Washington State's Olympic Peninsula
Mount Olympus is at the center of a region dotted with thick forests, remote beaches, and rejuvenating hot springs. Let the games begin.
U.S. 101 returns us right to the coast, where we pause for gas, espresso, salmon jerky, and views of pounding surf. We later stop at a supermarket in the logging town of Forks, having gathered that the peninsula's most charming locales are short on services, while the towns with services lack charm.
Further up the highway, a series of four signs explains a bare patch in the usually dense state forest: CUT SOME TREES, TO HELP THE COUNTY, WE PLANT SOME MORE, FOR FUTURE BOUNTY. "Burma Shave!" Susan and I blurt out simultaneously, joining, no doubt, thousands before us.
Our destination for the night is Neah Bay, the northwesternmost point in the continental U.S. "You're at the end of the world," says the goateed desk clerk at theCape Motel & RV Park, which doesn't aspire to be anything more than a place for fishing buddies to bunk down with a 4 A.M. wake-up call. The clerk mentions that some people in town like to say Neah Bay is actually thebeginningof the world, but he tells them: "You haven't been very many places."
- Cape Motel & RV Park1510 Bayview Ave., Neah Bay, 360/645-2250, from $45
- Ocean Crest Resort4651 State Rte. 109, Moclips, 360/276-4465, French toast $10
- Quinault Mercantile352 South Shore Rd., Quinault, 360/288-2620, turkey sandwich $5
- Quinault Rain Forest353 South Shore Rd., Quinault, 360/288-2525, quinaultrainforest.com
Day 3: Neah Bay to Sol Duc Resort
"I'm sick and tired of all these restaurants with beautiful ocean views," Susan mock-complains. This one isWarm House, owned by the Makah Nation (alas, it's now closed). We're not there two seconds before an older fellow wearing a baseball cap that says NATIVE AMERICAN joins us in our booth.
Over coffee and sticky buns, Ed Claplanhoo, age 78, tells us all about theMakah Cultural & Research Center, which displays the mud-slide-preserved treasures of a 500-year-old Ozette Indian village. The Makah tribe began working with archaeologists at the site in 1970, and ultimately they unearthed 55,000 artifacts. The research center, which opened in 1979, is a truly impressive facility that also helps the Makah stay connected to their traditions, including whaling--after its 1999 whale hunt, and subsequent animal-rights protests and media coverage, the tribe became somewhat infamous.
What we're really in the area to do is walk to Shi Shi Beach, often touted as one of North America's most remote beaches. "It's one of the most beautiful hikes there is," Ed tells us, though he's unable to give us any further tips: "Don't ask me, I've been there twice in my lifetime!" Used to be the only legal way to get to Shi Shi was by hiking 11 miles up the rocky coast, in time with the tide pools; or you could trespass on private land. These days, a two-mile trail is laid out with stone and blocked off with logs. A $10 permit, sold at shops in town, is required.
The hike follows roads that were put in during World War II so the coast could be defended from a Japanese attack. The paths are narrow and muddy, though I don't mind the slop too much. While I'm hardly a technical hiker, it's nice to have to contemplate my every step, Zen-like, in order to avoid sludge and puddles.
The beach itself is lovely--foamy surf crashing onto rocks, big cliffs above, driftwood that's been washed to Louisville Slugger smoothness--but really, Shi Shi is a place you want to overnight. Then you can hike three miles further to the famous rock formation Point of the Arches, maybe catch some fish, go tidepooling, and camp in total isolation. Next time.
Truth be told, the beach views from the road between Neah Bay and Sekiu are fantastic on their own. Right around mile marker 14 we cruise past a yard full of multicolored objects that demand investigation; we go back to findBirdhouses Etc., a store with hundreds of adorable structures, some with old Washington-state license plates as roofs, all laid out in the yard. STEALING HURTS TWO HEARTS, MINE AND YOURS reads a hand-painted sign above a drop box.
Our barracks is a cozy cabin at theSol Duc Hot Springs Resort, which first opened its doors in 1912. It's 12 miles inside Olympic National Park and has a slightly chintzy Catskills feel, but it also has the Catskills' peacefulness and mountain air. The four pools--three hot (98 to 104 degrees; one of them is for kids) and one cold--look like any other hotel's spa and swimming area, except of course they're spring-fed, and just what we've been wanting after a half-day hike and two hours in the car. Deer nuzzle up against the surrounding fence as we squeeze in as much soaking as we can before the restaurant closes at 9 P.M.