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Travels with Brian

Notes from Seattle Times travel writer Brian Cantwell.

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Travel staffer Brian Cantwell, his wife and their two cats are traversing the Oregon shore in a rented motorhome.

October 10, 2007 10:55 AM

In the Liberator's rear-view mirror

Posted by Brian Cantwell


I'd like to go back and have more time to explore Ruby Beach, in Olympic National Park.

SEATTLE -- Home again, after just over 1,000 miles and 10 days in the Liberator. What a good, long trip it's been, but I'm really ready to sleep in my own bed again, and be able to drive down a street without keeping my foot on the brake in case I see those magical words: FREE WI-FI.

So besides buckets of clam chowder, torrents of rain (plus rainbows), boot-sucking mud, a lot of beautiful places (plus a few ugly ones), and a lot of nice folks, what did I find at the beach?

Probably the biggest news is the quick success of the Seabrook development near the tiny burg of Pacific Beach, for the money it's bringing to that stretch of economically struggling coast and for the culture and aesthetic that comes with this carefully controlled "new town" based on tenets of the New Urbanism movement.


Seabrook brings a new aesthetic to its neighborhood.

Seabrook developers had wondered the same thing we did: Why isn't more happening for visitors to the Washington coast? And they did something about it, apparently tapping into a market hungry for what they're creating. Is it for the long-range good? That's for you to decide, I guess. For sure, there are regrets for folks who've loved the funky, free-and-easy beach towns just as they were. But there's also something to be said for an infusion of cash and jobs in towns that were looking pretty rusty around the edges.

This trip convinced me that a lot about our coast is perfect as it is, especially the wild beaches of Olympic National Park. Handling crowds, while keeping the park open to all without escalating to theme-park-like entrance fees, seems the challenge there.

Of the roughly 160 miles of the Washington coast, about a third is national park and another third is Indian reservation. The 50 or 60 remaining miles includes flat beaches, high bluffs, gorgeous wild estuaries with herons and oysters, a beach that's washing away with everything on it -- all sorts of topography. Much buildable land is already spoken for, though the push continues to intensify in places like Long Beach.


Now that's art. Chainsaw carvings, as in Ocean City, will always have a place at the beach.

Original characters like Sou'Wester Lodge owner Len Atkins, people who've helped create some of the unique charm of our coastal towns, are resisting the lure of the almighty buck. But will there be a like-minded younger generation to carry on for him and others like him?

Tourism has its risks as well as benefits for fragile communities. It can bring money that helps locals continue a healthy and happy life. But unchecked development can overwhelm the charm and beauty.

I don't think the answer is to just not go. I plan to go back, and take my family to enjoy the wonders of Cape Flattery, the beauty of Ruby Beach, the old-time coziness of Sou'Wester Lodge and Tokeland Hotel, the fresh oysters of Willapa Bay. When we go, we'll try to tread lightly, and vote with our feet: giving our few tourist dollars to places and people we want to see again on our next visit. And, I hope, making friends along the way.

See you all at the beach.

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October 9, 2007 8:24 PM

Long Beach Peninsula tips

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Appropriately, a giant fishing lure is the mailbox at Jimella's Seafood Market in Klipsan Beach.

* Jimella Lucas and Nanci Main, who helped convince foodies there was more than fudge and taffy at the beach years ago when they opened The Ark restaurant in Nahcotta, passed the restaurant to new hands a while back. But if you miss them, stop by Jimella's Seafood Market and Community Store, on Highway 103 in Klipsan Beach, between Long Beach and Ocean Park. Fresh seafood, artisan cheeses, wine to go. Open Wed.-Sun. in the off-season.

* Woo-hoo, wi-fi: My gripes about finding a computer linkup on the northern Olympic Peninsula don't apply to the Long Beach Peninsula. Wi-fi is everywhere, it seems, and the smart folks at the visitor's bureau put together a list of places that have it. Stop in and pick up a copy as you arrive, right at the corner with the stop sign where Highway 101 comes into Seaview.

* If you like to stay in Ocean Park or Nahcotta, some good news: Workers yesterday were putting finishing touches on a new pedestrian/bike trail connecting the two places, along the side of Highway 103.

* It's hard to find "hip" in corny old Long Beach, but the Akari Bungalows where I stayed in the center of town, right before the Long Beach arch on Bolstad Avenue, is a small inroad. Small, because it's only three tiny 1930s cottages that have been renovated and redecorated with an under-30 sensibility by three young owners, Tiffany and Brady Turner and Jared Oakes, all locally grown. There's also a cafe with espresso drinks, a good wine list, and a menu ranging from whole-grain, fresh-fruit smothered waffles in the morning to panini or cheese plates for later. My studio unit was $100, with LCD TV, DVD player, kitchenette.


Akari Bungalows: Hip is here.

* There are lots of great restaurants on the peninsula, but in the off season, finding them open other than weekends can be tricky. Monday night, the Port Bistro in Ilwaco is one of the few that stays open. Tuesday, I drove miles up the peninsula to Nahcotta to sample breakfast at Bailey's Bakery and Cafe, in the same building as the tiny Nahcotta Post Office. Oops, not open Tuesdays. Call before you go.

* Long Beach Peninsula has one of the more active visitor bureaus, and an amazingly detailed Web site (with a URL other beach towns must envy):

That Web site is where you'll find more information on these upcoming events:
* The One Sky, One World Kite Carnival is Friday-Sunday, Oct. 12-14, at the World Kite Museum in Long Beach, with the World Kite Fly for Peace (part of an international event) happening Sunday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Bolstad Avenue beach approach.

* The 86th annual Cranberrian Fair is Friday-Sunday, Oct. 12-14, based at the Ilwaco Heritage Museum. Included are cranberry bog tours, food sampling, live entertainment and more. Cranberrian Fair buttons are $5 each and cover admission to the Ilwaco Heritage Museum, Cranberry Museum, Cranberry Trolley and 'Cranberry Bite at the Port.'

* The Wild Mushroom Celebration is when foodies have a field day, Oct. 12-31, with special tasting menus at peninsula restaurants, cooking classes, wild mushroom workshops, field excursions and prix-fixe dinners.

* The Water Music Festival features performances from Ilwaco to Oysterville Oct. 19-21.

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October 9, 2007 9:09 AM

Chowder Challenge: Ilwaco (the winnah!)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

So how come this was the first place I found on the coast that uses fresh clams in chowder?


Fresh clams, what a novel idea.

The Port Bistro at the Port of Ilwaco, which opened in May 2006, is getting lots of buzz for its dedication to fresh local ingredients. It's talked about as being one of the successors to the legendary Ark Restaurant in Nahcotta, now closed.

And the bowl of chowder I had for dinner last night arrived heaping with Manila clams from Willapa Bay, freshly steamed open in the creamy broth they came in, shells and all.

The broth was soupy and good, punctuated with minced red bell pepper for some nice color and flavor, along with celery and big chunks of creamy red potato, skins intact.

The 14 small shells in my bowl yielded clams that were tender and salty and kelpy tasting, and that's a good thing in clams.

Toasted, buttery wedges of artisan bread beat saltines any day.

A downside: It's $8 for a bowl, and it doesn't come in a cup. There wouldn't be enough broth to steam open the clams, "and you'd only get about two clams in there," explained Jennifer Williams, who runs the Bistro with husband and chef Larry Piaskowy (former executive chef in a restaurant in San Francisco's theater district).

The price takes it down from perfection. But I still give 9.5 clamshells out of 10, our best score on the coast.

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October 9, 2007 8:31 AM

Jake the Alligator Man moves up in the world

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Jake! Lookin' gooood!

LONG BEACH -- I had to stop in and visit my main man at the beach: Jake the Alligator Man, the longtime star attraction at Marsh's Free Museum (and emporium of beach trinkets).

Jake, if you've not had the honor, has the head of a man and the body of an alligator, and looks mummified, if you don't notice any of the crumbling plaster edges. His history is veiled in mystery.

Imagine my surprise to find Jake on this visit wearing a party hat and cozying up with the honest-to-gosh Key to the City (a brassy looking gewgaw all tied up with red, white and blue ribbon and inscribed with "City of Long Beach").

What gives?

"Oh, it was Jake's 75th birthday a couple months ago. They put him out in the grass and gave him a little party, and the mayor gave him the key to the city!" said Peggy Stephenson, one of the nice ladies behind the counter.

Over by Jake's display case, a mom and her little boy admired what they called "the crocodile man."

"Is he just a toy or something?" asked 3-year-old Thaddeus.

"No, he's real!" said mom, Jeneanne Skalley of Seattle.

"Is he frozen or something?"

"No, he's mummified. Do you want a T-shirt with Jake on it?"

"No!" grumped Thaddeus. "I want him!"

"No, you can't take him home!" Mom sighed.

Of course not. He'd have been mine years ago.

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October 9, 2007 7:31 AM

The passionate innkeeper of Seaview

Posted by Brian Cantwell

SEAVIEW -- The Sou'Wester Lodge is more a cultural phenomenon than a hotel, and 77-year-old Len Atkins, trekking about his property in a colorful robe, his wild mane of gray hair streaming behind, is more of a guru of enlightenment than an innkeeper.

Passion is what he preaches.


Len Atkins with some of the vintage trailers he rents to guests on the back lot at Seaview's Sou'Wester Lodge. Tongue firmly in cheek, he calls this part of his compound "TCH! TCH!" He says the letters either stand for "Trailer Classics Hodgepodge," or when pronounced together with a clucking tongue, "such poor taste!"

Each guest, as they were checking out yesterday, got his gentle but persistent quizzing about who they were and the passion in their life.

"So you prostitute yourself but you still have the writing you do for you, for your passion," he summarized to a young man who said he writes "advertorials" but hinted that he also is working on something more literary.

Yep, said the guest, who'd just spent a night in a classic 1950s trailer on the Sou'Wester's back lot, just one of the diverse lodging choices here.

Since Len, a former child psychologist, and his wife, Miriam, also 77, came from Chicago in 1980 and took over the Sou'Wester, the one-time coastal estate of U.S. Sen. Henry Winslow Corbett of Oregon, they've built the 115-year-old, slightly down-at-its-heels inn into a vehicle for cultural interaction, artistic expression, performance, recitation, intellectual debate and, often, friendship.

It started years ago with what Len calls Fireside Evenings in the lodge, sparked by a guest from Seattle, then director of the Northwest Chamber Orchestra, who admired the large living room as a wonderful place for chamber music. So she organized a recital.

"From that, some people who attended said, 'We have some recorders and a portable harpsichord' -- so they had an evening," Len recalled. "Then someone in that audience said, 'We have flutes!' So it just kept rolling on!"

From the performance evenings grew another kind of occasional happening at Sou'Wester: the TeaCup T'ink Tank, which Len explains is "not quite a think tank!"

Len, a devoted student of Plato, treads a delightfully slippery slope between waggish sense of humor (he respects "the Alfred E. Neuman in all of us") and poetic turn of phrase, which he articulates in clipped consonants and elegantly rounded vowels reflecting his upbringing as a South African Jew (who later studied psychology on a kibbutz in Israel).

A homespun pamphlet describes his T'ink Tanks as cultural ("devoted to the straightforward dissemination of knowledge in the arts, literature, philosophy, science, etc., led by experts in the field"); dialogs ("the respectful exchange of differing opinions sincerely held"); or "diatribalogs" ("the not necessarily respectful exchange of differing opinions passionately held").

T'ink Tanks started with a lodge guest, an expert on Charles Dickens, giving a talk. Another brought local people and architects and engineers together to talk about what Seaview had to offer and how to protect it.

"For many of us, living here is a spiritual experience," Len said. And there is constant pressure on the historic neighborhoods. So far, Seaview has resisted the kind of modern commercial development near the dunes that is happening in nearby Long Beach.

"Every three months, we have developers come by, telling us how much we could get" if he and Miriam sold out, Len lamented.


Len looks over an illustrated journal in one of his lodge rooms, in front of artwork by a guest who stayed in the room.

If and when the lodge goes, the loss will be far more than a building. Over 27 years, the couple has decorated every wall with artwork made by lodge guests both famous and not so, much of it donated or bartered for. When Len gives a tour of lodge rooms, he's like a museum curator lovingly showing off his collection. He's fond of the three William Cumming paintings in the living room, by the last surviving member of the Northwest School of Art, who is 90 this year and a longtime lodge guest and friend. Upstairs, he stops and points here, there and everywhere and remembers the guest who created the artwork.

The most recent cultural event was an evening with jazz guitarist John Stowell of Portland, who traveled with one of the first American jazz quartets through the Soviet Union shortly before its breakup. Len lets local people know about such gigs and sometimes tells the local newspaper in advance. He charges no admission, other than perhaps a food bank donation or a hat put out, disdaining the business aspect of such things.

"Here we had maybe 17 or 25 people lolling about listening to a guy perform who in the Soviet Union performed before groups of maybe 5,000 people. The wonderful thing, it is totally removed from the hurly burly of the church of commerce. No money changes hands, whatever."

As long as Len and Miriam have the Sou'Wester, Seaview has a cultural gem money can't buy.

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October 8, 2007 10:13 PM

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Long Beach Peninsula

Posted by Brian Cantwell

The Good

A couple things:


Do I think it will fly? Neigh!

I'd not been to the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame in Long Beach, which moved into new and larger quarters two years ago. It's well worth a visit, with a diverse and colorful collection of kites from many nations, along with exhibits on how kites were used in World War II and in diverse applications such as aerial photography of the damage caused in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

I enjoyed a tour with director Kay Buesing, a retired teacher, who showed me everything from the fierce and colorful faces on Japanese kites, to an Indonesian horse kite that looks like it would never get off the ground, to a fascinating exhibition of Korean signal kites like those used on ships of war in the 1500s (with varied and bizarrely obscure meanings, such as "Use long mooring lines at daytime during the typhoon").

It's on Sid Snyder Drive west of the main drag in Long Beach. $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children.


Ranger Aaron Webster explains the significance of a boardwalk leading to Waikiki Beach at Cape Disappointment State Park. The beach was named in honor of Hawaiian crew off an explorer ship who died here after their whaleboat capsized.

Also Good

The first completed installment of artist Maya Lin's Confluence Project, a series of art installations along the Columbia River created to evoke the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the changes it brought to the Pacific Northwest, is at Cape Disappointment State Park near Ilwaco.

The elements range from an elegantly simple viewing platform at Baker Bay, to a functional fish-cleaning station at the boat launch, to a concrete "boardwalk" commemorating William Clark's journal entries across the continent, ending at the park's Waikiki Beach, where the Corps of Discovery first touched the Pacific shore.

The Bad

A repeat entry: Maya Lin's Confluence Project at Cape Disappointment. So far, the art installations have no interpretive panels (which are sorely needed for some elements, like the Cedar Circle composed of a stump with five upright pieces of driftwood circling it). Nor did I see any signs showing where to find them. It's a project of significance by a world renowned artist, and it's been completed for 18 months. Without signs, it seems lost and meaningless in a big park.

The Ugly


High-roofed construction and chainlink fences are the new look in Long Beach.

For many years, Long Beach had a buffer of shore pines and mostly vacant land between town and the dunes. Gradually, motels and condos crept closer to the beach. Now, the Great Wall of Long Beach is going up at the beach's edge, in the form of a four-story timeshare with a massive footprint next to the beach access at Sid Snyder Drive.

Word around town is that Long Beach town fathers wanted a convention center, and this timeshare outfit was maybe going to provide one. Maybe they thought having a fancy timeshare would tell the world Long Beach was "someplace." So city dads (and moms) let developers build this 98-unit behemoth right by the dune. Now, there's no convention center included. If Long Beach is "someplace" with this place looming over the duneside boardwalk, I predict a lot of folks who liked the small-town feel of 10 or 20 years ago will see this as the final nail in the coffin. They might just go "someplace" else.

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October 8, 2007 10:10 PM

Beach driving revisited

Posted by Brian Cantwell


The Liberator, with stickers from Neah Bay and Long Beach. Sticking to the road this trip.

I asked readers if I should drive on the beach, and got responses with persuasive arguments on both sides. (Some thoughtful postings didn't get published because they didn't comply with the ground rule of giving full name and hometown for responses to this question. If you respond again with those prerequisites, we'll publish your comment.)

Anyway, with the Liberator as my wheels, and it being my first experience with four-wheel drive, it was tempting.

I drove on the beach a couple times when I was a teenager or in my 20s, and it was fun at the time. Then, a few years later, I went to Long Beach with my daughter as a toddler and found that she couldn't sit and build a sandcastle without the hazard of getting run over, no matter how close we kept to her. I didn't want other parents to have to worry about that, so I've not driven on the beach since.

There are some fair arguments to be made about providing access to the beach for the disabled or elderly (though take a look at the wheelchair-accessible viewpoint at Rialto Beach) or special driving allowances at clam-digging time, perhaps, if it's patrolled. But I'll be the first to applaud if folks like the fellow who wrote in and advocated chasing flocks of sea birds at high speed find themselves locked up for that kind of action.

A sincere thanks to all who wrote. I'm enjoying the beach by foot.

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October 8, 2007 7:23 AM

Getting in out of the rain

Posted by Brian Cantwell

BAY CENTER - This tiny town, stuck out on a peninsula that's almost an island in Willapa Bay, is one of those not-of-this-world communities like Oysterville. There's a park lined with huge old firs, and narrow roads littered with fallen limbs on the stormy day I happened on to the place. Old fishing floats hang on cottage walls and fences. There's one country store, a tiny old post office, and heaps of oyster shells on vacant lots.


Few places look more lonely, or more lovely, than Willapa Bay when the clouds drop down, the rain lashes the surface, and this world of oysters becomes your oyster.

You get there after turning off Highway 101 in the middle of nowhere and driving several miles along a dike, where the bay laps at the shoulder and you'll be really sorry if you zig when you should have zagged.

It was pouring rain and I needed a break from driving so I had lunch at the Dock of the Bay Tavern, the only eatery in town, right next to the fishing boats, where the special was an open-faced turkey sandwich, made with honest-to-gosh real roast turkey.

"Is it OK to order lunch at the bar?" I asked the bartender with the backwards ball cap, a spiderweb tattoo all up one arm, and a friendly smile. "Some places have rules about that sort of thing."

"No, no, that's fine. We don't have rules in Bay Center!"

NASCAR racing was on the TV, with several local folks offering commentary while they drank their Buds or Coors.

"It's got to be tough when an engine blows in a car in front of you, when you're going into a wall of smoke and you can't see diddly, and you're still going 100 mph!" said the can of Bud sitting next to me at the bar. Rain pummeled a window just beyond the TV, but you couldn't hear it over the screaming car engines.

"You know, I know one of these drivers, a guy from Bakersfield, California -- my ex-husband's brother," said a woman having the special at one of the tables.

Signs on the wall behind the bar: "We hope our ship comes in before the dock rots." "Bar phone fees: $1: Not here. $2: On his way out. $3: Just left. $4: Haven't seen him all day. $5: Who?" On a calendar: "You might be a redneck if: You've ever raked leaves in your kitchen." Or, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there!"

Nothing changes very fast in places like Bay Center. One thing you can count on is rainy days in October. And I think they're fine with that.

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October 7, 2007 8:39 PM

And now, the news

Posted by Brian Cantwell


A blustery day on Willapa Bay. Stormwatching season has come early this year.

From this week's issue of the South Beach Bulletin, "Weekly news from the Grays Harbor Bar to the Willapa Bay":

-- "Bog Berry harvest in full swing: Expected yields up by 58%": "The first picking for the fresh fruit market was completed a couple of weeks ago...This past week, picking for juice, sauce and Craisins began."

-- "Last 'round-up' at Cowboy Bob's bittersweet: Popular local restaurant & bar closes after 20-year run": "After 20 years of serving customers at Cowboy Bob's restaurant and lounge in Westport's Marina District, owner/operator Schari Sayko is 'hanging up her spurs' and grabbing an opportunity to relax for awhile."

Details at 11.

And P.S.: Next weekend, Oct. 13 and 14, is the annual Cranberry Harvest Festival in Grayland.

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October 7, 2007 3:34 PM

Tokeland, hotel of my dreams (circa 1885)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

I've fallen in love at the beach.

With the Tokeland Hotel.

Don't expect modern luxury by any means, or perfect plumbing. But checking into this place on an evening when it was spraying water like those produce misters at Safeway, and blowing like stink (I had to wrestle to keep the Liberator between the lines) was like coming home to grandmother's house.


My bed at the Tokeland Hotel. The resident cat will sleep with you if you let him in. And only $55 a night.

It's old (a National Historic Site). It's all built of wood. It has a marmalade cat named Hunter who wanders at will. There's a slightly smoky fireplace with a big couch in front and a moose head over the mantel. And my bed with the amazingly baroque carved wooden headboard was covered in a hand-sewn quilt covered with nicely corny lighthouses, anchors and sailboats.

Dinner consisted of the freshest fried oysters on the planet, with marionberry cobbler for dessert.

Let the storm howl outside the leaky old, un-double-glazed windows. It was 1885 again (with central heating and indoor plumbing added), and I was snug for the night.

Next time, I'll bring my wife.

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October 7, 2007 3:33 PM

Another roadside attraction

Posted by Brian Cantwell


You can't exactly call it beach kitsch, but it is along Highway 101. The Dog House in Aberdeen, home of "The BIGUN." I had to stop for a photo, but I'd just eaten; has anyone out there sampled a BIGUN?

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October 7, 2007 2:28 PM

The Great Coastal Chowder Challenge: Ocean Shores

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Galway Bay Irish Pub and Restaurant in Ocean Shores has won multiple awards for having the North Beach's best clam chowder. So I put the claim to the test.

A half-pint of Smithwick's ale and some rollicking Irish tunes on the sound system helped while away the long wait; this place actually makes its so-called Michael Collins Chowder to order, which is something to say. When it finally came, some sweet soda bread on the side was a nice bonus.

The chowder was topped with parsley flakes. (There's a surprise.) What I liked most was the big, mouth-filling chunks of pleasantly mealy potato (perhaps a tribute to the mother country?). The clamminess was weak, with some good pieces of chewy clam a quarter-inch wide, but not enough for my tastes. "Oh, did you get the clam with the string on it? The one they dip in for flavor and then pull back out?" joked my leprechaunish server. There was some soft bacon in there, too, with little discernible flavor.

A cup was $3.95.

On this day, I think they were coasting on their reputation a tiny bit. I give them 6 clamshells out of 10.

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October 7, 2007 11:44 AM

Stormwatching and surfers, at the same time

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Hasn't anybody told them that the water feels about one degree above ice this time of year?

WESTPORT -- It's a new source of off-season tourism: insane surfers.

My theory is that they came with the big influx of Californians 20 years ago when people could sell their house down there for big bucks and trade up to a mini-mansion in Washington, before real estate went nuts everywhere. I know they weren't around when I was younger than I am now.

So we now have a whole bunch of surfer dudes and their offspring, who crowd the beaches in their wetsuits even in the stormiest of October weather, because that's when the waves are up.

Westport, home to at least two major surf shops and motels that cater to the looney tunes, doesn't mind at all.

Yesterday, when I could hardly stand in the wind on top of the jetty next to the Westport marina, and tested my new Canon's water resistance, I counted 25 surfers doing their thing at the two small crescent beaches there.


Surfer-watching in Westport.

A fancy new condo was going up across the street, with a sign boasting units starting in "the $500s," so I guess Westport isn't hurting too badly.

It's suddenly stormwatching season here at the Cranberry Coast. The lights were out in much of Tokeland this morning. Seen on my morning drive: gulls hang-gliding just above the jetty, catching its updraft; a PUD truck slowly cruising the Tokeland road, looking for downed lines. And at nearby Washaway Beach, a Seattle Audubon birding group was just folding up their rain-dripping spotting scopes and ducking back into their Subarus.

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October 7, 2007 10:25 AM

The fleecing of the roving reporter

Posted by Brian Cantwell

OCEAN SHORES -- I'm not really a casino person. I had some fun in Reno once, but it was only because I was with my mother-in-law, the slot-machine queen (that woman always came away with more than she started with; she had so much fun I couldn't help myself).


On the entry drive to the Quinault Tribe's casino near Ocean Shores, even the speed-limit signs are designed to get you thinking about gambling. (21, the card game -- also known as blackjack -- get it? Or do I need to get out the club?)

Which is by way of explaining that I was a bit of a fish out of water staying at the Quinault Beach Resort in Ocean Shores. But I hadn't been there before and I wanted a look. It's not a bad hotel, though the mob it gets -- or maybe mob's a bad word around casinos? maybe I should say crowds -- have already inflicted wear and tear around the edges (peeling wallpaper in my room and a phone that was falling apart). No arguing with the nice view from a fourth-floor oceanfront room, though (for $139, the quoted rate, plus a surprise fleecing in the form of a $15.25 "occupancy fee," whatever that is -- like they charge you less if you don't actually step into the room?).

Anyway, I promised my wife I'd plunk some money into whatever slot machine had the biggest payoff. You know, like in Vegas where you can win a million bucks with one dollar play.

Well, they don't have those machines here. But a nice casino employee helped me find the machine with the biggest possible payoff: $25,000 if I played $5 and hit five winning numbers.

So I went and fed my $5 bill into a machine that gave me a ticket that I could then feed into the slot of "The Green Machine," the video slot machine that was going to send me home to my family with wads of cash hanging out my shirt pockets. What a triumphant return from the long, wet week at the coast.

I thought I'd sneak a photo of my winning combination as the machine toted up the numbers. Most casinos don't like photos being taken, so I kept my little pocket camera low, and as I looked down for a moment to push the shutter, The Green Machine sucked in my $5 ticket, burbled a few electronic Artoo-Detoo noises, and when I looked up, the screen was empty again, except for a readout: $5 played, $0 winnings.


The fuzzy photo that cost me a quick 5 bucks.

My $5 came and went and not only wasn't I a winner, I didn't even get to see the machine do any fancy tricks. No mesmerizing flashing lights, no whirring numbers. Just a blurry photograph to show for it.

I walked out. I got into my car. I'd been in the casino five minutes, and my clothes already smelled like I'd smoked a pack of cigarettes.

I'm not really a casino person.

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October 7, 2007 10:24 AM

Prisoners of the peninsula

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Are most of Washington's felons warehoused on the Olympic Peninsula? It sure seems that way. This whole trip, I've been passing signs pointing to state corrections centers I never knew existed. And that's the word they use: corrections center, like it's a place where kind teachers help kindergarteners learn not to eat paste, or that intestinal noises are not funny.

Anyway, in the past week of meandering Highway 101, I've passed turnoffs to prisons in Shelton, Clallam Bay, Forks, someplace near the Quinault Reservation, and one outside of Aberdeen. So how did the peninsula win the honor of housing so many of our state's miscreants? Probably because it's so much closer than Eastern Washington is to our major population centers.

And hey, these counties need jobs. I suppose badness is a growth industry.

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October 7, 2007 10:17 AM

The Great Coastal Chowder Challenge: Moclips

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips has gotten high praise from readers, so I put their restaurant to the chowder test. They came through as the cream of the creamies.

The $4 cup came with the standard sprinkling of dry parsley flakes, which seems a waste of time, since it adds no flavor and all the visual appeal of grass clippings. Consistency was like the half-and-half from the pitchers at Starbucks (it was actually thickened with Carnation evaporated milk), with a slight tang. Full of good stuff, such as quarter-inch potato cubes, applewood-smoked bacon (which when I bit into it was like taking a deep whiff of the sweetest campfire smoke), and very nice chunks of clam, tenderer than the pencil-eraser texture you get some places. Nice mild clam flavor. Canned ocean clams, as usual. But the overall taste and texture, and a boost by the restaurant's superb ocean view, pushes this chowder to the top score yet.

Served with oyster crackers.

9 clamshells out of 10. More power to you, Moclips.

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October 6, 2007 12:32 PM

Do-it-yourself radio in Pacific Beach

Posted by Brian Cantwell

They have a non-profit radio station here. We're not talking fancy: KXPB broadcasts from an old single-wide trailer house back in the woods. The transmitter is in a blue van outside, and the antenna is 60 feet up a pine tree.

One of the DJs, Hippie Bruce, came by the Wacky Warehouse, and I asked him for a station tour.


Hippie Bruce in front of the broadcast house. Nobody has ever seen him and George Carlin standing next to each other. (Think about it.)

Mr. Wacky started it six years ago as a pirate station that never reached much farther than the state park (until guys with a clipboard, a camera and neckties came and shut it down). Eventually, the station got a license, 100 watts of power, and became the baby of another local semi-legend, Kelly Cline, aka Max Better, who ran it until he died at the mike on Memorial Day 2006. Now, seven local volunteer DJs run it, including Bruce (DJ Bruce Almighty) Czajkowski, mostly known as Hippie Bruce.

"This is a big area for nicknames," he said. "Nobody has a last name." There's a guy who just wanted to be Bob, but even he is "Ordinary Bob."

The station is still in Cline's house in the woods behind Highway 109. Mostly, the programming is automated; the DJs come in after their day jobs. Bruce has a Monday-night blues program. "Our standards are just to keep the language relatively clean and play whatever music we like."

Inside the "studio," which smells like an old bowling alley with lots of cigarettes smoked in it, is a collection of desktop computers, microphones, a few speakers and headphones. Hippie Bruce fiddled with a PC and then cranked up the volume on the in-house speakers. "Start Me Up" by the Stones boomed through the room. "We could rock out!" he shouted.

But it was time for him to go back to work at the shake mill up the road.

Tune in at 89.1 FM. Other DJs are Surf Diva, Rita, Bus Driver (a school-bus driver), Kite Flyer (the kite-shop owner), Sea Frog and Dr. Smooth Shake. They keep Pacific Beach shaking.

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October 6, 2007 11:38 AM

Mr. Wacky's world

Posted by Brian Cantwell

PACIFIC BEACH -- You've got to love a community where one of the more prominent civic figures is known as Mr. Wacky.

At the urging of readers who sent in tips, I dropped in on Mr. Wacky, aka James Preisinger, at his Wacky Warehouse, a Pacific Beach emporium of new and used stuff you might or might not need, such as plastic mannequin busts with prominent breasts, for a buck, or old beer cans, at least some of them possibly collectible, 25 cents.


Pacific Beach's James Preisinger, aka Mr. Wacky, with junk metal that he recycles. Does Main Street have room for a metal monger and highbrow boutiques together?

Preisinger, who drove cab in Seattle for 13 years before bailing out for the beach, was wearing a dinner jacket and bow tie when I met him, apparently not his daily garb. "Oh, you caught me on Formal Friday," he explained, a tradition he started in response to the growing Casual Friday tradition at corporate offices in the city. At the beach, life is different.

Happily, he had a loaner tie (a handsome clip-on) for me.

Pacific Beach is one of a string of little towns on this stretch of coast -- Moclips, Copalis Beach, Ocean City -- left high and dry by the logging and fishing bust and struggling for years on the knife edge between hard luck and happiness. (One local wag defines "Moclip" as "an ancient Indian word meaning large, rusty tin building.")

Lots of people have more than one job; Preisinger runs his shop, is the local metal recycler, is a musician (piano and harmonica) with a couple of his own CDs ("One of them went aluminum"), and occasionally hosts music gigs. He also publishes a little photocopied newspaper: The Wacky World Reporter, "Shining the bright light of speculative rumor on the events of Main Street, Pacific Beach."

"I only give it out to people I know, or people who ask for it, because I know I'm going to say some things some people won't like," he confided.

He's skeptical about the clash of cultures with the arrival of Seabrook, which at this point seems more a tony development on the edge of Pacific Beach than the separate town it calls itself. But Pacific Beach could end up the suburb in the shadow as the buildout of hundreds of half-million-dollar-plus homes continues. Change is in the salt air: A fudge shop has opened next door to the Wacky Warehouse. The town's other longtime symbol of silliness, the black-and-white striped Zany Zebra drive-in, has become the more tastefully named Falcon's Nest.

"These Seabrook people came in and they want to cutesy up Main Street and have a bunch of boutiques. How many boutiques do you need?" Mr. Wacky wondered.

Stop in and see him. If it's Friday, bring a tie.

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October 6, 2007 11:15 AM

Seabrook is the big news here

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Craftsman, Early Victorian and Coastal Shingle are among the architecture styles on the main street of Seabrook. Town designers choose the home colors. (Sorry, no bright purple allowed.)

If you want a beachside retreat in the lap of luxury, the new "town" of Seabrook is the place to cozy up. But you better bring money, honey. Cottages of 770-square-feet start at $399,000 and a big house will run you close to a cool million.

A lot of them you can rent when the owners aren't using them. But rentals aren't exactly cheap, either: On top of peak nightly rates ranging up to about $300, an added cleaning charge can be more than you'll pay for a room in some motels down the road. (Though here you might fit multiple families in one home.)

Seabrook, a mile south of Pacific Beach, is the biggest news to hit this stretch of coast in decades. In terms of influence it's likely to have on this so-called North Beach area, it's the equivalent of a new Ocean Shores suddenly springing to life, minus Pat Boone.

In most ways, the two places couldn't be more different.

With a dose of skepticism fueled by reader comparisons of Seabrook to the "Desperate Housewives" town or a "Stepford Wives" analogy, and my own questions about conjuring up a quaint New England village in the heart of Grays Harbor County, I was prepared to hate the place.

Well. I didn't.


I stayed here one night for $191.91 including tax and cleaning fee (reduced from $85 to $15 because I was the only occupant). It can sleep up to nine, and has an ocean peek from the enclosed front porch.

A comfortable night in a luxuriously furnished house there, followed by a guided tour, left me reflective, and vaguely worried about what I've missed in my quick look-around, the way I might worry about whether my fly was unzipped after shaking hands with the Queen. Seabrook is like no other bird that's ever landed on the Washington coast.

That's because it's not just a new development of expensive houses. It's the arrival in this corner of the world of a concept called New Urbanism, which has as its main tenet that a community is a mix of different-looking houses, built closely together, close to the street, with no driveways or garages on the street side, many with big front porches, and lots of pathways, little parks and narrow lanes that make walking and biking the preferred way of travel. Everything is supposed to be within a five-minute walk.

If it feels a bit like Disney World's Main Street, there's some rationale there: Florida is where New Urbanism, a school of design born in the 1980s, first really blossomed.

And the folks building the place, some imported from "new town" projects in Florida, are evangelical in their promotion of New Urbanism as everything from a way for neighbors to get reacquainted with neighbors to a solution for global warming.

Seabrook started with and is still led by Casey Roloff, 36, an Oregon-based developer who grew up in Vancouver, Wash. What began as a plat of some 80 acres at the 2004 groundbreaking has spread to more than 300, with plans for hundreds of homes -- including several for his own extended family. Building is proceeding as fast as the beeping bulldozers can roll. Already, just three years after groundbreaking, scores of homes are occupied. "This summer we almost ran out of homes to sell," said Stephen Poulakos, director of town development.

We're talking people with real money, "including names you've probably heard," Poulakos kept confiding, without elaborating. They're coming because the place is high, high tone.


Old-fashioned yellow bicycles are parked in racks arouind Seabrook for free use within the community. Down the street: If you go, be prepared to find lots of construction still going on for months to come, though some streets are completed and quiet.

Back lanes are of crushed oyster shell. Plantings are native ferns, alders and snowberry. Multiple trails lead through the woods and across the highway to the beach. Houses are gold-plate quality, with granite counters, real masonry chimneys, wood floors made from old pickle barrels.

And Poulakos defends the home designs as being naturals for the Northwest, because historically so many people with fishing or cranberry growing in their background came to this coast from the Northeast. He points to Port Townsend, Cannon Beach and Oysterville as models.

"If people say we're building a New England town, they need to do their homework and look around."

Plans are ultimately for retail shops and art galleries with condos above as well. The first business, a cafe to be operated by the wine steward from the nearby Ocean Crest Resort, is nearing completion. A gourmet market is also envisioned.

One tenet of New Urbanism, a diverse mix of people of different social strata, is the neglected 800-pound gorilla here. While Seabrook invites folks from far and wide to come for its community parties and salmon bakes -- this is not a gated community -- at the end of the day they go home to Taholah or Pacific Beach. At these prices, how can that change?

It's worrisome how this gentrification -- some would call it twee -- will affect the things we love about the funky old beach towns nearby. But in Copalis Beach, the old supermarket is boarded up, fenced off and ready to fall down. The mini-golf course has gone back to nature. It's hard to say this area didn't need an influx of money. Ready or not, it's here.

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October 5, 2007 4:51 PM

Wi-fi in the woods

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Taking a laptop everywhere I travel isn't my favorite thing. I love what I have time to see and hear when I unplug from the world once in a while.

That philosophizing out of the way: As a worker bee in the wilderness, who by necessity must transmit photos and words a couple times a day, I have some instructive information for those who do need to connect. (If you never work on the road, just skip this and you won't miss a thing.)


Enjoy the in-your-face ocean view at Kalaloch Lodge, and leave the laptop home. This is from the bluffside cabins, No. 44.

First suggestion: Bring medication. Trying to hook up to the Web in some of the more remote parts of the peninsula can give you ulcers. (I'm taking my Prilosec.)

Second suggestion: Persevere. Here's what you'll find:

* Wi-fi is slowly creeping into the crannies of the Olympic Peninsula. Slowly being the operative word. But it's out here alright, thereby opening another door to visitors who can't afford to leave their world completely behind. Motels in Forks boast it on their readerboards. And even at quiet, mossy Ozette, I had a fast wi-fi hookup in my camping cabin at The Lost Resort. No plumbing in the cabin, but wi-fi, yes. (Mind you, I had to move to Cabin 1 because Cabin 3, which was more in the woods, was too far from the transmitter. That's what you'll find yourself doing.)

* I also brought along a Verizon wireless card that gives me a broadband connection wherever there's good cell service, and Verizon has the widest coverage on the peninsula (so everyone out here says). In Neah Bay, that worked in town but not at the Hobuck Beach cabins where I stayed (so if I wanted to try a slow landline connection with a modem, I was out of luck); I ended up driving three miles into town and spending hours sitting in my parked Jeep tapping away like an idiot in the parking lot of Beebe's Cafe. And even then, I couldn't upload photos; they were too data-heavy. (See my earlier note about the Makah Community Technology Center, which saved my sanity and stopped me from being the guy in the car with the steamed-up windows that everybody in town wondered about.)

* When I passed the Forks Visitor Center and saw the "free wi-fi, inside and out, day and night" banner, I almost rolled the Liberator I turned into the parking lot so fast. Electronic manna.

* So far, Kalaloch Lodge, in Olympic National Park, has been my biggest challenge: No wi-fi, no cell coverage, no landline phones in the cabins. I made the whine to the desk clerk about wi-fi; he said the Park Service feels it would be "too much technology" in this rustic setting.

Hmmm. That's a hard piece of granola to swallow, and I generally like granola. A cell phone tower, I can understand them putting their khaki boot down. But wi-fi can be done completely unobtrusively. I guess they don't want the place being a business retreat.

To their credit, Kalaloch managers scrambled to find a phone line I could use, but knowing the molasses speed at which data would flow, I opted for the 40-minute drive back to Forks, where I knew I could hit the upload button and get "zip, zip" instead of "glop, glop."

And in the short time I was at Kalaloch, I spent more of it looking at that matchless ocean view, which is why you go to Kalaloch.

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October 5, 2007 3:55 PM

Maples ablaze

Posted by Brian Cantwell

A couple days ago, the vine maples out this way turned color. It was like someone flipped a switch.


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October 5, 2007 10:05 AM

Should Brian drive on the beach?

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Ah, that's a question to ponder. I'm out of the national park now. Tomorrow night I'm at Ocean Shores. Do I hit the beach with my four-wheel drive or do I leave the sand for sandcastle building?

It's an emotional issue in this state. Give me your view, along with your full name and the town where you live. Does beach driving attract you to the Washington coast, or keep you away? (For this question only, only comments with first and last names, plus hometowns, will be published. If it's good enough to say, it's good enough to put your name on.)

NOTE: Responses are coming in, but not all include hometowns. (Our Web form doesn't give a space for town, but you can type it next to your name.) If you want us to publish your comment on beach driving, please give us full name AND town. Thanks!

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October 5, 2007 9:41 AM

Why dogs sniff (and other stories of a Quileute grandfather)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Stop in at the Forks Visitor Center and you just might pick up a story or two along with your tourist map.

Anita Wheeler of La Push, who works the front desk there, is a Quileute tribal member who learned traditional stories from her grandfather, stories in which animals become people and giants turn into rocks, that sort of thing.


Anita Wheeler tells one of her grandfather's stories.

When I was visiting, I heard her regale visitors with a couple of her stories. My favorite was about the Canine People, which started out, "Long, long ago when the animals were still people and could still take off their fur and feathers and be people..." and ended with a tongue-in-cheek lesson about why dogs sniff each other's rear ends. Weird, I know, but when you hear it you'll smile.

"The stories are my way of keeping my grandfather close to me," Wheeler says.

She also has a more modern-day story worth hearing, having to do with her grandfather.

In 1989, at age 33, Wheeler was part of a band of Quileutes who paddled canoes from La Push to Seattle as part of Washington's centennial celebration. Because many paddlers were making the trip, and stopping over at Suquamish on the Kitsap Peninsula, officials at the Suquamish Tribal Museum took the opportunity to seek help identifying the carver of an Indian canoe that was donated by a local non-native family that had owned it.

Wheeler's grandfather, who died when she was about 10, carved many canoes, and often decorated them with an Indian in a full feathered headdress, as worn by Indians of the plains, not Northwest natives. She had an old photo of him carving such a canoe.

"He had a real sense of humor," she explained about the headdress (and he knew what would sell to non-natives who grew up with cowboy-and-Indian movies).

When her group of paddlers landed in Suquamish, Wheeler said, a museum official told them about the old canoe, more than 100 years old. He explained that when conservators had stripped off old paint, they found an unusual picture. Unusual for a Northwest Indian canoe, anyway: a brave in feathered war bonnet.

"I burst into tears and said, 'That's my grandfather's canoe!" They asked if she was sure, and she pulled out the photo.

As a result, she and her daughter were allowed to paddle the canoe the final stretch of the trip to Seattle's Shilshole Bay.

"I cried the whole way. I was actually in a canoe he made, and I loved him so much and missed him so. My daughter kept nudging me and saying, 'Mom, stop it.' She was 10 and didn't understand." Tears welled in her eyes just with the retelling.

The canoe remains at the Suquamish Museum. And Wheeler continues to honor her grandfather by repeating his stories and creating artwork to illustrate them.

Stop in at the Forks Visitor Center and ask her about those dogs.

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October 5, 2007 6:26 AM

If you're tired of the weather, wait 5 minutes

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Ruby Beach. Bring your Gore-Tex, it will be raining soon.

I'm not kidding, it was like that yesterday. I took this sunny photo of picturesque Ruby Beach just north of Kalaloch at 2:30 in the afternoon, and not more than an hour later I was in a hailstorm. And 5 minutes after that, I had my sunglasses on and was driving dry pavement again. And then 10 minutes later the wipers were on full.

All-weather tires were made for the Olympic Peninsula, I guess. But I bet the manufacturer didn't think you'd get all that weather in a single day.

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October 4, 2007 8:07 PM

Visitors are great, but...

Posted by Brian Cantwell

I saw cyclist Gary Darnell pausing for a snack and looking out at the Quillayute River on an on-again, off-again showery day. This guy was dedicated to be out here in October, so I did a u-ee with the Liberator and stopped to chat.


By the side of the Quillayute, Gary Darnell wonders: Shouldn't locals get first crack at backcountry permits?

He works as a planer in a lumber mill in Forks, and does the ride to Rialto Beach maybe four times a week in good weather, 15 miles from his home. He hails from Brookings, Ore., originally. "So I've lived by this highway (101) and by this ocean all my life. I don't know what I'd do anywhere else."

He also likes to hike. His favorite Olympic Peninsula trail: the High Divide in Olympic National Park, when he can snag a hiking permit before all the Seattle folks snap them up.

"You know, I think they should give preference to people who live around here and have to put up with 100 inches of rain a year!" he said, shaking his helmeted head.

Kind of hard to argue with that. Any rangers listening? What do readers think?

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October 4, 2007 4:45 PM

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (today's list)

Posted by Brian Cantwell


A totem pole in front of River's Edge Restaurant in La Push.

The Good

I'd never been to La Push, and somehow I pictured it as a lost little community on the edge of the world. Instead, I found a town with a stunning seaside setting, prospering oceanfront lodging, and a pleasant riverfront restaurant (River's Edge) with good prices, good food and nice people.

And just across the Quillayute River, Olympic National Park's Rialto Beach is a family-friendly spot with picnic tables, fire pits and a gorgeous beach where kids can clamber over a sea of drift logs and perfectly rounded cobbles. (Thanks to readers for convincing me to stop.) Newly renovated nearby: the Quillayute River Resort, an old riverfront motel that's had a handsome makeover inside and out, with parklike landscaping, full kitchens, flat-screen TVs, gas-log stoves and an unobstructed view of a beautiful river. Go.

The Bad
Olympic National Park earns my scorn for not being upfront about its user fee. Whereas Hurricane Ridge was once the only part of the park with a drive-through gate where a fee could be collected, the fee is now collected at multiple locations (with boxes at trailheads and ranger stations), but not everywhere. You pay at Ozette; you don't have to pay at Rialto Beach. I'm not sure exactly where all the fee locations are because THEY DON'T TELL YOU in their brochure or on their signs. You have to drive 20 miles into a spot such as Ozette to be surprised by a fee-collection box at a trailhead (and it's not an insignificant fee; $15 per car, good for a week). None of the highway signs or park-entry signs I've seen indicate "fee area." Why not give people fair warning?


Wave watching at Rialto.

What's more: The park proposes to boost the fee to $25 per car by 2009. (See Ron Judd's Trail Mix column.)

The Ugly
Now I remember. I stopped driving Highway 101 around the Olympic Peninsula years ago for a plain and simple reason: Trees are beautiful. Clearcuts aren't.

It hasn't gotten better. And now, when they're done clearcutting, they heap the waste limbs and slash into pile after pile, up to two-stories high, like mounds made by 500-pound gophers. To add insult to injury, they cover a lot of the mounds with plastic tarps (to keep them dry for burning, I suppose). Eventually, they torch them. Again and again I passed signs warning "Smoke Over Road," as if the sign will do any good. The western half of Clallam County smelled like one big wet, smoky bonfire. More than one local has told me, in almost identical words, that without the national park, there wouldn't be a tree left standing on this peninsula.

Sure, logging means jobs. Tourism does, too. The two aren't happy bedfellows.

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October 4, 2007 2:26 PM

What's in a name?

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Strait of Juan de Fuca:
This is one of the oddest place-name stories in Northwest lore. Juan de Fuca is more a legend than someone proven to exist. The story goes that he was a Greek whose real name was Apostolos Valerianos, but who adopted the Spanish name so he could pilot Spanish ships (kind of the old-day version of fiddling with your resume). Legend had it that in the late 1500s he discovered a way to sail through the American continent, and the strait that today divides the Olympic Peninsula from Vancouver Island was the entrance to this "Northwest Passage" he wrote about in his logs. The "Passage" was a bunch of hooey, but the name stuck nonetheless. (Hmmm. Could have been Strait of Apostolos Valerianos.)

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October 4, 2007 1:00 PM

The Great Coastal Chowder Challenge: La Push

Posted by Brian Cantwell

At River's Edge Restaurant in La Push, the chowder came piping hot in the standard-size cup, for just $2.50. And this was clearly not from a frozen packet or a can.


The clams came out of a can, but the chowder sure didn't.

It was the perfect creamy consistency without that library-paste character one hopes to avoid. And it was full of chunky good stuff, including big hunks of clam (some a half-inch in diameter! and bright orange in places!) that gave it excellent "tooth." I found pieces of celery among the potato cubes (not uniformly shaped, which means they were hand chopped), and bits of soft bacon for a little smoky flavor on top of the sea-breeze clamminess.

The clams came from a big can, the cook showed me, and were from Greenland or someplace. The secret to the color and size, maybe: cockles mixed in. So no points for being local, but I ate every drop. Could have stood some added spice; maybe a hint of rosemary?

Came with a packet of oyster crackers.

I give it 7.5 clamshells out of 10.

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October 4, 2007 11:52 AM

You can't get any wester

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Sunbreaks happen, even at Cape Alava. Looking north to the islet just offshore from the site of the Ozette archaeological dig.

Manifest Destiny, they called it, when white Americans felt nobly obligated to push their way across the continent in the 19th century. For me, it was the alarm clock that wouldn't shut up, motivating me to get out of bed so early that the deer weren't quite awake and hoof it out to Cape Alava, the westernmost point of the Lower 48 states.

It's true. Cape Flattery gets all the press for being the northwest corner, but Cape Alava juts further into the Pacific by a few yards, according to the people who measure such stuff. An old friend who made home-brew beer used to hike here, and he named one of his microbrews Cape Alava Bitter, with the motto on the label: "You Can't Get Any Wester." I'd never been; it was time.

So I set out at 8 on a morning when the moon and one star showed feebly through the clouds just before dawn (they call that "a clear day" at Ozette) and hiked the 3.1 mile trail of boardwalk, gravel and mud to a beach I had almost to myself.

I was the only human crazy enough to be out at that hour, midweek in October, yes. But it was me and the deer.


Uh, can we help you? Er, did you want something?

Call them Bambi or call them The Doomed Deer of Ozette (if they ever wander out of the national park), but they're not at all afraid of humans. As I walked through empty campsites beneath trees lining the dunes, ogling the scenery of sea stacks and high surf and so much purple sea cabbage and bull kelp on the beach that it looked as if dump trucks had brought it, I met deer after deer sitting in the grass. Not one ran away or even bothered to get up as I walked past.


Alongside the Cape Alava trail: What yahoo with a camera in his pocket could pass up purple mushrooms?

In fact, as I paused to jot a note in my notebook, I suddenly got a feeling I was being watched. I looked up to see a deer bedded down in the shadow of a hemlock sapling not 12 feet from me. Just watching. I don't think these guys have ever seen hunters.

I stepped carefully out on to a rocky point to say that I'd been as west as I could get. A rainbow showed in the north. And then it started raining, hard. And I got the hell back to my cabin.

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October 4, 2007 11:51 AM

A haiku to the Seattle Sombrero (my hat)

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Pointing west, from Cape Alava. That grimace is because the rain was blowing sideways. (This was after the rainbow.)

Rain pelts; no mercy.

Sombrero's wide brim protects;

No drips down the neck.

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October 4, 2007 10:04 AM

Another roadside attraction

Posted by Brian Cantwell


I was sitting in the Liberator outside the Forks Chamber of Commerce tapping into their wi-fi and had my head down for a half-hour, when chamber director Marcia Bingham came out, approached the car and pointed behind me. "Have you seen those guys?" she asked. And there, having wandered up while I had my nose buried in my laptop, was a herd of at least 100 elk on the airfield just across Highway 101. "Aren't they just glorious?" Bingham sighed. "I used to live in California and drove to work on the Pasadena Freeway and never saw anything this good!" And she didn't even know she was talking to a travel writer. Oh, by the way, I looked closely: These weren't just guys in elk suits on the Chamber of Commerce payroll.

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October 4, 2007 9:16 AM

The hermit of Hoko (and what's new at Ozette)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

The Hoh had its "Iron Man," John Huelsdonk. The Hoko has its hermit.

He doesn't cotton to the label, but Rob Snyder, proprietor of The Lost Resort at Lake Ozette, at the end of the Hoko/Big River Valley, spends about nine months of the year with several resident deer and an Akita dog named Scout for company. He reads a lot, and watches it rain.


Rob Snyder is a well-read man, thanks to quiet winters at Ozette. His camping cabins, seen here, are aimed to bring him more company in the off-season. Bathrooms and a shower are down the hill.

As we sipped from icy mugs of beer in his cafe, watching it rain, he told me about it.

"There's an old saying around here: We have two seasons, August and the rest of the year," said Snyder, who came from Santa Barbara as a young man in the late '70s, on his way "to the great adventure" in Alaska, and decided this place, populated by almost as many hippies as deer at the time, was as wild as he needed. He got work in logging, fisheries and whatever would pay a buck.

And lately he's been trying to tame the place a bit. Tame it, if that's what you call building a 10-acre camping resort a quarter-mile from the Ozette Ranger Station and working hard to make a go of it.

Following the example of Washington State Parks and other campground operators catering to aging Boomers in search of "softer" camping, his newest addition, three "camping cabins" added to his campground, are the only roof you can rent at wet, wet Ozette, gateway to Capa Alava and the lovely and popular Alava-Sand Point loop trail. The cabins rent for $50 a night.

"The cabins have opened up the shoulder season a bit here, that's what they were meant to do," said Snyder, who claims to stock "99 bottles of beer" brands and cooks up a good goulash if you ask. Summertime is busy enough, he just needs to spread the wealth to other months. This hermit would actually welcome more visitors.

What's wonderful and what's not about running a resort at Ozette?

"Well I guess the just-barely-making-it part, that sorta sucks," he said. "But take a walk down the trail, to the beach, or go on the lake. If we went out on the lake today we'd be the only boat there on a 7,700-square-acre lake, and only four hours from Seattle. Everything's so nice and slow and easy." He paused to ruminate. "It's a nice way of life."

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October 3, 2007 4:47 PM

Wackiest yard ornaments of the day

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Seen along Highway 112 between Neah Bay and Sekiu.


I bet they don't have a gopher problem.

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October 3, 2007 4:30 PM

Neah Bay tips and trivia

Posted by Brian Cantwell


You kind of expect 100 guys in clown suits to run out the front door, like those clown cars at the circus. But the cozy little cabins at Hobuck Beach have a front-row view of the ocean. (Be sure to ask for a loft unit for the view.)

New this year: Ocean-view rental cabins on the beach at Hobuck Beach Resort (360-645-2339), on Mukkaw Bay just south of Cape Flattery, where I stayed. They're nice-looking little manufactured-home units made in Chehalis, with faux wood siding. They're compact but comfortably furnished, with an in-your-face view of the breakers from the three ($10 pricier) loft cabins. (Others look more at the adjacent RV park. Go figure.) At $120 a night (October-April) for the loft units, which could sleep six in crammed comfort, they're not the cheapest deal around; you could find a better price at one of the fisherman motels in town. (Not recently renovated, and with no extra charge for the guys next door rattling around at 5 a.m.)

Neah Bay, like the Makah Tribe, is also misnamed. This was originally a village called Deah, one of five tribal villages.

Need Web access? Good luck in Neah Bay, where cell phone service is spotty and Internet cafes are something they have in Paris. There is an Internet kiosk at the Makah Mini Mart, in the middle of town. Or a better find: the Makah Community Technology Center, at the end of Portage Street (the street just opposite the Mini Mart), where desperate folks like me find a friendly welcome and a free ethernet hookup.

Don't miss Washburn's General Store, a Neah Bay institution since 1902. It's the town's only supermarket, but also has hardware and just about anything else you'd need, including a nice selection of locally produced Indian art (just behind the video rentals).

Like stormwatching? This is the place. But come prepared. After a howling storm overnight, I shaved and showered by flashlight before the power came back on.

Taking a cue from its National Park neighbor, the Makah Tribe charges a recreation fee if you plan to hike to Cape Flattery, Shi Shi Beach or so much as walk on a tribal beach. Permits cost $10 per vehicle and are good for the calendar year. They're sold at most shops in Neah Bay or at the tribal museum.

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October 3, 2007 6:44 AM

Shi Shi Beach pilgrimage

Posted by Brian Cantwell

The first reader tip that came in said I couldn't miss the wild beauty of Shi Shi Beach. Others backed that up. So I made the hike.

It's shorter than it used to be: A paved road now puts you at a trailhead two miles from the beach. And the first half of the trail, rebuilt by the Makah in 2003 to bypass some disputed private property, is a delight: wide and graveled, with long stretches of split-cedar boardwalk. Over a swampy stream, a cantilevered wooden bridge is a work of art.

But as much as the first mile is truly delightful, the second mile is truly dreadful. Straddling the boundary of Olympic National Park, this stretch of abandoned dirt road has found no steward. In places, it is a 12-foot wide pit of boot-sucking mud. My rubber duck boots were a good choice.


Unique rock pillars and sea stacks punctuate the shoreline at the north end of Shi Shi Beach. And -- ahh -- the sun came out, taking the sting out of the mire-sloppy hike.

But I persevered, through woods with the biggest swordferns I'd ever seen, scrambling down a final steep descent. And my short visit to the serenity of Shi Shi (say "shy-shy") was worth it.

Huge, roaring breakers often lure surfers but not today. For me, as I sat and chewed beef jerky, a private showing of driftwood art: The dampness painted logs in different shades of silver and gray; the whorls of tortured grain like scars from a mad, merry ride on the angry seas.

Oops, I was getting poetic. Easy to do here. So I pulled out some Roethke poems I'd stashed in my knapsack:

"Over the low, barnacled, elephant-colored rocks,
Come the first tide-ripples, moving, almost without sound, toward me,
Running along the narrow furrows of the shore, the rows of dead clam shells;
Then a runnel behind me, creeping closer,
Alive with tiny striped fish, and young crabs climbing in and out of the water.

No sound from the bay. No violence.
Even the gulls quiet on the far rocks,
Silent, in the deepening light,
Their cat-mewing over,
Their child-whimpering."*

I put it away. Nice, but not applicable to this violently noisy shore, where peace came not from quiet but from the inability to hear distractions over the ocean's symphony of cymbal and drum.

A couple hundred feet down the beach, another lone man, dressed in black, sat calmly looking out at the waves and the scenic sea stacks. I thought of approaching him, of asking why he was here and what he liked about the place.

But, from his posture, I think what he liked about Shi Shi was solitude. I let him have it.

* "Meditation at Oyster River," from "The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke" (1975, Anchor Books)

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October 2, 2007 7:19 PM

Did loose lips sink the shoulder season?

Posted by Brian Cantwell


The moody emptiness of Shi Shi Beach drew visitors from Iowa on a cool October day. Who knew?

Times columnist Ron Judd recently wrote the obit for the "shoulder season," that early autumn window of opportunity when those fortunate enough to get away from the office might enjoy wide-open campgrounds and solitary walks on the beach in pleasant weather.

That window has slammed shut, Judd shouted above the heads of the September throngs after his own frustratingly crowded vacation on this Peninsula a few weeks ago.

Was it a fluke? Or is it fact?

I came up with my own interesting finding in a totally unscientific sampling of tourists on the first day of October in and around this Northwesternmost corner of Washington: Of all the visitors I chatted up at trailheads and on beaches, not one was from the Northwest.

The roll call:

* Ross and Mary DeValois, from Iowa City, Iowa, hiked to Shi Shi Beach on their vacation because Mary was born in Port Angeles but moved away as a young child and always wanted to see the Washington coast. "And I like to find places where there are likely to be fewer people," Ross told me.

* Raymond Ryburn and Mollie Watkins of Lexington, Ky., came specifically to see Cape Flattery. "I've been to three corners of the United States now, and next year I'm going to Maine," Ryburn said.

* Hank Kruger of Three Oaks, Mich., came to the West Coast on his first trip west of the Mississippi River to photograph lighthouses.

* A Colorado couple at the Cape Flattery trailhead were out here to visit a sister in Seattle, and decided to tour the Olympic Peninsula.

So if our state seems more crowded these days, maybe it's because word has gotten out about this place (oh, God, did "Say WA" actually work?). Or maybe it's because you people keep inviting relatives.

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October 2, 2007 6:59 PM

The Great Coastal Chowder Challenge: Neah Bay

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Fleeing a downpour outside, I stepped in for lunch at the Warm House Restaurant on the Neah Bay waterfront and sampled my first clam chowder of the trip.

A cup of chowder -- and it was only maybe 6 ounces -- was $4.25, which seems kind of steep. It came quick and it came just the right "Three Bears" measure of hotness. There was something dry and green sprinkled on top, like maybe parsley from a spice bottle.

The consistency was between pudding and instant mashed potatoes, which in my book is not a good thing in chowder. (You shouldn't be able to eat soup with a fork.) Along with half-inch cubes of potato, there were a few discernible chopped clam bits visible. I enjoyed at least one moment of a molar chewing an actual clam, but on the general scale of clamminess, not only was I not overwhelmed, I was barely whelmed.

Two thin packets of soda crackers came with it.

Overall rating: 4 clamshells out of 10. Sorry, Neah Bay.

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October 2, 2007 1:40 PM

The generously-bellied Makahs and their museum

Posted by Brian Cantwell

The Makahs are a unique people who have always made a life from the sea, a story told in their excellent Neah Bay museum. And not unlike European families who got stuck with "American" names when they came through Ellis Island, "Makah" is a name someone else gave them.


At the Makah Museum, tribal member Aaron Parker holds up a cedar paddle he carved in a demonstration for visitors. "I learned that from my grandfather. I'd ask if he'd show me and he'd say, 'Just sit and watch and don't say a word.' Cedar was our main source of life years ago. It still is, for me, I guess."

Back in the 1850s when Gov. Isaac Stevens came to negotiate a treaty, he left without writing down the tribe's name (which is tough to pronounce for someone unaccustomed to the Makah language, and impossible to spell on this English keyboard). But interpreted to modern English, it meant something along the line of "The People Who Live By the Rocks and Seagulls." Can't describe this place more simply than that.

So instead of giving them their own name, Stevens stopped on his way home near what today is Sequim and asked the S'klallam Tribe what they called those folks out at the cape. (The thing is, the Makahs aren't even related to the S'klallam or other tribes of Washington, but are linked to the Nootka, Kwakiutl and Bella Bella of British Columbia. So it was kind of like asking a German what to call Brazil, and sticking that name on the country.) Anyway, old Isaac wrote what the name sounded like in 1855 English, and inked it into the treaty.

So these people are known to the world as Makah, which in the S'klallam language is thought to mean "Guys With Big Bellies" (or, perhaps more kindly, "Generous With Food").

Don't miss the museum, displaying items of daily Makah life from hundreds of years ago found in nearby Ozette in the 1970s, when a storm unearthed the remains of homes long ago buried in mud by an earthquake. I peered at baskets woven from cedar bark, harpoon points made of mussel shell, and an amazingly well-preserved lifesize wood carving of an orca fin inlaid with more than 700 sea otter teeth.

"The orca was a sacred animal to our tribe," said museum interpretive specialist Kirk Wachendorf, whose grandmother lived at Ozette when there was still a village there. "We hunted what the orca hunted. We didn't eat orcas."

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October 2, 2007 1:20 PM

Disconcerting highway sign of the day

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Seen along Highway 112 on the road to Neah Bay.


If you were a tourist from St. Louis, wouldn't you turn back about now? (Should we post more of these?)

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October 2, 2007 10:25 AM

The Good, the Bad or the Ugly? (It sort of depends on your viewpoint)

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Now, dropping the other muddy shoe: One of the earth's wild and relatively remote places just got less remote. I saw it happen.

The Big News in Neah Bay: the newly paved road to Cape Flattery.

Used to be, up until a few weeks back, the road to the Cape was potholed and RV-unfriendly. Not anymore.

As I guided the Liberator around a curve on the new, baby-bottom smooth asphalt road to Cape Flattery, a flagger waved me to a halt so a semi truck could maneuver and unload its burden: guard rails.

Yes, not only have they paved the road and the parking lot, and put in a Winnebago-capable turnaround loop, they're even making the road safe.

That's just asking for trouble, in the form of lots more tourists from Indiana.

On the flip side, if you're someone who wouldn't have visited Cape Flattery before, because it was too hard to get to, you can get there now. (Sorry, the trail is decidedly not wheelchair accessible.)


The trail to Cape Flattery will likely see more users next summer.

For the Makah Tribe, which doesn't have a casino and so far doesn't plan one, this is the next strategy for economic survival.

"We're trying to encourage tourism now because we can't count on fishing anymore," Kirk Wachendorf, an interpretive specialist at the Makah Museum, told me. Wachendorf's grandfather was a German from Iowa, but his grandmother was Makah, and he grew up in Neah Bay. His wife is on the tribal council.

Neah Bay is thought to be too remote for a casino, and the Makahs think it would hurt their people more than help, said Gordy Bentler, proprietor of The Cape Motel, one of two fisherman motels in town.

So Cape Flattery is now considered the area's top attraction, and the Makahs are putting out the welcome mat. They're counting on the new road drawing more visitors.

"I bought my stepdaughter a hot dog cart, and we're going to put it at the Cape Flattery trailhead next summer," Wachendorf said. "We'll call them Flattery Franks. And the coffee we serve? It'll be Cape Alava Java."

Hnmm, so there goes a bit of coastal Washington wildness. For a lot of folks, it's something to heave a sigh about.

But, hey, on a cold and windy October day, after a hike to the Cape, you know what would have hit the spot? A really good hot dog.

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October 2, 2007 10:02 AM

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Tour: The (really) good

Posted by Brian Cantwell


Hank Kruger of Three Oaks, Mich., came to Cape Flattery on a photography expedition. Starting in Northern California, he had photographed every lighthouse up the Northwest coast, finishing with a photo of the Tatoosh Island lighthouse (seen in the background).

Want action-packed drama without turning on the TV? Go to Cape Flattery.

I can't believe I've lived most of my life in Washington and never before visited this Northwesternmost point of the contiguous United States. I'd sailed past it, helping to deliver a boat from Portland to Port Angeles. But I'd never visited by land.

Here's the thing: Geographically, it's just a point on a map. But I didn't realize something else: Physically, the place is spectacular.

At 4 p.m. on the first day of October, I stood on the raised lookout platform at the tip of the Cape, all alone, awestruck at the frightening amount of sea power smashing and swirling below me in every direction. Just to my right, a protrusion of rock jutted 100 feet into the sea, and with the ocean agitated by a coming storm, the pounding of unstoppable waves against immovable object was pure drama! Thundering green water would at times bury the whole point. When it finally shed the seawater, it was like the Titanic coming back from the grave.

In the roiling surf directly below me, I spied the tail end of a black and white bird (a murre, I think) using its wings like flippers to dive straight down into the water, happy as could be in this rugged place. While all my senses were jangling on Orange Alert, this was its normal. There was something wonderful about seeing that.

Seabirds surrounded the Cape: cormorants diving in the waves or perched like birthday candles atop layer-cake rocks; mew gulls, from what I could tell by my Mac's Field Guide, perched on the Titanic rock next to scores of dark birds I couldn't identify at first.

Digging out my mini-binoculars, I peered down and suddenly realized: oystercatchers! One of my favorites, with their long, skinny beaks of bright red. As I watched, something amid the seaborne cacophony caught their attention and scores of crimson pointers swung in the same direction, like compass needles snapping to north.

And never can I remember a place that combines stunning natural beauty with such charm in the form of manmade amenities. Credit the Makah Tribe. This is their homeland and they created the 3/4-mile trail. Much of it is boardwalk. Where there are rails, they are natural timbers and sticks attractively pieced together, with some hillside viewing platforms shaped like a ship's prow. No "Keep Back" signs or galvanized railings here. There are even thoughtfully placed picnic tables. I came away smiling.

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October 1, 2007 2:08 PM

Best roadside neon of the day

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Seen in Sequim, now bypassed by Highway 101.


It was too early for lunch, or I'd have eaten at this place, just for the sign. Have you eaten here?

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October 1, 2007 1:00 PM

Waterbirds and winding roads

Posted by Brian Cantwell

I remember the tiny fishing town of Sekiu. It was where my father took me salmon fishing when I was a kid, and where I caught my only salmon. Lassoed it, actually. Somehow, I pulled the fish out of the water with my fishing line knotted around its tail. The hook never touched him. I swear.

I pulled the Liberator off the highway for a quick tour of town. The little cell-block motel where we stayed years ago was gone. Good thing, from my memory of it.

If you go, don't miss Rosie, the wood carving with the body of a girl but the head of a fish, next to the "Sekiu Welcomes You" sign.


Rosie the fishlipped girl looks out over the bay at Sekiu.

I'd never driven the final few miles of the highway to Neah Bay. I'd only ever been there by boat. Turned out, the winding highway was a scenic wonder, slithering along the shoreline like an eel, passing rock pillar after rock pillar, little knobs you might use to pick up this whole shoreline and move it to Canada.

There are few guardrails along the road's edge, only thimbleberries between you and the saltwater, and often no shoulder. Not a fast conduit for hordes of visitors. But gorgeous! Just drive carefully.

Near shore, cormorants huddled like gossiping aunties atop rocks protruding from the water.

Next stop, and the start of my coastal explorations: Neah Bay.

P.S. You folks are sending great tips. I look forward to putting them to good use. If you haven't read what people are telling me about the coast, click on "Read comments" -- or post one yourself!

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October 1, 2007 10:20 AM

Favorite road name of the day

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Kitchen-Dick Road, in Sequim. Somebody please tell me the origin of the name. I think the hyphenation is significant.

Second favorite road name of the day

Bytha Way, a private lane near Joyce, Clallam County.

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October 1, 2007 10:00 AM

There's not much to Pysht

Posted by Brian Cantwell

It's one of my favorite names on the Washington map. One of my history books says a fur trapper once lived inside a cedar stump here.

And I took a slower route to Neah Bay so as to pass through it. But there's no town, only a couple houses along the road, and a bridge over the Pysht River, its water slow and almost black beneath the leaden sky. About here, alongside Highway 112, I saw ferns growing from the side of giant maple trees, next to spruce trees as wide as my car. And a few big cedar stumps. The rain forest cometh.

The highway soon switchbacked downhill to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where 100s of gulls whitened a sandbar at a creek mouth. Only me there to see 'em.

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October 1, 2007 7:55 AM

Where the rain reigns

Posted by Brian Cantwell

Driving Highway 101, bound for the Washington coast on Sunday, the sound of driving rain on the windshield was like someone tapping their fingernails in a staccato beat on the glass. All 10 fingers, after four cups of coffee.

After staying a night at my father-in-law's home on Hood Canal, I left Brinnon bound for Neah Bay on a day when the weather experts had forecast flooding on the Olympic Peninsula. They made the forecast before the rain had even started.


On the road with "the Liberator."

The rain and wind they got right, for sure, I thought, as I flicked the wipers on "high" in my rented Jeep Liberty 4x4, which I've dubbed the Liberator, because it's liberating me from my desk for 10 days. (At least it's not one of those war names you see on some cars now -- Caliber, Armada, or my personal shudderfest favorite, the Crossfire. When will they come out with the sporty new Collateral Damage?)

Crossing the old cement arch bridge at the Duckabush River, I scanned the lowlands for elk, but the gushing river combined with a high tide had almost buried the marshy tide flats. The hills, lost in misty clouds, became mere suggestions of hills.

This is the Olympic Peninsula in September. It can be gorgeous and sunny. Or it can be very, very squishy.

This is one factor in tourism development of the Washington coast, I thought, as a passing pickup buried me in its spray. Summer days can be lovely here. But after mid-September, the days can be a seemingly endless wetfest. It must make it tough to keep a motel or cafe alive through the long winters.

But that's also a saving grace for us folks who need a time to escape the crowds.

With a honey-colored alder leaf stuck under my wiper, I flicked on the four-wheel drive as I headed up the Mount Walker grade. The Liberator climbed like a mountain goat.

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