Traveling on, with the Pacific Ocean dwindling in our rearview mirror, we looked ahead to new territories of the Olympic Peninsula. Soon the scenic highway would take an easterly turn, and begin to parallel the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Still within the national park, my research had noted that this part of the drive was arguably the most scenic stretch of Highway 101. After what we’d already been seeing, it was hard to imagine how much more superlative the landscape could be. But we had a day to match the scenery—blue skies and very clear air. Rainforest humidity a thing of past days, we sat back and prepared to enjoy the trip.
I don’t think the research got it wrong. Gosh, did we get a good show!
First, there were the garden views—bright carpets of wildflowers bordering the road. Not just some isolated patches, the flowers were stretching for miles and miles. Reeling from the overwhelming sight before me, I grabbed the camera with shaking hands. Dare I say Chris was somewhat impressed with the beauty, albeit in a slightly less emotional way?
A few more turns in the road soon revealed that we weren’t finished with forest scenery. Tall conifers had returned, reaching up to incredible heights and hemming in the highway. And then, as if to tantalize the travelers, mountain summits began to make a quick appearance when the trees provided a brief break.
The road notched up its challenges, tight turns and curves soon became the rule, not the exception. Chris handled the maneuvers with his usual calm capability (did I just imagine his knuckles turned whiter?) and even managed (to my utter surprise) to swing across the road and take a scenic pullout! This first view was a harbinger of sights to come. Is that blue water I see through the trees?
For many miles to come, the winding road would be hugging the shoreline of Crescent Lake, the second deepest lake in Washington and the fifth largest by surface size. Nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains, the crystal clear waters are enclosed by high, forested hills. A picture postcard view if there ever was one!
Thank you, Chris, for making this photo possible!
For several days to come, we would be camping just past the eastern edge of the lake. The area, both within the Park and the adjacent areas, provided an abundance of sights to see and activities to do. More than I ever realized when allocating our time here. Each day brought a new agenda—all different, but no less rewarding.
First, we headed into the closest town, which was only a few short miles from our campground.
Port Angeles is a busy town, but still had a nice atmosphere. It is a modern shipping terminal that handles timber, petroleum, and other trade goods that go across the Pacific Ocean. Much of the waterfront just west of downtown is occupied by a huge lumber mill. Massive piles of cut logs within its premises, more timber floating out on the water waiting to be exported, all gave evidence of what the company entailed.
Ediz Hook is a 3-mile-long sand spit extending from town out into the Strait’s waters. Created by wind and tidal action, “The Hook” provides a great view of Port Angeles’ setting. Behind the mill rise the high peaks of Mount Angeles and Klahhane Ridge, part of the Olympic Range.
The following day we went out to see the sights. Driving east, our day’s destination was the town of Port Townsend, some 40+ miles away. But there was plenty of good scenery to take in along the way.
It wasn’t long before we took a detour—Highway 101 had become too commercial a strip. For a few miles we drove the Dungeness Scenic Loop, a route that twists and turns through the pastoral Dungeness Valley. It is a region noted for its berry farms and unexpectedly sunny climate. The road leads to the Dungeness Spit, the longest sand spit in our country. And it’s still growing!
Now over 5.5 miles long, the spit not only creates a navigational hazard, but it also provides a sanctuary for seals and shore birds to feed on its lee side. Recognized as an important preserve, it became a National Wildlife Preserve in 1915. Appearing as a cluster of white specks at the tip, the Dungeness Lighthouse makes a fine destination for those who have the energy and the time to walk it. We had one, but regrettably, not the other.
Approaching the small community of Sequim, rural farms backdropped by the mountains gave a nice introduction to the region. When dairy farming in the Dungeness Valley began to decline, this dry, warm area turned to lavender farming. Sitting in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, this area receives only an average of 17 inches of rain a year. Considering the rainforest is only a few hours’ drive away, gives evidence of what a strong influence these towering mountains exert. Combined with the perfect growing conditions similar to Provence, France, lavender has become big business. An annual festival the following weekend was a tribute to what put this little town on the map.
In accord with this region, our lunch destination this day stayed with the lavender theme. Nourish, a small cafe on Sequim’s outskirts, was surrounded by gardens with lavender as the main focal point. A delightful place, featuring garden-to-plate selections, was also a place for artists and craftspeople to share and sell their creations. Of course, we chose to eat outdoors on their patio; the gardens on one side and views of Sequim and countryside leading out to blue waters, on the other. The food was really good, too!
Finally, we were taking the final leg of our excursion to Port Townsend, the actual goal for this outing. A busy ferry port taking travelers across Admiralty Inlet to Whidbey Island, the town is situated at the mouth of Puget Sound.
Lying 35 miles east of Sequim on a small tongue of land known as the Quimper Peninsula, Port Townsend is a National Historic Landmark and is the only Victorian seaport still registered on the West Coast. The town has become popular with tourists and day trippers who come to enjoy its quaint shops, cafes and galleries, as well as taking in its Victorian architecture. As I tend to become enraptured with towns that seem frozen in another time, I wandered streets, peeked into shops (made a small purchase or two) and finally enticed Chris to take a drive through the residential district.
The town had a fleeting moment of prosperity. By the late 19th century it was a well-known seaport; very active and banking on its future. The downtown buildings reflect the prosperity and hopes of that time. But when the rail line that was projected to come there never made it, the town went into a fast economic decline. Town investors moved elsewhere and Port Townsend pretty much stagnated from that time. Buildings and homes weren’t torn down, but rather remained as they were. One hundred or so years later, they were brought back to life and restored. Some have become B&Bs, but most appear to be private residences. It’s easy to see why visitors are drawn to the town.
Making plans for the following day had us looking in the opposite direction—back the way we had come. A good counterbalance to the previous day’s auto touring seemed to be getting more in touch with the land. We had passed by so many interesting possibilities, scenic views and roads that led to natural attractions. We were both ready to hit the trails and see more sights. We took that Scenic Highway 101 and backtracked to a Lake Crescent overlook.
Located entirely within Olympic National Park, Crescent Lake is big. And deep. And crystal clear. Carved by glacial forces, a massive landslide that occurred 7,000 years ago formed Crescent Lake.
Known for its brilliant blue waters and exceptional clarity, it is the result of lack of nitrogen in the water which inhibits the growth of algae. Suspected of being extremely deep, the U.S. Navy did a survey of the lake in the 1960s. Their equipment at that time was unable to reach the lake bottom. In 1970 a depth study was made by students of Peninsula College in Port Angeles. Their instruments only measured to a depth of 624 feet, which was attained. That measurement became the official depth on record. However, when power cable was being laid in the lake in subsequent years, instruments showed depths in excess of 1,000 feet, which again was the maximum range of the equipment being used. To this day, the actual maximum depth of Crescent Lake remains unknown.
Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is another Olympic National Park landmark. The resort, located at the end of a 14-mile forest drive, consists of a lodge, cabins, an RV campground with hookups, and a larger primitive camping area used primarily by tenters. An added feature to this remote resort is a very large swimming pool, as well as a soaking spa that utilizes mineral water from the hot springs.
It wasn’t the resort that was the attraction for us. Rather, the Sol Duc Valley was located in a beautiful old-growth forest, with miles of trails, and a crystal clear river winding through it. As if taking a hike through this wonderful place wasn’t reason sufficient unto itself, a well-trodden trail had a unique waterfall at its end. Need more be said?
The forest here in this valley is considered one of the finest in the park. When seen in the context of all this park has going for it, that statement is certainly making an emphatic point. Whether you would agree or not, I’d say we’d vouch for its accuracy after enjoying the trail as we did. As in the rainforest, even Chris was still not jaded. Some might liken a walk through this setting to be somewhat of a religious experience. You’ll certainly get no argument from me.
Remember when I wrote we were becoming somewhat immune to being overwhelmed by the extreme size of the old trees we were seeing? This forest brought back our wonder . . . some trees are just too spectacular to be ignored.
But the true attraction of this hike had to be the Sol Duc Falls. I had seen the pictures, I had read the reports, I knew it had unique qualities. It was simply one of those times when all you might know can’t compare to being there in person. It was a sight one needs to see for themselves. And, for once, having people congregating around, didn’t seem to perturb me too much. I think everyone there was feeling some degree of reverence. I know I was.
Set within the thick temperate rainforest of the Olympic Mountains, the Sol Duc River creates one of the more uniquely shaped waterfalls in the northwest. Splitting into three channels and then hurtling off the side of a cliff into a narrow canyon, the force created is awesome, and the roaring of the falls is resounding. Taking in the sight can’t help but give a person pause.
We returned to more civilized surroundings by having a late lunch on the porch at Lake Crescent Lodge. Built in 1916, it exudes an atmosphere of turn-of-the-century charm. Constructed of locally-milled timber, its bungalow-like design was influenced by Arts and Crafts design features. I felt transported back in time as soon as I came up its walk. What a picture! What a delight! With a view looking out over the beautiful lake, spending a few hours here nourishes the spirit and replenishes the body, for sure!
We ended the day (and walked off our lunch) with yet another waterfall hike. If you’ve taken time to read our previous blogs, by now you are surely aware that Melinda has a seemingly unquenchable desire to seek out waterfalls. Not many seem to slip by her. If one happens to be in the neighborhood, she’s surely taking the trail. Chris generally tags along.
Once learning that Marymere Falls is “a gorgeous landmark”, no doubt remained. She waited until the afternoon was waning and the bright sunlight had passed its zenith. The forest walk in such a late light, did add an extra glow of illumination.
With its headwaters high in the Olympic Mountains, Falls Creek funnels through a notch in a high cliff and plunges into a mossy amphitheater. Falling almost 100 feet, the waterfall is overwhelming when first seen.
It was a fitting way to end another good day here along the North Shore of the Olympic Peninsula. So much to see, so different from our familiarities in the Midwest. Our time is filled to the brim, and each new day has more enticements waiting.
Another day is closing, but we still have one more to come. There is more to say and do. So take a breath, let things soak in and then continue along on the adventure.
That’s how we live our days.
Chris and Melinda