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.

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