Too many adventures for one day
Trip Start Jul 10, 2009
10Trip End Jul 19, 2009
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We got a late start and headed out of Forks on state highway 101 around ten. According to the map, we’d be inland for about 25 miles, curving toward the ocean, then be along the shore for about 10 miles, and then head inland again. We’d go through a couple of towns, Kalaloch (pronounced Klaylock) and Queets, before reaching our final destination of Amanda Park. Julie was driving, Valinda was navigating, and I sat in the back seat with my own map as a co-navigator. My map and Valinda’s map did not always agree, so we’d get into little arguments about who was right. Finally, she handed me her map, and I became the official back seat navigator.
Valinda’s map showed a point of interest called “Big Cedar Tree” right along the ocean just a few miles north of Kalaloch. When we saw the sign for the Big Cedar Tree, it seemed way too soon. We hadn’t seen any sign of the ocean yet. But we decided to check it out and found ourselves on a gravel logging road. I didn’t expect it to be far since it was only a millimeter or two from the highway according to the map. It would be a quick little diversion for us. But as we drove and drove, I started to wonder what the heck we’d gotten ourselves into. Julie saw a sign that the tree was three miles ahead. When you’re traveling at just 20 miles an hour, three miles takes awhile, but it was too late to turn back.
The land around us was a mixture of logged out areas, new growth, and older growth. One thing we saw a lot of on the peninsula was the devastation wrought by clear-cutting. You’ve got to wonder what the hell is wrong with people. They’d just cut down every single tree for acre upon acre, and whatever they couldn’t use they’d either just leave lying there to rot or heap into enormous brush piles. Sometimes whole hillsides were devastated. It broke my heart to think of the trees murdered for no reason except laziness and greed, not to mention all the animals who were killed during the process, or who lost their homes. I know there are arguments for why clear-cutting is actually better than some of the alternatives, but it’s pretty hard to stomach the idea. If you believe that trees and animals are just things to be used, sure, cutting all the trees down isn’t a big deal to you. But to me, it’s equivalent to going into a village of people where there’s been an outbreak of disease and killing every single person, regardless of whether they are sick, just to make sure the disease doesn’t spread. It’s not meant to be an exact analogy, but the concept is the same: it’s cheaper and easier to kill everyone than to find a method that maximizes life while still attaining your goals.
Eventually we rounded a curve and were faced with a dilemma. The road came to a tee, and there was no signage telling us which direction to take (surprise, surprise). We evaluated the two options. The left branch was pretty level and seemed in decent shape. To the right, the road not only went up a steep incline, but was rutted and generally in bad shape. Our logic was that the road to the left, the one that looked more cared for, was the one to the Big Cedar Tree. So we went left. Shortly thereafter, the road became worse, and worse, and eventually it was clear that no one had driven this way in quite some time, and we’d taken the wrong turn.
The Big Cedar Tree turned out to be just around the curve from the unmarked turn. What we saw as we approached was a big, white stick poking into the sky. This tree looked utterly dead, kaput, a tree no more. It had no bark, and had been bleached by the elements until it looked like the driftwood we’d seen along the Dungeness Spit. Way, way up, there was some growth, but we couldn’t tell if it was the cedar, or some other tree that was using this one as a vertical nurse log. According to the sign, it was the largest western red cedar in the world, 178 feet high, and 19.4 feet in diameter.
We walked around it for a couple of minutes and left. Been there, done that, let’s get out of here.
There was still the mystery of why we’d have to travel so far to get to this tree, when the map showed it being right on the ocean. We soon discovered the reason when we finally reached the shore and passed another sign for a Big Cedar Tree: Either there’s more than one Big Cedar Tree, or there’s a way to get to the one we saw that didn’t involve miles of travel on dirt roads. We did not try to find out.
The beaches along this stretch of ocean have very imaginative names: Beach 4, Beach 3, Beach 2, Beach 1, and South Beach. We stopped at Beach 4. The parking area was high above the water, and we could see hardly anything from the lookout because the entire beach was fogged in. This is one of the ways that the Olympic Peninsula confounded my expectations: I had imagined warm, sunny beaches. We never saw one. Just a lot of fog.
Still, we went down to see and were pleasantly surprised because there were tide pools, where we saw lots of disgustingly interesting sea creatures, like anemones, and some things like anemones that glistened with slime, and some weird shrimp-like bugs, and a growth that looked like white brains.
As it was getting to be lunchtime, we skipped Beach 3 and headed straight for Kalaloch, located between beaches 2 and 3.
I was expecting a town, but once again, I was confounded. Kalaloch consists of a lodge and a general store whose selection of pre-made luncheon items was not exactly appetizing. We ended up buying bagged popcorn and cheese sticks and drove down to Beach 2 to enjoy it.
Beach 2 was a little different from Beach 4. To get to the sand, you had to cross a barrier composed of dozens of dead trees thrown about by the ocean. In fact, one of the prominent warnings at all the beaches we visited was that the logs were dangerous, and that if the tide came in while you were on the beach, it could turn one of them into a weapon. People have been killed. Another feature of the beaches is that they have these round, black and red signs posted on trees near beach-access paths. This is to help you escape the water and projectile logs if you are stupid enough to be caught on the beach when the tide is coming in (they also post the tide tables and tell you to be familiar with them).
The tide was very low when we got there, and it was even foggier than Beach 4 had been. No one was around except for a woman building little stone cairns near the spot where you first come in. We didn’t have to walk far to find a bone white log large enough for the three of us to sit in comfort and eat our meal.
Afterwards took a little stroll down to the water, which was quite far out, and when we came back, the fog was so thick that we couldn’t find the path to the parking lot. In the fog, everything looked the same: white and ghostly. The black and red marker wasn’t visible. Finally we stumbled upon the cairns the woman had been building at the entrance. Thank you stranger!
Back on the cliff, we took a detour down the Spruce Burl path. Burls are these growths that trees get when there is some kind of damage or irritation to the tree. Those along the path were particularly deformed by them. See pics.
As we left the beach, Julie said we only had a bit more than a quarter tank of gas left. I did some mental calculations and figured we could go at least seventy five miles on the gas we had left. The town of Queets was just five miles away, and it had a gas station, but the pumps all had signs saying “No Gas.” There were no other towns until Amanda Park, some twenty five miles further on. We agreed we should be fine, which was why we decided to go ahead and take a detour up Queets Valley Road (called Queets River Road on the other map). One map showed a cut in the road, as if it stopped and then picked up again later. The other showed it going all the way up to Queets Campground.
Almost as soon as we turned onto the road, there was a sign telling us it was closed in seven miles. But it was beautiful scenery, and we figured we’d just drive along for awhile. It would only be a fourteen mile detour, leaving plenty of gas to get to Amanda Park. Even so, I worried. We were pretty close to the middle of nowhere, and you don’t want to run out of gas there.
It didn’t help my nerves when Julie suddenly announced, “I think this is one of those situations where you run out of gas faster toward the end of the tank. We’re below a quarter tank now.”
Yikes. “Should we turn around?” I asked. But Julie thought we’d be fine.
So, we were driving up this gravel road. I kept saying, “Hey, let’s stop at this turnout and walk to the river,” and Julie kept on driving past. Finally she did stop, and I got out, but neither Julie nor Valinda wanted to come with me because they were not wearing the “appropriate footwear,” which explained Julie’s reluctance to stop in the first place
I hiked down this very narrow trail until I reached the river. It was a beautiful combination of blue-grey and aquamarine. I stood there for a few moments enjoying the beauty, and when I turned around, I could not see the trail I’d just come in on. I walked down what looked like it was the trail, but it wasn’t, and I went back to my spot by the river. Where was the trail? I imagined having to bushwhack back to the car, getting lost along the way perhaps, and running into one of those charging elk. I tried another likely route, but it again did not lead to the trail. How could I lose the trail? I’d just come down it. Boy did I feel stupid, especially since it was the second time in one day that I’d gotten lost. Finally, I spotted a bare patch of dirt under a giant stand of sword ferns. I clambered over several dead logs, and was very relieved to discover I had found the path. I hurried back to the car and got into the car again. I didn’t suggest any more stops along the way.
As previously mentioned, you can’t go very fast on gravel roads, at least not in rented Hyundai Sonatas, so it took us a long time to reach the end of the road. The scenery looked every inch what you’d expect to see in a temperate rainforest, with huge conifers covered in moss, and ferns carpeting the forest floor. Same old same old for this part of Washington.
At last we reached the end of the road. A swing gate blocked access, and a sign announced the road had been closed because of a severe landslide. Julie was getting ready to just turn around and go back (that footwear thing again), but both Valinda and I piped up that we’d like to stop and maybe take a walk up that road to see the landslide.
The road continued past the barricade, seemingly normal except for the large trees that had fallen across it. That and the many small trees popping up in the roadway showed that the road had been closed for some time. We negotiated all obstacles until we came to a place where the road suddenly dropped about three feet, and then kept on going, as if nothing had happened. “Well, that would explain closing the road,” Julie said. We looked at the little cliff and assumed it was the landslide. The thing was it wouldn’t be all that hard to fix and certainly didn’t qualify, in my mind, as “severe.” I felt kind of gypped.
Since the road kept going, we kept walking. Around the next curve, a fallen spruce was blocking the road, and its branches obscured the view ahead. We were about to turn back, but I decided to peek through the branches.
That’s when I saw the real landslide.
It was like someone had taken a giant bite out of the hill with an ice cream scoop, creating an amphitheatre of dirt, rocks, and fallen trees. The gap between the end of the road on our side and the start of the other was at least thirty feet, if not twice that. We crept to the edge of the chasm and looked down probably a hundred feet to the river. Julie dropped a rock over the edge and we listened to it bounce, and bounce, and bounce, and…
Yeah, that was a major landslide. The only way to fix that would be to build a bridge.
Having had our fill of the vista, we turned around, and noticed several deep cracks behind us, paralleling the edge of the drop-off. With a jolt of adrenaline fueling us, we hurried back to the car before the next earthquake catapulted us into the river. We gave each other high fives for finding such a neat thing all by ourselves.
As Julie drove us back, I was refolding the map and not really paying attention when suddenly Julie and Valinda both let out a yelp. A tree had fallen across the road while we were looking at the landslide. It had snapped about fifteen feet up, and just collapsed, forming the hypotenuse of a right triangle, with the road as the bottom edge. Julie backed up thirty feet, just in case any other trees were thinking about toppling. After all, it was a clear day, no wind, no storms, no reason for a seventy-foot tree to just fall over like that. It wasn’t a very thick tree, maybe eight to ten inches in diameter, so our first thought was maybe we could drag it out of the way. Unfortunately, it was such a tall tree that its top was buried in the underbrush far down the hill and we couldn’t budge it, not even an inch.
“Too bad we didn’t bring a chainsaw,” I said.
“Yeah, but we would have had to check our luggage, and you never check your luggage,” Julie replied.
“We should have rented one. Wasn’t that one of the options when we got the car? Extra insurance and a chainsaw?” Valinda added.
Since moving the tree was out, our only options were to walk the six miles to the highway and hope we either got a cell phone signal or a ride to the next town from someone who wasn’t a psycho, or try to drive under the tree. The latter was the obvious choice. The gap was about ten feet at its tallest point, but it was at a steep slant and we weren’t sure we could get the car through. On that side of the road was a small ditch, and an eighteen inch embankment. It might work, but I wasn’t thrilled about doing in our rented sedan (since it was rented in my name). That’s why we made Julie do the driving. If anything happened to the car, we could blame her.
The car just made it.
More high-fives. Wow. What an adventure! The day was chock full of them.
For the next several miles, all we talked about the tree and just how weird it was that it had fallen at just that time, and how if we’d stopped or hadn’t stopped earlier in the day, we might have made it through before the tree fell, or had it fall right on top of us. We thanked the car for doing such a great job getting us under the tree. Your typical adrenaline come-down.
But, the forest looked a little more sinister to me, afterwards.
We stopped at a boat launch to take a look at the river. That’s when Valinda discovered she couldn’t roll up her window. I couldn’t roll mine up, either. It was like the electrical connections to our controls were broken. Valinda wondered if a fuse had blown. I feared it had something to do with getting under the tree. Of course the car didn’t have manual window handles. I imagined the rest of our trip without being able to roll the windows up -- how hard it would be to stop anywhere and leave the car unattended. How bugs and spiders would get in overnight. Not to mention what would happen if it rained. And because I rented it, I was the one who was going to have to deal with getting it fixed.
This, on top of everything else, was just too much adventure for me. I started freaking out. Even though Valinda wanted to walk by the river, but both Julie and I were too worried about the car to relax and we just wanted to get the car back to town, put some gas into it, and call Avis to get the darned thing fixed.
And to think we’d actually thanked that ungrateful hunk of steel for being such a good car!
When we reached Amanda Park, there was a gas station on the right, but because we were looking at the other side of the road, we drove right past it. We decided to keep on going on the naïve assumption that there was more to Amanda Park than the five buildings we’d just passed and that there would be another gas station.
You can tell Julie is tense because she gets kind of snappish. It takes a lot to get Julie worked up, so I knew the gas situation must be getting serious. But the more uptight she gets, the more calm I become. A couple of miles further on we saw a sign saying there was a Chevron station at the next left. We took the next left, but there was no station there. After another few minutes of driving, with no sign of a gas station, Julie was ready to turn around and go back. I knew, based on assorted pieces of information I’d gleaned over the course of the trip, that there was a little town called Quinault down this road, which was probably the location of the Chevron. Unfortunately, neither Julie nor Valinda had access to my memory banks and had no idea why I kept telling them in a calm, authoritative voice not to turn around and to just keep on going.
Thank goodness my demeanor was justified. A couple of miles later, we saw the Chevron on the right, and not only was it open, it had gas, and it was also a service station.
While Julie filled the tank, I tried to get a cell phone signal so I could call Avis to ask them what to do about the windows. As I was fussing with the phone, I told the proprietor of the station, an older guy with a thin face, bad teeth, and a snarled grey beard, about the car problem. Being the kind of person who solves problems for a living, he immediately started trying to solve ours. I took the phone across the street, trying to get a signal, while he asked Valinda questions and looked the car over. I had just gotten the auto-attendant for Avis Roadside Assistance when he said he’d found the problem. There was a button on the driver’s side door that locked the passenger windows. He changed the setting, and voila! we had working windows.
At my job, we’d call that an ID ten T error (ID10T).
The guy was very nice about it, and even refused to take our money. I bet he got some laughs about it from his friends, though.
At that point, we were on the south shore of Lake Quinault, and we decided to just drive all the way around it. That took about an hour, not because the lake is that large, but because the loop goes past the lake about six miles up the Quinault river before crossing to the north side. That and the fact that it was a one-lane gravel road.
Back in Amanda Park, we decided to eat before checking into our hotel, the Quinault River Inn. There were two restaurants in town. The one that was closed for business, and the Internet Café restaurant. It was about six pm. After we placed our order, the waitress closed down the restaurant. Business was too slow, she said. Seemed to be a common theme in this part of the woods.
The food was pretty good, but it took forever to arrive. We didn’t get out of there until after seven.
At the Inn’s office, the first thing Julie and I noticed was a little plate of chocolate chip cookies. The inn’s proprietor (whose name I can’t remember, but his dog’s name was Muffin), said Julie could have one, but I was too short so I couldn’t. Whereupon began a verbal boxing match between the two of us, which was quite a lot of fun.
The room was pretty much as standard hotel room, but it was clean and you could easily walk out to the river.