Olympic National Park, that is.
After crossing back into the U.S. we stopped in Olympia to visit a buddy I grew up with in La Grande. It’s crazy to think it has been nearly 10 years since we’ve gotten together.
Brad and his wife, Emily, provided some inspiration for our #vanlife as they are the proud owners of Oscar, a 1979 VW camper van. They spent many months traveling and living in the van and they still regularly take trips with their two kids. Naturally, we had to spend some time comparing the size of our vans!
Brad offered us the guest room, but with two rambunctious girls sharing the upstairs we were perfectly content sleeping in our own house in the driveway. Brad and Emily took us to a great state park at low tide where we could wander through an oyster bed and along the seaweed covered shore looking for crabs and other aquatic life.
With a shellfish permit you can collect 18 oysters a day, but you are required to leave the shells on the beach to give the new oyster larva a place to attach and start growing. Even the oysters you do collect/eat are likely to already having new tiny oysters growing on the shell so leaving the shells keeps the oyster bed growing.
The next morning we went down on the beach directly below his house and did some more beach walking. Down on his beach we hunted Geoducks (gü-ē-ˌdək – if, like me, you can’t read that gibberish, it is pronounced gooey duck). Geoducks have a very long neck they extend up to the surface. When you try to grab them they can withdraw the neck very fast and stay super deep out of reach. Fortunately I found some really rocky beach where they couldn’t get away from me and I caught one.
When you disturb a geoduck as you walk on the beach they shoot a stream of water as they start to pull back into the sand.
As we did not get to eat enough of our catch, we had to go to Chelsea Farms, the tastiest restaurant in Olympia, to sample the goods. For those of you around Manchester, NH this place is the Olympia version of The Republic with fancy super fresh, local fare. They have their own oyster farm out in Puget Sound as well. (I think Brad planned this carefully because he took us out for dinner the night before so lunch was on us.) If I had been an attorney in Olympia this is where I would have taken all the summer associates for lunch!
Our original plan after visiting Brad was to head back to Oregon, but he suggested that as long as we were around we should head out the Olympic Peninsula and visit Olympic National Park. I have always wanted to see the area and as we had no pressing obligations, this was a great suggestion.
We started on the southwest corner on the beach. Olympic NP has the huge section in the center of the peninsula, but also long strips of the coastline. Even on a cool Wednesday night in May the best spots at the campground were taken, but we still did pretty well with this view 50 feet from the bluff. This area is one of the only parts of the national park where we could take the dogs.
The next morning we headed north along the edge of the park. There are some interesting stops to view giant cedar trees (easily 40′ in circumference) and walk in the Hoh rain forest, which gets 12′-14′ of rain a year!
After that walk we drove through Forks (no vampires in sight) and out to La Push (no werewolves in sight). Both communities still capitalize on the Twilight books as there were numerous references to vampires or werewolves. Between the towns there is also a sign marking the treaty line.
After La Push we drove north to the very end of the peninsula on the Makah reservation. We had heard from multiple sources the Makah were not as friendly as the other local tribes, but everyone we talked with was great. The next morning we again went for our beach walk and tide pooling. As we walked we noticed a bunch of creatures obviously buried in the sand.
I just assumed it was the same sand crabs I’d found on the beach the day before, but we met a woman collecting them and she explain they were not crabs, they were beautiful Olive snails.
She told us they collect the shells to adorn their regalia for festivals and dances. She was adding to her daughter’s dress and needed to collect plenty of shells. She said they were terribly difficult and smelly to clean, though, as they essentially just had to rot for a year to get the innards cleaned out.
Olive snails are carnivorous and among the fastest burrowing snails in the world. In some places they were all gathered together like the photo above, but as we walked we found a lot of places where the snails were clearly moving around hunting for little clams or something.
The advantage to being on the Makah reservation versus the National Park is that the dogs were free to run and play!
Just as in Alaska, Kenai was happy to eat barnacles and mussels. He didn’t even mind a little hitch-hiker tagging along.
After our morning beach time we headed to the true tip of the peninsula at Cape Flattery. There is a nice walk out to the ocean cliffs with amazing views down into the caverns and rocks.
We spent the afternoon touring through the Makah museum. The Makah lost a lot of their original practices in the 1800s and 1900s due to forced assimilation, but in the 1960s archeologists excavated some 500-year-old Makah houses that had been buried in a mudslide. This discovery and excavation seems to have rekindled interest in their history and they used the opportunity to create an amazing museum and preserve much of their heritage. One of the displays even noted that the find was important in a court case as the Makah were able to prove they had used nets for fishing “pre-contact.” As a result they were allowed to continue fishing with nets under their treaty rights.
By late afternoon we were again headed on. We wanted to see a bit more of the interior Olympic NP so we drove up to Hurricane Ridge, which is really the only road into the mountains of the park. Unfortunately, though not unexpectedly, it was quite foggy and wet at the top so I didn’t take any pictures!
That night we just drove up into the adjoining national forest and camped along the road.
The next day, which I remember was a Saturday, we stopped to visit Craig, another college friend, and his family in Port Townsend, WA. We arrived just in time for Rhody Fest (the rhododendron festival) and a classic small-town America parade and carnival.
We didn’t really plan to stay long, but after wiling away the day watching the parade (it was a solid two hours), touring the carnival, eating hot dogs, and drinking at a bar overlooking the bay, we decided to stay the night in their driveway. Good thing we don’t have any deadlines!
The next morning before we could leave I had to go through Craig’s son’s escape room. It was very complicated (most of it logically, some of it only logical to a 9-year-old mind) and my time of 55 minutes (with hints) wasn’t going to set any records.
With our tour of the Olympic Peninsula complete it was time to head back to my parent’s in Oregon. Our general plan is to reset for mountain biking season, do some more work on the van, and then in a few weeks head east to visit friends and family along the east coast.