was once reached from Seattle in a 2-day trip by steamship, Stanley steamer automobile, a ferry across Crescent Lake, and horseback). Most of these lodges are still operating and still remote. No cell reception, no TVs, pretty much ideal places to ignore the Oscars.

Perhaps because it is the off season, the wildlife was out in force. We saw a pack of eight loons on the mirror-glass surface of Lake Quinault, and later almost drove past three huge white trumpeter swans bathing in the Quinault River, diving, and making big flapping wing displays. I spotted a herd of about 20 Roosevelt elk, browsing in the Sol Duc valley in the rain. We also saw our share of rain forest squirrels: Small, blackish brown, and very shy.

shellyinseattle and I took the dog along, hoping to hike with the pet, but it was not to be: national parks don't allow pets on the trails, and frankly the beast just wasn't interested in any walk of more than 200 yards or so. Our best hike was probably Irely Lake, on the North Fork of the Quinault River. Ruby Beach was a sight as a storm rolled in and threw logs around in the surf, but it was not a cozy walk.

The trip lowlights include the steady stream of logging trucks, which hit the road in force on Monday morning, and the frequent clear cuts. Many of these are on private or tribal land, so there's really no complaining to the owners, but they're a blight on the landscape.

Most disappointing was the closure of the Sol Duc hot springs during the winter months, a place I've wanted to visit ever since I moved to Seattle. Still no luck there.

Finally, nature is a bitch: we were caught without our rain gear deep in the Queets rain forest when the rain finally decided to return on Monday. Yes yes, the term "rain forest" should have been a clue, but it's been dry here for a week. So, we got not a little soaked, but deeply, thoroughly, why-did-anyone-ever-live-here, mud-up-to-my-ankles soaked. I think that pair of hiking boots may be done for. Mind you, this was on the "easy" Queets trail. The hard Queets trail involves fording a glacial river 20 yards wide at the trailhead, then heading upcountry into the mountains. After 440 miles, about 50 of them on gravel roads, we caught the ferry from Kingston and returned last night. Our car was the first to be loaded, giving us a perfect view of Puget Sound over the open bow.

The orange lights of home slowly grew closer and closer, and Olympia faded in the rear view for another year.

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