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Life In The Slow Lane With Eric & Laurel

~Because it’s all about the journey~

Port Townsend And Beyond

Port Townsend And Beyond

Posted by on Sep 6, 2017 in Biking, Food, Gallery, Washington | 40 comments

Ten years ago, we almost moved to Port Townsend. As much as we love our hometown and our friends in Ashland, we were enamored with the idea of living in a town just as cool as Ashland, but surrounded by water, with boating adventures at our doorstep and within easy reach of the San Juan Islands. We put our home on the market, found a tiny dream house in Port Townsend—and then changed our minds. The timing just wasn’t quite right.

A few years later, we decided to travel fulltime. We’re glad we didn’t make the big move to Port Townsend, because we surely wouldn’t have left a new home to travel. But we still harbor a fondness for Port Townsend, and stop there almost every year en route to our summers on Lopez Island. Each time, we find the town just as appealing as we did the first time around.

Port Townsend is a gem. But not an overly polished gem, which suits us just fine. Positioned at the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the location is idyllic, with expansive views of protected waters and distant snow-capped mountains.

View from the waterfront on a busy day

Music on the waterfront; there’s always something interesting and spontaneous happening

Port Townsend experienced a building boom in the late 1880’s when the idea of connecting the town to the transcontinental railroad was hatched. Many believed that the town was destined to become a major shipping port on the west coast, akin to San Francisco.

Elaborate Victorian homes, mercantile establishments, and enormous brick waterfront warehouses sprung up to meet the anticipated demand. But only a decade later, the dream evaporated when the railroad stopped short in Tacoma.

People moved away, grand buildings and warehouses sat empty, and Port Townsend was essentially frozen in time. When historic preservation became popular in the 1970’s, new life was breathed into the town. Walking and biking around Port Townsend feels like being transported back in time to a prosperous and bustling Victorian seaport.

Wonderful old brick buildings with original signage, circa late 1800’s

Walkable and interesting downtown Port Townsend

The Downtown Waterfront District was once the rough and rowdy area of Victorian Port Townsend—shanghaiing men and pressing them into service on a merchant ship was common practice. The town is much tamer today, although still colorful. Unique independent shops, galleries, boutique hotels, and cafés occupy 1880’s era saloons, rooming houses, brothels, and warehouses. Up on the hill, in the swanky Uptown District, grand old Victorian homes and churches predominate.

There’s no end to historical buildings in Port Townsend; this is the Uptown District

A Victorian beauty, well preserved in the Uptown District

We plan our visits to coincide with the weekly farmers’ market. Port Townsend is a small town, but the farmers’ market is superb. Local, organic, creative, delicious—it rivals any market we’ve found anywhere. There’s a tiny market on Wednesdays, but the Saturday market is the one you want to go to.

Enormous organic lettuce bouquets at the Port Townsend farmers’ market

Delicious cheeses from Mt. Townsend Creamery; we bought the truffled chevre. Wow.

Happy to be finding local fresh and smoked salmon

Cape Cleare is some of the best salmon we’ve ever had

Paella masters at the Saturday farmers’ market

Seafood paella with local mussels; a divine combination

Entertainment at the farmers’ market (and taxi service)

Our favorite thing to do in Port Townsend is to bike and walk, exploring neighborhoods in both the Uptown and Downtown Districts. Everything is easily walkable, and there’s an appealing artistic flair to the entire town. Still strongly tied to its maritime beginnings, Port Townsend is known as the wooden boat mecca of the northwest. The town hosts one of the largest wooden boat festivals in the world each September. It’s a blast—if we weren’t headed elsewhere, we would return for the festival. Maybe next year.

Colorful sailboats in the marina

Bronze otters on the waterfront

Biking along Port Townsend’s waterfront

A neighborhood farm stand

Lunch at Owl Sprit Café; local and delicious offerings (Yes, it is sprit, not spirit).

An evening at the Rose Theatre; cozy seating, movies and cocktails. But get there early or you’ll end up in the front row with a crick in your neck, despite the cushy sofas.

Along with visiting our favorite spots in Port Townsend, we always look for something new. This time, we discovered Finnriver Cidery. Located in nearby Chimacum, they produce delicious hard ciders and fruit wines from their own organic apples and other local organic fruits. It’s going on our list of Port Townsend area favorites. Next time, we’ll plan to be there on a weekend, when local food trucks and musicians show up.

Finnriver Cidery

Cider tasting; lots of fun and really yummy

Relaxing at Finnriver Cidery with a blackberry lavender cocktail

About the campground:

Our favorite place to stay in Port Townsend is Fort Worden State Park. There are two separate campgrounds, one in the forest, and one on the beach. We like both (the forest campground is more private, the beach has views). Make your reservations early; this place is popular. There was one site left when I made our reservations in January for the end of June (no surprise, it was just before the holiday weekend).

Although we had a site staked out in the middle of a field in the beach campground, it was spacious and quiet, with the beach just over the dunes. If I had a choice, I’d choose one of the sites on the perimeter that backs up to the trees for more privacy (not on the beach front, this can be a windy place). The beach campground has full hookups and decent Verizon coverage. It’s the best choice if you have a big rig. Fort Worden is just a couple of miles from town.

Beach campground at Fort Worden; that’s what I call a spacious site. Fortunately it wasn’t windy while we were there.

On To Edison-Bow: Our Favorite Little Foodie Paradise

We decided a few years ago that we would much rather take what appears to be a slower, roundabout route to Lopez Island than deal with the traffic in the Seattle-Tacoma area. Port Townsend fits perfectly with this plan.

Leaving Port Townsend, we take a small ferry to Whidbey Island and drive up island to Anacortes, where we catch the ferry to the San Juan Islands. But first, we can never resist a couple of days near the tiny hamlet of Edison-Bow. It’s a haven for small farms and local delights, Pacific Northwestern style.

Biking to Edison on peaceful country roads

Fireweed and the Cascade Mountains

Downtown Edison; it’s about two blocks long

The Breadfarm Bakery is an essential stop

The cocoa nib cookies are irresistible. So are the hazelnut espresso. And the coconut shortbread.

Stopping for breakfast at the Rhody Café in Bow, Washington

Samish Bay Cheese has a wonderful assortment of hand crafted cheeses

The Farm-to-Market Bakery in Bow is another essential stop

A lime-soaked polenta cake came home with us, served with berries and sour cream

Sweet little farmers’ market in Edison

The very picturesque Bow Hill Blueberry Farm

Such a great stop; fresh blueberries and all kinds of delicious hand crafted blueberry deliciousness. And a kitty.

About the campground:

We always stay at Bay View State Park, just a six-mile bike ride from Edison. It’s generally a peaceful park, especially in the front RV section. This time, we ended up in a different area, next to a big central field, which we discovered is where parents turn their kids loose to run wild and free. Particularly on the Fourth of July weekend, which also happened to be Canada Day weekend. My first thought was, “Oh, no way am I staying here. Let’s get on the ferry to Lopez!” But then we couldn’t help but laugh at the circus passing by our site. Fortunately, it quieted down at night.

We still like Bay View State Park. But we probably won’t go back on a holiday or summer weekend. A few RV sites have full hook ups (in the section where we usually stay, sites 1-9). Other sites just have water/electric, and they’re not suitable for big rigs. Verizon coverage is good.

We’re squished into the corner of the curve next to the free-for-all-playfield. This little guy has apparently just been released from prison.

The speedway at Bay View Campground, right in front of our site. The show went on for hours.

Sunset at Bay View Campground


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A Lighthouse Hike And Lavender Fields: Sequim, WA

A Lighthouse Hike And Lavender Fields: Sequim, WA

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Biking, Food, Friends, Gallery, Hiking, Washington | 28 comments

As we stood on the bluff overlooking Dungeness Spit, I said to Eric, “No way am I hiking out to the lighthouse. Why would anyone want to trudge five miles down a sandy spit, and then turn around and endure the same tedious five miles back?” Two days later, we made the trek. And we’re glad we did.

It helped a lot that we were able to lure our friends Pam and John into hiking with us. A 10-mile hike on a sandy spit with nothing but gulls and driftwood could be tiresome—or meditative, depending on your frame of mind. (Oh, and there’s an additional half-mile to actually get to the spit, making the hike 11 miles in total.) But factor in good company, and the miles fly by.

An aerial view of Dungeness Spit; 5 miles one-way to the lighthouse (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The hike must be timed to coincide with low tide, lest you find yourself stumbling over rocks and driftwood on the return trip. We met up early for our adventure on a beautiful late June morning. Maintaining a brisk pace and with no lack of conversational topics (don’t ever play Beatles trivia with John—you will lose), we arrived at the lighthouse in about two hours.

Our most exotic bird sightings were gulls (and lots of them)

We had a beautiful day for our hike

The lighthouse comes into view, but there’s still a long way to go

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Dungeness Spit is the longest naturally occurring sand spit in the United States and one of the longest in the world. Another tidbit: The lighthouse was originally one-sixth of a mile from the tip of the spit. But the spit continues to grow, and the lighthouse now sits approximately one-half mile from the end of the spit. We had no desire to hike to the tip of the spit. Getting to the lighthouse was good enough for us.

We were given a choice; Serenity or Reality

New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse and the light keeper’s house

New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse

Looks like the wind always blows from the west

It’s a lovely lighthouse, in pristine condition. Built in 1857, it was the first in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. It still acts as a beacon for sailors today, although sadly (at least to my way of thinking), a utilitarian acrylic lens replaced the original beautiful glass prism Fresnel lens in 1976.

Pam and John head in for the tour

Inside the New Dungeness Spit Lighthouse

The original Fresnel lens from Cape Flattery Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island, near Neah Bay

From the top of the lighthouse (wish the lighthouse still had the original Fresnel lens)

A view of the light keeper’s house from the lighthouse

If you’re not in the mood for an 11-mile round trip hike, you can get a ride if you pay $375 a week to stay in the light keeper’s house as a volunteer (along with 4-6 other paying volunteers). Responsibilities include staffing the lighthouse, giving tours, raising and lowering the flag, mowing the lawn, and polishing the brass. The volunteer program keeps the lighthouse staffed year round, and prevents the vandalism that typically befalls lighthouses that no longer have a full-time keeper.

Heading back from our lighthouse adventure

Gulls picturesquely posed against the mountains

Our campground at Dungeness Recreation Area was just a few miles from Sequim, and we were looking forward to visiting the lavender fields. Sequim is famous for its many lavender farms—it has the perfect Mediterranean climate for growing the fragrant herb. We’ve twice been in mid-July for the annual Sequim Lavender Festival. In late June, the lavender was a faint hint of the beauty to come, but we still enjoyed wandering the fields at Purple Haze Lavender Farm. The last time we were here, we indulged in lavender infused gin and tonics while we strolled the fields. This time, there were no gin and tonics offered. We made do with lavender ice cream.

Lavender fields at Purple Haze Lavender Farm

Beautiful poppies and delphinium in Purple Haze gardens


Our other adventures in our three days in Sequim included biking another portion of the Olympic Discovery Trail, this time from the campground to the Dungeness River Audubon Center. We also indulged in a strawberry picking extravaganza at Graymarsh Berry Farm. It never looks like a lot of berries until you get them home. Lastly, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Nourish Sequim, a delightful farm-to-table restaurant with beautiful gardens.

Railroad bridge at Dungeness River Audubon Center

A brilliant Western Tanager along the trail

Picking strawberries at Graymarsh Berry Farm

The beautiful gardens at Nourish Sequim, a farm-to-table restaurant

Grilled local salmon sandwiches and salads from the garden

About the campground:

Dungeness Recreation Area is a wonderful county campground less than 10 miles from Sequim. There are no hookups, but the location makes up for the lack of amenities (it’s not completely roughing it; there are bathrooms, showers, potable water, a dump station, and even good Verizon coverage). Our site was perched at the edge of the bluff, with peek-a-boo views of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. You can choose full sun sites or shady sites (the website offers helpful descriptions), and most of the sites are spacious and private.

Walking trails skirt the bluff, the sunsets are wonderful, and Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is walking distance from the campground. So is the lighthouse, if you’re in the mood for an adventure.

Dungeness Recreation Area

This was probably the most spacious campsite we’ve ever had

Next Up: Port Townsend And Beyond

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Wildflowers And Wildlife: Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Wildflowers And Wildlife: Hurricane Ridge, Olympic National Park

Posted by on Aug 14, 2017 in Friends, Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 36 comments

When we hiked on Hurricane Ridge a couple of years ago in October, we were enthralled by the display of autumn colors blanketing the hills. A fellow hiker on the trail remarked, “You really should come in the spring to see the wildflowers.” Hurricane Ridge went right back onto our list. (This is precisely why our list never gets any shorter.)

In late June this year, we hit the trail on a perfect day for another hiking adventure with our friends Pam and John. The sun was shining, the colors almost blinding, and we had a crystal clear view of the Olympics. As promised, the wildflowers were beautiful. But even better was the wildlife, which we didn’t expect.

Hurricane Ridge is the most easily accessed mountain area in Olympic National Park. A gently winding 17-mile road from Port Angeles climbs 5,242 feet to the visitor center. From there, we hiked the Hurricane Hill Trail (1.6 miles one way) to the top of Hurricane Ridge. It’s a beautiful trail, with grand views all along the way. If you’re lucky enough to have a clear day, from the crest of the ridge you’ll be treated to a panorama of snow-capped mountain ranges, islands, and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca.

Pam and John at the Hurricane Hill Trailhead

A stunningly gorgeous day on the trail

The views are grand all along the trail

We were hoping to see Olympic marmots, a species that lives only on the Olympic Peninsula. We saw them last time we were here, and sure enough, they made a repeat appearance. Apparently, Hurricane Hill is one of the best places to see these engaging creatures. They whistle to one another across the meadows, sun themselves on rocky outcroppings, and occasionally scamper across the trail. “Back in Pennsylvania, we call those groundhogs,” said John. (He’s right—they are groundhogs. But they are exotic groundhogs.)

A rare Olympic marmot crosses the trail (“Looks like a groundhog to me,” says John)

Trying to capture a photo mid-step as the marmot speeds by

Safely across the trail and striking a pose in the sun

As we hiked, we enjoyed displays of the colorful alpine wildflowers that thrive in the rocky, wind-buffeted landscape. Hurricane Ridge gets its name from the hurricane-force winds that assail the mountain, but we lucked out with nothing more than a gentle breeze. It couldn’t have been a more ideal day—once at the top, we had views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Canada’s Vancouver Island, and the San Juan Islands. We could even see Lopez, our island destination for the summer.

Alpine wildflowers on Hurricane Hill Trail

Lovely pasque flower (Pulsatilla spp.) on the mountainside

At the top of Hurricane Ridge

Views from Hurricane Ridge on a perfect day, including Lopez Island, our summer destination

We love seeing wildlife in the wild, in their natural environment. We even enjoy seeing black-tailed deer, which are a nuisance in our hometown in southern Oregon. There’s a thriving population of “city deer” in Ashland, and they annihilate everything. We tried planting deer proof plants, only to discover that the deer do not read the Sunset Garden Book. The deer are not cute when they’re mowing down your vegetable garden, emptying your bird feeders, killing your Japanese maples by rubbing their antlers on them, and spreading disease via ticks. An eight-foot tall cedar fence solved our problems.

Out here on the trail, where there isn’t an overpopulation of deer, we enjoy seeing them. A few joined us at our lunch spot at the top of Hurricane Ridge. And one popped out from behind a tree when Eric left the trail for a quick rest stop. (Yes, he takes his camera everywhere. You never know when a photo opportunity might come along, right?)

Lunch spot on Hurricane Ridge with deer (and Pam and John’s famous boots)

Not sure who was more surprised, Eric or the deer

Hills covered with sweetly-scented spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) on a side trail

Sharing a fun moment with good friends

Pam, Queen of the Mountain

There was still snow on parts of the trail in late June

Hiking back down the trail, we spotted a small gathering of people. We knew there was something interesting going on, and quickened our pace. The “something interesting” was a tiny black dot on the hillside. Up close (through our binoculars and camera lens) it was a big black bear.

A bear draws a small crowd of hikers

That tiny black dot is a bear

A better view through the magic of a zoom lens

We returned to the visitor center, thinking we were finished hiking—until we heard that mountain goats were hanging out near the Sunrise Point Trail. Mountain goats have been high on our list of critters that we’ve wanted to see, and our group unanimously agreed to try to find them. As it turns out, it would have been nearly impossible to miss them.

Heading back down the Hurricane Hill Trail

Hiking back up another trail; the view from Sunrise Point Trail

We hustled up the steep, partially snow-covered trail. Just before we reached the crest, we spotted a small herd grazing on the mountainside. When the goats decided to move in our direction, they used the trail, and we gave them right-of-way. Later, we learned that the goats are not native to the park, and have become problematic.

Mountain goats grazing near Sunrise Point Trail

The goats start making their way toward us

We backed up as far as we could on the narrow ridge

A mama goat and baby trotting by

I’m separated from our herd, and waiting for the goats to pass by

Local sportsmen introduced goats for hunting near Lake Crescent in the 1920s. In 1938, Olympic National Park was established, and the goats were off-limits to hunters. Since then, the goat population has increased by leaps and bounds. They damage native plant communities, seek out hikers for salt (from perspiration and urine), and although it’s unusual, they can be aggressive toward people.

When we returned to the visitor center after our hike, the ranger told us about a tragic incident a few years ago where a goat in the park killed a hiker. He advised that when we encounter goats on the trail, that we should stand our ground and not allow the goats to dominate. (“Right,” I thought. “You first!”)

Next Up: A Lighthouse Hike, Lavender Fields, And More: Sequim, WA

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A Rainy Day Hike To Sol Duc Falls

A Rainy Day Hike To Sol Duc Falls

Posted by on Aug 3, 2017 in Friends, Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 44 comments

Set deep within the temperate rain forest of Olympic National Park, Sol Duc Falls is considered to be one of the most photogenic waterfalls in Washington State. In years when water is abundant, the fall divides into four separate channels just before plunging 40 feet into a narrow, rocky ravine. We were looking forward to seeing this beauty for ourselves.

Our friends Pam and John also had Sol Duc Falls on their to-do list. On an overcast, misty morning with rain in the forecast, we set out to meet them at the trailhead. Ordinarily, none of us would deliberately choose to hike in the rain. But it turned out to be the perfect day for our adventure.

We discovered that hiking in a rainforest is best done in the rain. Not a drenching downpour—that would be miserable. But in a gentle rain, the mosses and ferns come alive, and the forest glows in every imaginable shade of green. The thick canopy of old growth firs and cedars protected us from all but a fine mist of moisture for most of our hike.

You can get to Sol Duc Falls via a short, easy trail of less than a mile. That’s what most people opt for. But a much more interesting route is the Lover’s Lane Trail, a loop of six miles that wanders through the lush, deep forest, over several rustic bridges, and one slightly sketchy boulder and log crossing.

At the Lover’s Lane Trailhead

The trees each have their own little forest of ferns and mosses

John and Eric in a jungle of bracken fern

An abundance of shelf fungi

Not sure if this bridge is up to code

Heading deeper into the forest

Beautiful bunchberry lines the trails

Eric tests the log crossing (he drew the short straw)

The expedition tackles the crossing

And yet another bridge; they’re sturdy, even if they don’t look like it 

The crown jewel of the trail—the falls—comes at the halfway mark. But the entire trail is gorgeous. I’d say it’s one of the prettiest we’ve ever hiked, and certainly the prettiest of our rainforest hikes in Olympic National Park.

Pretty little falls on the way to the “big one”

Beautiful Sol Duc Falls, with all four channels flowing abundantly

The Sol Duc River, a salmon highway

Bridge spanning the Sol Duc River

Two wildflowers in a sea of green :-))

A very fun day with Pam and John

The Sol Duc Valley is located in the northwest region of the park, about 35 miles southwest of our home-for-the-week at Salt Creek County Park. On the winding drive home, we passed by Lake Crescent, a beautiful glacially carved lake within Olympic National Park. Conveniently, it was happy hour. Muddy boots and all, we trudged into the lovely historic lodge for cocktails and an appetizer of Dungeness crab. Sitting in the glassed in sunroom, overlooking the sparkling lake, we toasted our four-year anniversary of our fulltime travels.

Lake Crescent Lodge, circa 1915

A sparkling afternoon at Lake Crescent

Cocktails and Dungeness crab after a great day of hiking; celebrating four years on the road

This has been a magnificent, beautiful, wondrous, and sometimes terrifying journey. Life has certainly taken us on a wild ride. We never expected some of the adventures we’ve encountered this past four years. But really, none of us ever know what’s around the corner. What we do know is that we’re very happy that we embarked on this journey four years ago.

Life is good. Really, really good. Our neighbor at Salt Creek County Park took this picture of our rig while photographing the Milky Way and was kind enough to share it with us. It seems like the perfect image to commemorate our four-year travel anniversary and our desire to keep on exploring. Here’s to following your dreams, whatever they may be!

Our rig under the Milky Way (courtesy of Ryan Hurd)

Next Up: Wildlife Adventures on Hurricane Ridge

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A Delightful Week At Salt Creek Recreation Area: The Olympic Peninsula

A Delightful Week At Salt Creek Recreation Area: The Olympic Peninsula

Posted by on Jul 26, 2017 in Biking, Friends, Gallery, Washington | 38 comments

Recipe for relaxation: Get up, make coffee, walk to the tide pools and look for treasures. Go exploring during the day in nearby Port Angeles or the northern side of Olympic National Park. Come happy hour, sit outdoors and enjoy the views over the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Repeat daily for one week.

We first stayed at Salt Creek Recreation Area four years ago at the beginning of our full-time travels. It was just as good as we remembered—actually, even better this time, because our fellow full-time traveling buddies Pam and John were staying nearby and we met up for several fun adventures together.

Tide Pooling And More Tide Pooling

On the day we arrived, Pam and John joined us for an afternoon of exploring the tide pools at Tongue Point, a half-mile walk from our campsite. We had fun catching up after not having seen each other for far too long.

A fun reunion with Pam and John

Exploring the tide pools at Tongue Point, within Salt Creek Recreation Area

Walking down to the tide pools is always a small but delightful adventure—you never know what you’re going to find, and we never tire of looking. I always hope to find something unusual—an octopus, perhaps. No octopi, but we found all kinds of creatures, including some that we’ve never before seen. As a marine preserve, there’s no harvesting allowed at Tongue Point, which the mussels must be happy about. I’ve never seen so many mussels. They would have made a delicious dinner.

Rockweed and California mussels

A beautiful ochre sea star; they come in all shades of purples and oranges

A rich tide pool filled with purple sea urchins, a bright red urchin, and pink coralline algae

Minus low tide at Tongue Point

Iridescent seaweed colored a brilliant red

Leaf barnacles, sometimes called goose barnacles

A leather chiton; these are tough little critters

Great tide pools hide behind the giant molar

Aggregating anemones look like the flowers of the ocean

A giant green anemone

Exploring Port Angeles

Port Angeles, a pretty little seaport town, is 15 miles east. The views of San Juan de Fuca are outstanding, and the beautiful sculptures and murals scattered along the waterfront add to the ambience. We were intrigued to see that street signs are lettered in the native Klallam language as well as English.

Welcome to Port Angeles!

Bilingual street signs, inscribed in Klallam and English

Sea star decorated fence on the Port Angeles waterfront

Mural honoring local Native American tribes

Cormorant sculptures along the waterfront

The outstanding Olympic Discovery Trail runs along the waterfront. It’s mostly flat and has excellent views—in my opinion, the perfect bike trail. We first biked three miles to Ediz Hook, where we looked back across the bay toward Port Angeles.

Biking to Ediz Hook

Whale sculpture on the Olympic Discovery Trail

Biking on Ediz Hook; Port Angeles is across the bay

A big cargo ship and a little tender

After biking back to town for a delicious lunch at Jasmine Bistro, we headed out for a six-mile ride in the opposite direction along the waterfront toward Sequim. (A stop for lunch at a nice café adds a certain élan to a biking expedition. But we did forgo an IPA to accompany our grilled shrimp salad, lest the desire for biking fall by the wayside.)

Back into town for lunch at Jasmine Bistro

Returning to the bike trail for a six-mile ride in the opposite direction

Surf Scoters; always a favorite to see

Along the bike path we spotted a family of river otters, who entertained us for 20 minutes with their over-the-top cuteness and antics. They seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them, but they grew bored with us long before we lost interest in them.

A family of river otters on the shore

Three curious otters; could these guys be any cuter?

Yes, definitely cute

Along with the wonderful art installations along the waterfront, Port Angeles has a small Fine Arts Center with frequently changing exhibits. The lovely mid-century modern home that houses the center is alone worth the visit.

Port Angeles Fine Arts Center; housed in a wonderful mid-century modern home

An interesting building with a replica of a dugout canoe over the entrance caught our eye while driving through town. The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center is beautifully designed, and was inspired by the structure of traditional longhouses. Inside are small but well-done displays of ancient tribal artifacts and contemporary Native American artwork.

There’s also an excellent exhibit on the Elwha River, part of the ancestral lands of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe. The river has recently been freed from a century of dams that wiped out the salmon runs and severely affected the tribal culture and economy. After the removal of the dams in 2012 and 2014, the salmon immediately started to return. It’s nothing short of miraculous; to have this opportunity to start over and to right something that was an environmental and cultural disaster.

The Elwha Klallam Heritage Center

Oh! And the farmers’ market. There’s a small, but very good farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in downtown Port Angeles. We came away with pastured eggs, smoked salmon, enormous bunches of organic kale and salad greens, grass fed local beef, and more. There’s a first-rate natural foods store in Port A as well (Country Aire Natural Foods) where we found everything we needed to restock after our previous week in the wilds of Olympic National Park.

The wonderful little Port Angeles Farmers’ Market

About the campground: You will not be alone here. Locals love Salt Creek Recreation Area, and book far ahead for their favorite spots. But despite the popularity, it doesn’t feel crowded or crazy. The RV section is arranged in tiers, offering good views for everyone.

The front row is first-come, first-served, which is great if you don’t want to plan ahead. That’s where we stayed on our first visit to the park. This time I booked in advance, and we discovered that we prefer the upper tier. The sites seem to be further apart, and feel more private because they back up to a huge open field.

The RV sites have water and electric, there’s a nearby older but adequate bathhouse, and a dump station. Be prepared to do without internet and cell coverage, because it doesn’t exist. (The tide pools and views make up for the lack of coverage.) But you can get coverage as soon as you leave the park (seriously, right at the entrance) and there’s a very nice library in Port Angeles with internet.

Salt Creek Recreation Area RV campground

View of Mt. Baker from the campground

Mt. Baker at sunset

A vibrant orange sunset at Tongue Point

It was a relaxing and fun-filled week. Next time, we might even return for two.

Next Up: A Wonderful Hike in the Sol Duc Rainforest

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Return To The Edge Of The World: Neah Bay, WA

Return To The Edge Of The World: Neah Bay, WA

Posted by on Jul 21, 2017 in Gallery, Hiking, National Parks, Washington | 24 comments

At the furthest northwesternmost point of the continental U.S., the wild, stormy coastline meets the deep, mysterious rainforest. This far-flung, untamed place is the land of the Makah, a Northwest Coastal people who have called the remote headland home for thousands of years.

We first visited Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation a couple of years ago, despite the advice we received from someone who told us, “There’s nothing there worth seeing.” Au contraire. This is exactly the kind of place that captures our interest, and we returned in mid-June for an adventure we missed the first time around.

Hiking to Cape Flattery

Just like last time, we hiked the trail to Cape Flattery, which is as far as you can go and still be in the continental U.S. This is sacred tribal land, and the Makah have declared Cape Flattery a nature sanctuary. A three-quarter mile rugged trail winds through the dense rainforest. At the end of the trail, cedar platforms resembling the prow of a canoe jut above the churning ocean, dramatic headlands, and hidden sea caves.

Trail through the rainforest to Cape Flattery

Viewing platforms built like the prow of a canoe

Cape Flattery looking north, with hidden sea caves tucked into the headlands

Hanging over the railing, we scanned the ocean for whales and puffins. No whales or puffins, but a family of sea otters appeared, rolling and playing in the waves, mama holding baby close.

Scanning the horizon at what feels like the edge of the world

A family of sea otters

Standing on the tip of Cape Flattery, we could see tiny Tatoosh Island in the distance. Once a fishing camp for the Makah, a lighthouse here has pointed mariners to the entrance of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca since 1857.

Tatoosh Island from Cape Flattery

Visiting the Museum of the Makah

We also paid a return visit to the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation, one of the most intriguing museums we’ve encountered anywhere in our travels. The artifacts within were discovered in 1970 at Ozette, a Makah village 15 miles south of Neah Bay.

The Makah Cultural Museum and Research Center totem archway

Entrance to the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation

During a storm in 1750, a catastrophic mudslide buried the village in 10 feet of clay, creating an oxygen-free environment that perfectly preserved five longhouses and objects of everyday life. For more than a decade, archaeologists and tribal members worked together to unearth more than 55,000 artifacts. It’s considered to be one of the most significant archaeological finds in North America.

Despite living in a challenging environment, buffeted by wild storms and drenched in 100 inches of rain each year, the Makah shaped a life of rich traditions, comfort, and beauty, creating what they needed from the abundance of the rainforest and ocean surrounding them. The museum is arranged according to the seasonal life of the Makah; thousands of artifacts in pristine condition are engagingly displayed. There’s a replica of a full-size longhouse and four beautiful cedar dugout canoes built by tribal members, and an excellent hour-long film on the Makah and the Ozette site.

Blankets woven of woodpecker feathers, dog hair, and cattail fluff; clothing woven of cedar bark (the inner bark was pounded until soft and pliable); baskets and boxes of red cedar; intricately carved and decorated tools and ceremonial items made of bone, shell, and wood; all survived centuries of burial in mud. It’s a remarkable and beautiful display of a unique culture. I wanted so much to take photos, but the tribe asks that we refrain, and we did.

Fabulous 20-foot tall carved cedar figures outside the Museum of the Makah Indian Nation

Hiking to Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches

“Generations of Makah people have used this area. If you are patient and respectful, its enduring beauty will enrich and teach you too.”

So reads a sign posted at the trail head to Shi Shi Beach (pronounced Shy-Shy). Located 8.5 miles south of Neah Bay, this remote beach bordering the Makah reservation became part of Olympic National Park in 1976. A two-mile hike through the rainforest (the first mile has partial boardwalk, built by the Makah) leads to the beach.

Trailhead for Shi Shi Beach

Cedar boardwalk through the forest; it starts off reasonably well

Beautiful fungi in the rainforest

Bridge on the Shi Shi Trail

We hiked this trail two years ago, but only to Shi Shi Beach. We returned this time to hike all the way to Point of Arches, for a total of 8 miles round-trip.

Never in all of our years of hiking have we encountered so much mud. The last time we hiked the trail to Shi Shi Beach it was muddy, but nothing like this. This was an epic mud bath, ankle deep in many places. We bushwhacked, made little bridges of logs, climbed trees, attempted great leaps. There was no way around the mud and the mud puddles. Why did we continue, you ask? Well, the worst of the mud didn’t start until about a mile in, and we kept thinking, “Surely this will improve!” It didn’t.

A muddy, miserable trail

Soggy, muddy, puddles—it has it all

Finally, after more than an hour of slogging, we reached the bluffs and caught our first glimpse of the beach below. A series of ropes help in navigating the 150-foot drop down to the beach. There, we stepped into the otherworldly landscape of rock spires, sea stacks, caves, and arches that decorate Shi Shi Beach.

Ropes help on the climb down the 150 foot bluff trail

Shi Shi Beach on a misty day

Otherworldly rock formations

We didn’t linger long, because our destination—Point of Arches—was another two miles down the beach. The hike was gorgeous, with exposed rock formations and tide pools all along the way, and views of Point of Arches coming closer as we walked.

Rock formations and tidepools on the hike to Point of Arches

Ochre sea stars and giant green anemones

Point of Arches in the distance

Crossing Petroleum Creek on the way to Point of Arches

A lone surfer on the beach (I can’t believe he hauled his surfboard down that muddy trail)

The ideal time to visit Point of Arches is at low tide, when the numerous tidepools are exposed. It’s a beautiful, peaceful hike, and the reward is a picturesque seascape of dozens of sea stacks, spires, arches, and caves, with tidepools surrounding it all. Ideally, we would have stayed overnight on the beach, which is what most people seem to do after making the effort to get here. The sunsets are reputed to be spectacular.

Point of Arches rock formations

Tidepools at Point of Arches

Seastack and arches at Point of Arches

Oystercatchers on the beach

Halfway back to Shi Shi Beach

Heading back up the bluff trail

(Note that before you hike on this or any trail or beach on the Makah Reservation, you must obtain a $10 annual recreation permit, available in Neah Bay or at Hobuck RV Park.)

About the campground:

Just like last time, we stayed at Hobuck Beach RV Park and Campground. Last time, we stayed in the RV Park, which offers 10 full-hook up RV sites ($40 per night) with a fabulous view of the Pacific and easy access to the beach. This time, we opted for the big open field. It’s a free-for-all. You pay your $20 and stake out your spot anywhere that looks good to you.

We arrived on a Thursday and found a choice location. By Saturday, we were surrounded by tents, VW campers, boats, and surfers. This is apparently a prime fishing and surfing locale. Everyone was well behaved, and we enjoyed our stay. We had speedy Verizon coverage, a place to fill our water tanks, and amazingly, there was a free, almost new shower house with unlimited hot water.

Hobuck Campground and RV Park

Choose your spot and set up camp

Sunset on Hobuck Beach

Next Up: A Delightful Week At Salt Creek 

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