Slide Show

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Places On The Olympic Peninsula to Send People You Don't Like Very Much.

Daylight on the Hoh River
From the rugged acidified ocean seashore to the majestic shrinking glaciers, the recreational wonderland we call the Olympic Peninsula has more diverse and delicate eco-systems than you can shake a stick at. While it is a privilege to share these jewels of creation with tourists there are those whose bucket-list demands, yuppie anxiety disorders and been-there-done-that attitude make them a pleasure to be without.

So pack a lunch, grab a camera, cell phone, pepper spray, antacids, highway flares, rubber suit and barn boots and don't forget your State Park, National Park, National Forest, Federal Wildlife Refuge and Tribal permits and hit the road.

It has been said that the secret to knowing where to go is in knowing where not to go. Once you figure out where not to go you’re half way there. Here are some places you probably don't want to go but you can recommend to someone you don't like very much.

Just getting on to the Olympic Peninsula can be a challenge for the tourists. With long ferry line ups and the frequent surprise closings of the Hood Canal Bridge for the Trident Submarines.

It’s been said that if just one of these warships shot off all their ordnance it would equal all of the bombs dropped in World War Two. The pressures of skippering a Doomsday Device must be enormous. The Captain probably doesn’t care about stopping traffic to open the bridge, trapping a long line of sweaty, desperate tourists in dire need of restroom facilities. The tourists had better toughen up. If they ever get across the Hood Canal Bridge they will find the restroom facilities of the Olympic Peninsula can be an experience that tests the endurance of the human spirit.
What do we care? They’re just tourists. That’s why we put a season on them.   

Of course the tourist can always avoid the Hood Canal Bridge by taking the Ferry from Whidbey Island to Port Townsend.  It is a scenic cruise where The Strait of Juan de Fuca, The Georgia Strait, Hood Canal, Admiralty Inlet and Puget Sound converge in a tide- ripping cauldron we call the Graveyard of the Pacific. Curiously, the ferry has permanent list that officials assure us is normal in ships built by the highest bidder. Riding the Port Townsend Ferry is like being on the Titanic, with cell phones. If you should arrive in Port Townsend safely, use caution. You may be asked to sign a petition.

You can avoid the Hood Canal Bridge and the Port Townsend Ferry with that other death wish, a drive around Hood Canal.  Prepare to be stuck in an endless line of crawling traffic on a road so crooked that it seems to be going in circles.  The urge to pass is one of Man’s most powerful instincts. Even if passing one car will only put them behind another car that is behind 25 more, they will pass.

All you can do is maintain course and speed and pray a deer doesn’t jump out. Deer are sensitive woodland creatures with a finely-tuned sense of revenge. They wait until every year at about this time to jump in traffic, causing accidents just to get even for hunting season.  
                    Deer waiting for the right moment to get revenge

With any luck at all you'll make it to Sequim. That’s the good news. The bad news is Sequim has an elk herd that blocks the highway whenever they feel like it. Once a quiet little dairy farming town, Sequim has turned into a retirement center we call “God’s Waiting Room”, Today’s Sequim has so many big box stores they block my view of Wal-Mart. 

Sequim is not an Indian word for traffic jam but it might as well be. People in Sequim drive around with little dogs in their laps causing the rest of us to ask,

“Please, let the dog drive.”

Leaving Sequim the tourist heads west. Port Angeles is only 17 miles away but there are so many worse places to see on the way.

Deer Park is at the end of a single lane dirt road that will make you kiss the ground if you ever see pavement again. Also known as Deer Fly Park for the tremendous thirst of the insect population this scenic area provides a majestic viewpoint to many more miles of bug infested forest. There's a picnic area and a small campground. As I drove through I thought the friendly campers were waving at me but they weren't. They were swatting at bugs. Activities at Deer Park include slapping each other as an excuse for swatting insects and trying to eat while keeping the bugs off your food. Remember to dress in many layers since the bugs are liable to eat their way through the first couple of them. Next time instead of going to Deer Park I might just make a donation to the local blood bank. I wouldn’t send my worst enemy to Deer Park but a tourist? Heck yeah.

Port Angeles Harbor

Inevitably the tourist reaches Port Angeles. Also known as The Gateway City, The Second National City, New Cherbourg, Old Dungeness, False Dungeness, Winsor’s Harbor and Puerto de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles. No matter what you call it; Port Angeles is a town with an identity crisis that’s 17 miles from everywhere.

17 miles to the North across the treacherous Strait of Juan de Fuca there is Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. They speak Canadian eh? There is no Canadian word for “Sewage Treatment Plant.” The Victoria City Mascot is a little brown figure they call, “Floatie”. Victoria’s City Motto is: “Flush twice, it has to make it to Port Angeles.”

                                                    The Coho    

If you have a criminal record the Canadian authorities will find out about it in the time it takes to ride the Coho Ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, where you may be sent back on the next boat. Those without a criminal record can expect to have their belongings searched and privates sniffed by dogs looking for whatever, drugs perhaps. Although smuggling drugs to Victoria with its’ booming B.C. Bud industry would be like smuggling beer into a brewery, eh. The only thing worse than Canadian Customs is getting through United States Customs when you try to re-enter your own country. If you have baggage it will probably be searched. If you don’t have baggage they’ll want to know why.  I’ve sent a lot of people I don’t like very much to Victoria. The weird thing is they seemed to like it.

It is also 17 miles south of Port Angeles to scenic Hurricane Ridge within Olympic National Park. 
Visitors are asked to travel lightly. Drive across the traffic counter, get an informative brochure printed on recycled paper and get out. That would be too easy.  
Trail to Badger Valley
For that special someone you really don’t like I would suggest a side trip to the nearby Badger Valley. Named for some imaginary badgers a pioneer thought he saw, Badger Valley is a lot like Deer Park except you have to hike into a hole to get there.  Then instead of driving away to escape the bugs you have to crawl back up out of a steep valley. Keep an eye on the weather. In the worst hiking tragedy to ever occur in Olympic National Park, people died in a blizzard trying to get out of Badger Valley. Always keep in mind while you’re hiking to Badger Valley, the marmots are trashing your car.

17 miles to the West of Port Angeles you will find Lake Crescent but there are so many worse places to see on the way. The Elwha River Restoration project is a great experiment for scientists from all over the world to study, or a bad joke where the majestic Elwha River has been transformed into a slurry too thick to drink and too thin to plow.

Lake Aldwell Lake Bed

The dried up former Lake Aldwell Lake Bed looks like a clear-cut of massive stumps with a muddy ditch flowing through the middle of it. Leaving this scenic mud-hole we continue up the Elwha River to a larger, deeper mud hole.

The Lake Mills was once one of the best trout fishing lakes in Washington State. The Dam site is closed off to public entry for good reason. The Dam Removal is a work in progress with eroding mud-banks and sheer cliffs for skilled professionals hooked to a crane only. The bed of Lake Mills is a depressing wasteland that will take decades to heal. It is a devastating reminder of the destructive power of man. The only thing worse is the destructive power of nature which has carved this river for millennia.

The unfortunate tourist continues up Whiskey Bend Road which was not built according to legend, by following the sheriff who was chasing a moonshiner through the woods, but it might as well have been. Inevitably the tourist comes to a trail head. Leaving their vehicle at the mercy of gangs of bandits who patrol our National Parks stealing from the unsuspecting who leave valuables in their cars, our tourist begins walking to one of the more disappointing destinations in the Olympics: Goblin Gates.

Goblin Gates

Named by members of the 1890 Press Expedition who may have been suffering the effects of the Whiskey Bend Syndrome, Goblin Gates makes you wish our explorers would have kept the Indian name, whatever that may have been. I have stared for at Goblin Gates for years and never seen one.  W. C. Fields yes, but no goblins.

Bitter and disillusioned, I continued to the next practical tourist joke: Geyser Valley, named by that same impressionable Press Expedition for an imaginary auditory phenomenon that may have been the drumming of a ruffed grouse.  Years of searching by this wilderness reporter have revealed no trace of geysers in this once pristine wilderness valley. 

Geyser Valley

Have some fun. Don't tell the tourists there are no geysers in  Geyser valley or that a hike through the present day Geyser Valley is about as scenic as walking through a gravel pit. The old growth forest of Geyser Valley with its ancient trees and fluffy moss was recently flushed down the river by a massive landslide -flood event leaving hundreds of acres of desolate wasteland that will take decades to heal. Even worse, since Geyser Valley is deep within the boundaries of The People's Democratic Republic of Olympic National Park, a World Heritage Site and crown jewel of the National Park System, there are currently no loggers to blame. No charges have been filed.


Continuing up the Elwha trail our tourist encounters the effects of the decayed infrastructure in our National Parks.  Frequent signs along the trial commonly post blatantly inaccurate mileage readings when I know for a geologic fact what with plate tectonics and all, the trails have gotten longer since I was hiking them as a kid.

Humes Ranch

Inevitably our tourist reaches Humes Ranch. This once legendary fleshpot of the upper Elwha sits decayed and abandoned to remind the tourist they missed the party by a hundred years or so. The Humes Ranch Cabin was built around 1900 by the Humes brothers who were on their way to the Klondike Gold Rush at the time but they decided to settle in the Elwha Valley instead.

The Humes brothers were varmint hunters who killed wolves, cougar and bear for the bounties that were paid at the time. They also guided parties of mountaineers and hunters deep into the interior of the Olympics. Grant Humes was a writer who in his later years said that there was more to hunting than killing animals. He established a game refuge on the ranch.

With the passing of the Humes brothers the cabin was abandoned until 1940 when Herb Crisler moved in with his new bride Lois. The Crislers spent years filming what would become the Disney movie, “Olympic Elk” using a Humes Ranch as a base of operations.

The social scene at Humes Ranch is described in excruciating detail in the 1989 tell-all book “An Olympic Mountain Enchantment” by Ruby El Hult. Ruby was a young journalist in 1949 when she came to Port Angeles to write about the Olympic Peninsula in a book that would eventually be called “The Untamed Olympics.” Ruby describes Humes Ranch as a busy place where as many as 50 people stopped for a visit one Memorial Day weekend.  The Crislers were accommodating hosts who supplied their overnight guests with fresh vegetables and hot rocks that were to be put in the sleeping bag to keep warm at night. Which inevitably lead to the immortal line from a lonely male hiker,

“You mean with all of these pretty girls around I have to sleep with a rock?”

Then came the fateful morning when Lois went off to town but couldn’t get the truck started. She came back to the ranch early and caught Herb and Ruby on the lawn swing. Lois was nobody to mess with.

In her book “Arctic Wild” Lois writes about filming in the Arctic. She describes being left alone in grizzly country with no rifle. Lois figures she’d just hit the grizzly in the head with her hatchet if it came to that. The Crislers brought 5 wolf cubs back to their ranch in Colorado. The wolves were kept in a series of pens that would give them some freedom. It is a seven year experiment that did not work. Lois wrote,

“We would strain every nerve… and it would all be as nothing to the wolves but would keep us poor.” With a disturbing prescience Lois continues,

“We should learn Buchenwald, for its making is in our hearts, in the terrible “sweet” and “nice” ones too.”  I don’t want to ruin the rest of the story for you so let’s just say Ruby was lucky to escape with her life. She didn’t see Herb again for another fifteen years. By that time Herb and Lois had divorced. Humes Ranch was abandoned as it is to this day.
The good news is that The Park Service restored this historic cabin. The bad news is that they took away the welcome mat. No camping is allowed. The unlucky tourist is advised to move along where they soon encounter even more environmental degradation.

Convolution Canyon
Elwha River 

Convolution Canyon was also named by the 1890 Press Expedition. With all the landmarks in the county named after bears, burns or whiskey the Press boys finally got one right. They speculated this spectacular canyon may have been formed by massive landslides.  They even supposed that it could have been the site of the legendary “Last Pow Wow”.
That was a rumor spread by then territorial Governor Eugene Semple about the local warring tribes meeting in a secret valley. The tribes declared a truce and engaged in athletic contests until they were buried under a land slide by the evil Giant Seatco. He or she must have had a busy schedule. Seatco was accused of the same of land slide-massacre events at Lake Crescent, the South Fork of the Quinault and on the Wynoochie River.  Only one thing is for sure. Convolution Canyon has been falling into the Elwha River since the last ice age.
 Back then the Elwha River was dammed by a three thousand foot thick wall of ice that was clogging up the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This created a huge lake that must have lasted for thousands of years. When the ice melted it released a flow of sediment that would have made the current mud holes behind the old dams seem like mud puddles by comparison.

These prehistoric mega-mud flows did not stop the salmon from running up the Elwha. By July of 1790 Captain Quimper was buying hundred pounder's at the mouth of the river. Huge runs of salmon and steelhead continued running up the Elwha even after the dams were in.

In 1945 story in the Port Angeles Evening News by Jack Henson describes hundreds of King salmon spawning in the Elwha below the lower Lake Aldwell Dam. I observed similar runs of salmon in the Elwha in the 1970’s How these runs could survive so long after the dam was built in 1911 and wait to crash in the 1980’s is one of the great mysteries that modern science has failed to address.

Meanwhile Seatco kept pushing landslides into the river. In November 1934 river mud was polluting the Port Angeles Industrial Water Supply line. In the 1960's another landslide from the west side of Convolution Canyon fell into the Elwha forming a lake. This lake washed out.  In the 1970's there was another slide and another lake. It was the hottest fishing hole in the Olympics.  All you had to do was stop at Humes Ranch for some grasshoppers then hike up to Lake Elwha for giant rainbows and Dolly Varden. It was good, too good to last. One day the stupid secret lake washed out again with a flood that killed a whole forest clear down to Long Creek. The river would never be the same.  

The Elwha River Dam removal is an experiment asks a question: will dam removal restore the runs of salmon to their former numbers?   We’re not sure how many salmon were in the Elwha before the coming of the white man but it doesn’t matter.  Modern fisheries management, like many organized religions is based on a consensus of what we believe to be true. Experts agree there may have been several hundred thousand salmon in the Elwha and that’s good enough for me. Who wouldn’t want to see a historic run of salmon return to the Elwha. The economic benefits alone would be worth millions.  If the Elwha River Dam removal is a real experiment in salmon restoration then we might want to look at a river that was not dammed to compare how the fish are doing in a pristine environment.
                                                                Hoh River
The Hoh River flows out of the opposite side of Mount Olympus from the Elwha. While the 1911 Elwha Dam blocked off all but five miles of the 38 miles of spawning habitat in the Elwha River. The Hoh River has never been dammed. It should be good fishing right?  No. The Hoh River is another good place to send people you don’t like very much.
On the way to the Hoh the tourists can experience the death defying drive around Lake Crescent.  It’s located in a haunted valley cursed by evil spirits since that fateful day in the dim past when the Quileute and the Clallam were having a battle. The evil Giant Seatco stood upon Mt. Storm King and buried the combatants under a rock-slide that separated Lake Crescent from Lake Sutherland. Ever since then there's been something weird about Lake Crescent.
                                                                  Mt. Storm King
                                                                   Lake Crescent

The Natives avoided Lake Crescent and so do I. You don't need a fishing license to fish in Lake Crescent since it's in a National Park but you will need an attorney to figure out the rules that all pretty much boil down to the same word, no.
The road around Lake Crescent follows an old elk trail. It’s greasy and treacherous after a rain and it rains all the time. Just across the lake you will find an even worse route, The Spruce Railroad Trail is the perfect place to send someone you don’t like very much. It’s the only place I have gotten a tick. Others have gotten them as well.  Fortunately there have been no cases of Lyme disease but I ain't going to be the first one. There are even rumors of poison oak along this trail. Yuk!
Lake Crescent

West of Lake Crescent you are in logging country. You may see a road sign that says  “Danger falling trees.”  Do not to be alarmed. Maintain course and speed. Many loggers can hit a stake with a falling tree but darned few of them can hit a moving target. Where there are loggers there are log trucks. Tourists frequently complain that log trucks act like they own the road. Do the math. A fully loaded log trucks weighs around 90,000 lbs. You don't. Log trucks act like they own the road because they do.

With any luck our tourist will make it to Forks. Described as a “Festering wound of a town” Forks got an Honorable Mention in the book, “Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America.”  In the Sunday New York Times a Seattle writer called Forks a “big-eating, hard drinking town that Seattleites find “forlorn”, “Godforsaken’ and “ugly.”

These meandering screeds all had one thing in common — they hated loggers. They blamed the loggers for cutting down trees, endangering salmon and even changing the climate in books and newspapers that are printed on paper that comes from wood that is cut by loggers.

Forks was once the self-proclaimed logging capitol of the world. Then the loggers were blamed for endangering the spotted owl. The survival of the loggers was threatened. They joined the Spotted Owl as fellow endangered species whose population continues to decline. Then something odd and wonderful happened. Groups of tourists began taking each other's pictures at the "Welcome to Forks" sign.

The Twilight books by Stephanie Meyer made Forks a worldwide tourist destination for vampire groupies and those who study them.

While there is a disturbing trend in modern journalism for writers to use fleeting celebrity references as an excuse for responsible reporting, it was never that way with Stephanie Meyer and me. Her books about Forks have sold millions of copies worldwide. I have also written about Forks. My books have sold under a million copies. Luckily, the economic vagaries of the publishing industry are irrelevant in the pursuit of an art form. As writers, Stephanie Meyer and I share a kinship that is beyond words. We both have a warm spot in our hearts for Forks. It is the friendliest town on the Olympic Peninsula. I would never recommend Forks to anyone I don’t like very much.
Have them continue south of Forks over roads that seem about to collapse over the side of the mountain, because they are. If you drive too far you will reach the Pacific Ocean.
Pacific Ocean
 People should stay away from the ocean no matter how much you don’t like them. Our ocean beaches are a treacherous mix of deadly rip tides and surf logs that kill. Turn around and go back to the Hoh River
Roaring Hell Rapids Hoh River
If you really don’t like these people, have them stop at The Hoh Oxbow Campground. After driving around in circles for hours someone in that carload of tourists is going to need to go to the bathroom. Finding adequate restroom facilities in the wilderness could be one of the most important survival skills you can have.  Our tourist visitors to the Olympic Peninsula are generally from somewhere else. They could be from back east like Idaho or down south like Oregon.  These foreigners are unaccustomed to the local diet that relies heavily on the three basic food groups:  grease, sugar and alcohol.  Add the effects of sleep deprivation and mixed medications to  the stress of a vacation grudge match with a vengeful significant other and the surely brood of teenage demon-spawn and it can add up to an emergency situation for the gastrically-distressed.

                                                           Outhouse of the Doomed
Remember you never liked them very much anyway. Send them to the outhouse of the doomed at the Hoh Oxbow campground.  Most folks won’t be able to stay inside longer than two seconds.  Anyone who stays in longer than 30 seconds is presumed disabled from the fumes.  A rescue attempt would be futile.  The only first aid I know is, ‘check for wallet.’


Hoh River Oxbow

Not all wilderness adventurers however, are cut from the same cloth. There are some who are able to endure the rigors of the pit toilet for periods of a minute or more and emerge from the ordeal with no ill effects.  Like the camper who was laying in his tent one night and heard a rustling sound that upon investigation, seemed to be coming from beneath the floor.  We have a saying in the deep dark woods that, ‘a man’s best friend is a good sharp ax’ but it wasn’t true in this case.  As our camper grabbed an ax and chopped his tent floor to pieces to reveal the true identity of the night time visitor, the civet cat or spotted skunk. 

It is an eternal wilderness truth that you can never find a flashlight when you need one.  The tent zipper will stick when you least expect it. No matter, our screaming camper tore his way out of the tent to emerge gasping in a refreshing Hoh Rainforest sprinkle.

 Unfortunately the skunk was fatally injured.  The soggy camper crawled back into the leaky tent in a vain effort to find his keys, so he could start his truck and turn on the heater.  Big drops of rain splattered like buckshot forming a bloody, skunky pool in the middle of the tent.  Dawn’s early light found our camper swathed in a leaky down sleeping bag that had been chopped up in the mayhem. Unable to find the keys to his truck he left a trail of feathers to the outhouse on his way to setting a record for staying in the longest.  There I discovered the secret to enduring the outhouse of the doomed. Get sprayed by a skunk first and a trip to the outhouse will seem like a day at the spa.

Hoh River Spring Chinook
Fishing with a hook and line on portions of the Hoh River that are inside Olympic National Park was already limited to catch and release of all native fish.  You could only keep a hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin.
 The Hoh River flows out of a nearly million acre National Park down a valley that’s  been preserved by The U.S. Forest Service, The Hoh River Trust, The Western Rivers Conservancy, The Wild Salmon Center and $12 million dollars in federal funding under the Endangered Species Act. This protection extends down to the mouth of the Hoh where the river enters the ocean inside another pristine wilderness, the  Olympic National Park Coast Strip,  which is co- managed by NOAA as the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The entire length of the Hoh River is being studied, restored and administered by the greatest minds of science. The Hoh River studies are legion. Floating the Hoh River one observes plastic ribbons left in the trees and tied to rocks by scientific researchers as evidence of yet another study. Restoration efforts include buying property from willing sellers, building log jams and eliminating the practice of planting hatchery fish. Fishing in the Hoh River has been administered by a complicated system that divides the river into seven different zones, each with an array of seasons, gear restrictions, and bag limits that will make your head spin.

This year Olympic National Park closed their 2 sections, the mouth and the upper Hoh River to hook and line fishing even for hatchery, fish until Sept 1.

Hoh Summer Steelhead Clipped Adipose Fin
Hatchery Spring Chinook With Clipped Adipose Fin Hoh River
Summer Coho with clipped Adipose Fin Hoh River
Some hatcheries don't bother to clip their fish for a variety of reasons. Other fish hatcheries clip other fins. The ventral, pectoral and dorsal are hacked off at random for reasons my research has failed to discover
Winter steelhead with clipped ventral fin, Hoh River
Winter steelhead with clipped dorsal fin Hoh River
Winter steelhead with clipped dorsal and ventral fin Hoh River.

This can make for an interesting series of fishing regulations. I have spent years studying the fishing laws in an attempt to translate them into English. The most difficult part of cracking this code was the little known “credit card” edict. Also known as “The Game Warden Employment Security Act”,  that requires you to release any fish whose dorsal fin is wider than the width of a credit card, whether it is clipped or not.
Hatchery Fish?

The clipped fin rules were designed to allow a selective harvest of hatchery fish because they are presumed to be different if not inferior to the wild ones. What is the difference between a 20 pound wild or hatchery steelhead? Scientists are still studying the question. You wonder how the hatchery fish, the summer Coho, steelhead and spring Chinook got inside the National Park in the first place, since no one would admit planting them there. 
Scientists have told us for years that salmon and steelhead return to the river where they were born.  Unfortunately in the real world, fish are constantly getting lost. It’s a genetic trait that allowed salmon to colonize the extent of their range. 

I thought catching hatchery fish in a National Park was a good thing for the environment since it would eliminate the hatchery fish they hate and fill up my smoke house.  I was wrong. 

So if the Hoh River which has never had a dam must be closed to fishing for conservation, when can we expect to fish the Elwha once the dams are removed? Those who ignore history are doomed to watch television



No comments:

Post a Comment