We left the campground in a light fog that became increasingly thicker the closer we drove to the water. Our last full day here on the North Shore of the Olympic Peninsula had us planning a trip to Land’s End. At least, that’s how I referred to it—the northwestern-most edge of our country. Whether we’d have something to see once we got there certainly remained to be seen (or not). For now, the morning clouds lay low and dense over all the coastline of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca Scenic Byway meanders through a landscape formed eons ago beneath the sea, carved by glaciers and carpeted with forests. The byway first began in the 19th century as a series of trails through the nearly impenetrable forests, connecting logging and fishing communities. Transportation supporting the area’s economy was by water and by private timber company railroads. Travel along the dirt trails was primarily for community activities, social events between isolated villages. Over time the trails evolved from walking paths into a road for wagons, automobiles and then school buses. Different segments had different names, such as the Clallam Road, the Pysht River Wagon Road, and the New Road. Finally, they were all consolidated to become State Highway 112, a.k.a., the Scenic Byway.
The Strait of Juan de Fuca, the narrow inlet that links the open Pacific with Puget Sound and divides the U.S. from Canada, was named for the Greek sailor who first mapped the waterway while working for the Spanish Crown in 1610. Although it would appear to be an ideal scenic drive, Highway 112 is a very narrow and winding road with some surprisingly steep hills and thick woods that block much of the view. Along with the plentiful logging trucks that come literally barreling down the road, drivers shouldn’t expect this route to be a pleasant Sunday drive.
Salt Creek Recreation Area was the first attraction we would come to, a short 8-mile drive away. The site was used during World War II as a harbor defense military base called Camp Hayden. The remnants of the camp are preserved on the site—two concrete bunkers which housed 16” cannons and several smaller bunkers.
No need to stop and take in the sights—all would be lost in the white-out we were experiencing. With hopes the morning sunshine would eventually burn through, we planned to include the area on the return leg of our trip.
We got our first adrenalin boost soon after aborting that site. Rounding a curve (the road was rarely straight), a massive logging truck sped by us. For all their huge size and despite the nature of the road–a continuous succession of S-curves—we soon learned their drivers knew no fear. We, on the other hand, remained quaking in their wake.
Good omens at last—after several miles of misty driving. I had a glimpse of water through the trees and intended to grab a photo while the chance remained. Directing Chris to take the next cutoff, a convenient boat launch site fit the bill.
Ecstatic to finally see something, I was overjoyed to see a picturesque setting. The tide was out, the fog was lifting, and a nearby headland was wearing a cloak of clouds. I got my first shot of the day!
More miles of curving, roller-coaster road were covered, as we passed in and out of fog. The drive (what we could see) was indeed a scenic way. We passed through a couple of working communities, where fishing was obviously a prime source of living. Nothing fancy or tourist-pleasing, they gave us glimpses into living in a remote area.
We made a stop at Clallam Bay’s waterfront, where a rock formation aptly called The Sisters, stood looking down on the town below.
Driving on, the road became even more twisty-turny. Road signs warned of falling rocks or washed out sections. No more evidence of civilization until reaching Neah Bay. But the scenery was picking up, with fog uplifted, the shoreline revealed what lay beyond. Not as dramatic as what we’d had along the Pacific Coast, there were a few rocks jutting from the water. The day was picking up!
Near the end of the drive is the town of Neah Bay, on the Makah Indian Reservation. A somewhat bedraggled community, it has a prime location. Overlapping mounds of hills surround the town, then drop down to meet the water. A large marina filled with well-worn boats testified to making a living made on the water. Salmon fishing drives this town’s economy.
Passing through, we took the road that would lead to Cape Flattery, or what I referred to as Land’s End. We’d come this far to take the trail well laid out for travelers to find. But what was this . . . as we made our final approach . . . the fog was coming back???
The wild and wind-swept coast of Cape Flattery was somewhat diminished by the enveloping gray mist. Several overlooks have been constructed along the rocks, providing views in different directions. The rocky headlands and small inlets stand up to rough weather and storm-tossed surf. Today’s scene was much more placid, as the tide was flowing out. Still, the sight was dramatic—especially when some imagination is applied. Welcome to Land’s End!
The return drive went more smoothly, as we soon drove away from that coastal fog. In fact, the day turned blue-sky clear, which gave me hopes for a good sunset shot. Perhaps the rocky coastline at Salt Creek?
But wouldn’t you know . . . luck just wasn’t to hang around for long. When evening came on and the time drew near, the mist began returning. Still, I didn’t give up, I clung to hope . . . maybe a moody picture could result?
Salt Creek Recreation Area looked to be a great place to set up camp and spend a few days. Hiking trails along the Strait, rocky coastline with tide pools, RV camping with water views and primitive sites nestled in a beautiful forest setting. But I hurried through it all, searching out the place that took me down to the scenic shore. Tongue Point jutted out into Crescent Bay, providing a great subject backlit by the setting sun.
No sun would be casting its colors tonight. The fog had taken care of that. But still I waited, perched high above the water. And then, a young family showed up, taking an evening stroll over the rocks. Watching up there, waiting up there, I thought “Why not?” If I couldn’t have the light, at least I could catch the moment. Slowly they picked their way . . . obviously tide pool searching. Then they moved into view, I carefully composed, and yes! The picture was taken.
Olympic Peninsula’s North Shore is a destination in itself! After 4 days here we still could have found places to see and more hikes to take. A beautiful setting, it had a variety of scenery and conditions. Hotter inland, but chilly on the coastline. Fog and mist; sun and water. The days would never be boring.
With one more facet of this national park to take in, tomorrow we would pack up. Our time here done, we leave with misty memories of a beautiful place.
And a very wild and rough Land’s End!
Airstream Travelers, Chris and Melinda