Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kayaking on Lake Wynoochee

Lake Wynoochee was the last attraction in Grays Harbor county that I had been wanting to visit. I spotted it on the map and had been thinking about it for three years. What held me back was wondering about the conditions of the roads, which are dirt roads for many miles. This turned out to be no problem at all - at least during summer. The dirt roads were well-maintained without a single pothole. We approached from the west over the Donkey Creek Road near Humptulips, WA, which is paved half of the way. When we reached the lake, I could see that a paving project was underway from the southerly direction towards Montesano, so this lake will be more accessible in future.

There is no development at Lake Wynoochee. You will only find the dam that forms the lake and a fine campground. Not a single building stands along the shore (leaving out the dam) - just forested hills all around. The campground has a nice day use area with picnic tables, a beach, a swimming area with floating platform, and a boat launch. There are no other services here: no food, no gasoline. You must bring everything you need with you.

I thought I would see a view of the Olympic peaks from the lake, but the hills blocked the view. The hills were pretty enough.

After a quick swim and picnic, we launched our kayaks: Austin in the single and James and I in the double. It had been chilly at the coast where we set out, but it was warm this day at the lake. A breeze kept us comfortable.

Austin led the way: across the lake, into a dead end cove we thought might be a river, north up the far shore to a point where we landed for a rest. This turned out to be a primitive campground with a couple families. On the whole lake this day we saw maybe six other boats and at most 12 families. And this is an enormous lake.

We played along the shore for a while. James likes chucking rocks whenever we find any body of water. We watched a tiny frog jumping around the pebbles, and then we noticed that there were dozens of these frogs all around. They must have been newly hatched babies.

We were running late on time, or we might have explored further north. I've read that a river enters the lake at the north end and two miles beyond that is a bowl waterfall - one of the few west of the Cascade mountains. That will give us a goal for next time.

We recrossed the lake with the setting sun in our eyes, found relief at mid lake where the hills blocked the sun, and enjoyed the premature twilight cast by the hills. We watched the sunlight march up the hills on the opposite shore and cast beautiful patterns of shadows and light.

The dam is also worth a quick stop - you reach it just before the campground. From the bridge in front of the dam you can look down on Wynoochee canyon, which must have been a sight when the water flowed freely. Just beyond the bridge is a nice visitor's center with a good view of the dam, photos of its construction, and the best restroom in the area.

Next time we'll come better prepared with more food, water toys, and an earlier start. Perhaps we'll kayak to the end of the lake and hike to the waterfall.

See photos, videos, and related links at:

Bob Kelly

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kayaking on Lake Quinault

We finally got a chance to kayak on Lake Quinault. I've hauled my kayak out there before in the off-season, only to learn that the Quinault Tribe only permits boating of any kind on the lake between Memorial Day and Labor Day. This does make Lake Quinault probably the most serene and undisturbed large lake in the state in the off-season.

We launched from the Willaby Creek Campground on the South Shore Road near highway 101. The campground has a day use area with free parking, picnic tables, a beach, and a boat launch.

Our route took us along the south shore, passed the Lake Quinault Lodge, passed the Rain Forest Resort Village, and then to find the mouth of the Upper Quinault River. The river mouth turned out to be quite a ways from the Rain Forest Resort and the last sign of civilization. We ended up about as far from Willaby Creek as you could get.

I had observed just the week before from the mountain road that takes you passed Higley Peak that the river breaks up into several channels and forms a river delta. We stopped at the first channel we came to - the southernmost. Far before the river entrance we hit a bank of mud that extends 100 feet out into the lake. The water here was maybe four inches deep - not enough for our double kayak with two people. A single kayak should have been able to navigate up the river. In clambering through the mud to reach the bank, I found myself sinking a foot or two here and there, but generally the area seemed to be safe.

We walked a bit up the river. There was no very firm ground to walk on anywhere - just mud or very crumbly sand. We noticed the tracks of a deer in the mud. Lots of birds were active. It was a pretty spot with the forest growing along the river banks, the lake behind, and the mountains above.

We didn't stay long, since in the meantime, the wind had picked up and was blowing strongly against us. We set a course directly across the middle of the lake towards the campground. It would probably have been safer to follow along the shore and try to avoid the wind. Out in the middle of the lake we caught a few waves that broke over the kayak and dumped a little water inside. If the wind had picked up any more, I would have steered us for the nearest shore. However, passed the middle of the lake, the waves were not so active. We were sitting in an inch or two of water by the time we reached the campground.

by Bob Kelly

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Return to the Pony Bridge

Austin and I returned to the Pony Bridge - this time bringing his twin brother Konrad along. This was an unusually hot day for the area in the mid 80s. It was up in the 90s back in the Seattle area. When we returned to our Pacific Beach house, we found a thick fog that kept the temperature cool and reached only one mile inland. Often it is the case in the summer, that if you are experiencing cool weather directly on the ocean, you can travel just a bit inland to Lake Quinault and enjoy a sunny day.

This time we took some videos at the Pony Bridge:

by Bob Kelly

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Hike to the Pony Bridge

I have a new favorite hike in the Lake Quinault area: the Pony Bridge. The Pony Bridge spans a narrow canyon where the East Fork Quinault River is forced through a narrow channel between giant rocks. The water rushes through here as fast as I've ever seen water move. It's an exhilirating sight, which the photos can't fully convey, since you are missing the sound and the movement. You must go visit yourself!

You reach the trail by driving down the South Shore Road to its very end - 19 miles from highway 101. You'll pass the Graves Creek campground just before the trailhead. We picked up two Evergreen College students along the road at Quinault who needed a 12 mile ride to the campground. They had arrived by bus and we came along at just the right moment for them. They were planning a one week camping trip in that remote spot. The drive beyond Lake Quinault and along the Upper Quinault River was very beautiful: both the deep green mossy forest all around us and the rushing river on our left.

We dropped off our hitchhikers and reached the trailhead. The trail starts at a bridge over Graves Creek, which is itself a beautiful spot. If you didn't want to hike, just a drive to this point and the view from this bridge would be worthwhile.

The hike to the Pony Bridge is two and a half miles long. It lies along a longer 11 mile trail to the Enchanted Valley in the middle of the Olympic National Park, which I read is one of the special places on the Earth. We passed several backpackers who were returning from there. Our portion of the trail rose steadily for 2 miles; however, the climb is gradual - not too strenuous. At the top of this climb is an ancient, rotting picnic table, which was mentioned in the guidebook. Up to this point the trail used to be a road. You could see where the park service had strewn logs and debris to narrow the trail to a normal track, encouraging native vegetation to grow.

From the old picnic table the trail climbs down towards the bridge. You get a glimpse first of some rocks carved by the river when the water level is high. The guidebook said you could sun yourself here on a the rare sunny and warm today. This day was not so warm. Also, there's no obvious trail down to these rocks. You would have to struggle through a lot of undergrowth.

Shortly beyond this viewpoint we reached the bridge. The whole scene on every side here was breathtaking. Downstream the river raced through a narrow canyon bordered by steep rock walls. Every crevasse on these rocks was taken over by an opportunistic fern. Looking upstream was a wider view of the river issuing out of the forest and careening against the solid rocks. The sound and the drama of the place heightened the experience. We climbed down some steep rocks to a small beach at the riverside. The water in the middle of the channel seemed like it was rushing by at 60mph. If you fell in, there would be no hope for you.

On the other side of the bridge we followed the river down an informal trail for further views of the canyon. Altogether, I think we spent an hour around the bridge.

I'm getting old. A five mile round trip hike is about the limit of what I can handle. When we reached that grassy meadow on the way back, I flopped on the ground and had a long rest.

On the drive back towards Quinault we were lucky to come across several Roosevelt Elk.

by Bob Kelly

Monday, May 24, 2010

Long Beach: Furthest Practical Day Trip to the South from Pacific Beach

5/5/2010 - Long Beach
On a previous trip, I had explored the furthest practical day trip to the north of my Pacific Beach house. That brought you after exactly 100 miles to the parking lot of the Hoh Rain Forest. So, on this trip, I wanted to see how far you could get to the south in a day. I found that a drive of 105 miles would bring me to the base of the Long Beach peninsula at Seaview. That puts about 2/3rds of the Washington Pacific coast within reach of my house.

And what a pretty drive this was. You follow highway 101 to the south from Aberdeen, across the Chehalis River, past Cosmopolis, and up into a terrain of rolling hills. Up the first big hill you climb is a tremendous view back down the Chehalis Valley. If the day had been more clear, I think you could have seen the Olympics and Mount Rainier from this viewpoint.

Next, you pass through an area of forested rolling hills and sparse habitation. Considerable logging goes on in these hills. At length, you arrive at the town on Raymond on the Willapa River. Raymond holds some historical interest with two museums and a historic theater. If you need gas or food, this is your last chance for a while.

Immediately south of Raymond is South Bend, the county seat of Pacific county. This town has a magnificent courthouse built in 1910 with extensive stained glass. Apparently, Pacific and Grays Harbor counties were competing to build the most opulent courthouse around the same time (see the courthouse in Montesano).

At South Bend the road reaches Willapa Bay and follows the eastern shore of the bay for the rest of the drive. Willapa Bay - like Grays Harbor - is mostly filled with mud, so you will either be looking at vast mud fields or a vast expanse of water, and you wouldn't suspect the water is only a couple inches deep. The view here is very pretty with a few islands (a couple inches higher than the mud) in the bay and the forested hills all around you.

We arrived at the Long Beach peninsula without a plan. I simply drove to the nearest beach access, which turned out to be the community of Seaview. The beach looks very much like our North Beach: wide endless sands. We asked each other why we had driven so far to trade one beach for another. We learned here that the Long Beach peninsula is better organized than our Grays Harbor county beaches. An asphalt bike/pedestrian connects all the communities, running behind the beach through the beach dune grass. Restrooms, benches, and interpretive signs are provided all along the way. We walked north on the beach from Seaview to Long Beach, and then back along the path. At Long Beach they had the skeleton of a grey whale that had washed up nearby in the year 2000. Unfortunately, they left this skeleton open to the elements, so it is considerably decayed. The museum at Westport demonstrates the better way to display a whale skeleton - outdoors, but covered and behind glass.

Again, not having a plan, we had a look at a map of the area that was posted near the parking lot. There were many attractions we didn't have time for, so we decided to concentrate on Cape Disappointment State Park with its two lighthouses. This cape is a small mountain sitting at the base on the peninsula and at the mouth of the great Columbia River. I think I missed the main entrance to the park, and we ended up on a pretty road giving us views of the Columbia. We noticed that the vegetation looked very different from what we were used to up north. We thought it had a vaguely tropical look to it.

Lost in the park by this time, I followed a sign to the North Jetty. They have three jetties in this area: at the base of the peninsula where we now found ourselves, and two that bracket the Columbia river mouth. As soon as we parked by the jetty, I realized that we had stumbled across one of the iconic views of Washington state that I had seen before on calendars: the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse standing out on a promontory along a steep, rocky shoreline. This is the picture I show up above at the top of this page.

Next, we drove around and found the trail to this Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The lighthouse is closed, but the views here are tremendous: down on the Columbia and south to Oregon, out to the ocean, and north along that pretty coastline. Here you can see the Lewis and Clark interpretive center that also sits on the cliff's edge and must have a great ocean view. We didn't have time for the interpretive center - we saved something for next time. Instead, we hurried along to the North Head lighthouse in another area of the park. This lighthouse is reached by a short, level trail. It passes by two lightkeeper houses that are available for rent as vacation rentals. One had been recently remodeled and the other was under scaffolding.

The trail passes through a pretty, windswept forest and then comes out to an open bluff with wide views of the ocean and coastline. Below us to the south were the North Jetty and an undeveloped beach behind it. We met some ladies from Oregon here and they pointed out Tillamook Rock offshore from Tillamook, Oregon. This rock was just barely visible as a tiny pimple on the surface of the ocean. If she was right about this, we were seeing a rock 50 miles away. A little further along we reached the North Head Lighthouse. Again, this lighthouse was closed, but picturesque. The views all around were tremendous of the ocean and rocky coastline to the north.

That's all we had time for. We didn't want to drive home in the dark, so we hurried on home and enjoyed the sunset at Pacific Beach.

by Bob Kelly

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Makah Indian Nation and Cape Flattery

I was out at the beach house with my son, Austin, mid week in late March 2010. I was newly self-employed and Austin was newly homeschooled (or "unschooled"), so we are both available to fit in impromptu trips. We decided to return home around the north end of the Olympic peninsula to catch some new sights. The weather did not look promising and the weather report was not favorable, but we knew we could at least visit the Makah Indian Museum as an indoor activity.

We set out just after 11am (we are not early risers). We stopped at the Quinault Fish Hatchery on the Moclips Highway, since a guide there had told us the salmon run from October through March. It turns out that they run through March in other areas, but only through December on the Quinault River system. We'll have to visit again later in the year. We passed Lake Quinault, but did not give it any time, since we have visited there many times. After a little over an hour, we reached Queets at the north end of the Quinault Indian Nation - its second city after Taholah. We drove briefly through the "town" past the general store, but quickly saw that it was a depressing, run-down place.

Shortly after Queets, highway 101 reaches the coast in the Kalaloch area, which is within the Olympic National Park. We stopped by one of the southern beaches reached by a path through the forest. The spruce trees here near the beach are misshapen with burrs or tumors that grow into huge oval balls in the middle of the trunks. The trail lead to a pretty stream, up and over a big pile of driftwood, and then you notice that the stream runs out through the bottom of the wood pile and out of the sand.

The next stop was the Big Cedar just beyond the Kalaloch Lodge. This looks similar in age and decrepitude to the Quinault Big Cedar with a hollow trunk you can walk into to. The Quinault Big Cedar looked to have more life to it than this mostly dead Kalaloch Big Cedar. It's a very short walk from the parking lot, so it's worth a stop if you are in the area.

Just beyond we arrived at Ruby Beach, and here the sun broke out nicely. We ended up with a much nicer day than forecast. We visited Ruby Beach about a year before and it was interesting to see how the ocean and creek had changed the landscape: the creek had moved to the nearer side of a big rock and a big, memorable pile of bright, red cedar logs had been cleared away.

By now we decided we had better pick a destination for the day and begin to skip some sights. We passed by the entrance to the Hoh Rain Forest and the road to Rialto Beach - we'll save those for a future trip. When we reach Forks, the skies let loose with a tremendous rain shower. We briefly lost hope for the rest of the day. As we drove through the town we looked for signs of the Twilight craze from the road. There's an enormous store named Twilight Dazzle. However, another Twilight storefront was boarded up. Not much else was to be seen without getting out of the car into the rain.

Next, we made for the Makah Indian Nation, which is quite a ways off of highway 101. It's about an one hour drive to Neah Bay from Sappho. I would have visited here many years before with my wife, but I had forgotten how pretty it was. The area is hillier than what we had come through from the south, and the hills are of course covered in a beautiful green forest. Passed Clallam Bay (another spot I would like to spend more time in future - an old man at a rock shop once told me you can find "agates as big as eggs" on the beach here), the road reaches the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The road is very windy and you make slow progress, but the view is great. There are even a couple impressive seastack rocks off this northern coast.

By 3pm we reached the Makah Museum. For such an out of the way place, this is really a world class museum. The heart of the collection comes from a village at Ozette that was partially buried by a mudslide caused by the year 1700 earthquake (estimated at 9.0 on the Richter scale). The Makahs have had a continuous culture on this northwest corner of the Olympic peninsula for hundreds of years. Some things that impressed me were the wide variety of specialized tools made from wood, bark, and rock. The Makah had four standardized sizes of canoes with a complement of tools from a fishing canoe for a single person up to an eight seater for whale hunting. They used the cedar tree for many purposes: tools, baskets, ropes, canoes, and even clothing. They would strip the cedar bark off the tree, soak it, pound on it until it was soft, and then they could make a kind of fabric out of it. They also raised dogs, collected their loose fur, and made clothing out of that. I imagine the dog fur was more comfortable than the cedar bark.

After an hour at the museum, we hurried along to Cape Flattery. Since my first visit to this area, the road had been paved and the trail much improved (boardwalks instead of mud pits). We hit a perfect two hour sunbreak on our hike out to the cape (a 3/4 mile walk).

The view at the end of the trail is tremendous. One of the special places you must visit during your lifetime (we have so many of those in Washington state!). The Makah have made four viewpoints standing on the cliff's edge 200-300 feet above the water. To the southwest are many offshore rocks and small islands and deeply eroded bays in the mainland - all topped by a cedar forest. Austin thought it looked like the floating islands in the movie Avatar. Directly northwest lies the barren Tatoosh Island with a lighthouse. To the northeast you can see into several sea caves being dug out at the base of the cliffs. You begin to wonder what is directly below you? Are you standing on a thin layer of soil suspended over the swirling waves churning through a sea cave?

We made one more stop to the south of Cape Flattery at Hobuck Beach on Makah Bay. This was a beautiful, sandy beach with interesting tide pools and rock formations. The rocks were stood up on end like waffles and were all pitted with holes an inch across. I poked into one of the holes that I thought was just filled with dirt and the thing moved!, startling me. It was an anemone, filling up the hole. Perhaps they excavate holes over time into the rock? Other holes were filled up with barnacles and mussel shells.

We left the beach at 6pm. We drove into Port Angeles on gasoline fumes and filled up, heading for the ferry at Kingston. We were passing many interesting sights in the dark, but we'll have to make many more visits to cover the whole area. We arrived home at about 11pm, so that made for a very full day.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Walking south from Taholah until the beach disappears

My goal this day was to walk south from Taholah along the beach as far as possible towards Point Grenville. This photo shows the end point of the beach hike. You can see Point Grenville from the north side, but you are stopped from approaching further because the waves here are beating against the cliff. It looks like it would be possible to get around that nearest point on a low tide. This was a fairly high tide.

This was an amazingly beautiful and interesting hike. First of all, we had the beach almost to ourselves - just a few people out near the town and some teens hanging out near another beach entrance road. Secondly, the terrain is very interesting. Down around Copalis Beach, Pacific Beach, and Moclips the cliffs look permanent - like they haven't changed in years. Here south of Taholah, huge chunks of the cliffs have fallen off. In fact, in some places there is a constant stream of sand and small rocks running down, and you get the idea that the massive cliff above you is not so stable. A couple times I moved the kids along quicker or told them to walk nearer to the waves.

The next most exciting thing we encountered on this walk was a dead seal. I startled an eagle as I approached and it flew off in a hurry. The eagle had eaten out the eyes and was working on the brain next. On the return walk we noticed two bald eagles waiting patiently on the top of a dead tree - 200 feet up the cliff and another 200 feet up the tree. They were waiting for us to pass so they could get back to their meal.

The weather was marvelous - sunny and near 60 degrees in the first week of March (3/6/2010). We walked about four miles round trip, which is quite arduous over beach sand. We returned to the town after five hours accompanied by a beautiful sunset.