West Coast e-Postcard #2

from Our West Coast Train Triangle
September 18 to October 18, 2010

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Hi All --


We Know Why It’s Called a RAIN Forest

Washington & Oregon Auto Route

Off we go, just the two of us (after dropping the sisters off at SeaTac airport), on to the wilds of the Olympic peninsula. Our goals: drive down Highways 101 and 1 along the coast from Olympic Peninsula to San Diego (with a slight detour) taking at least one hike and one photograph per day. Reality: Usually more than one hike and over 100 photos a day (it’s only digital, says Tim).

We had room reservations only in the south of the state, so we really were on our own. The first goal was Hurricane Ridge, a mountain viewpoint in the north of Olympic National Park (NP). It was cold, rainy, and foggy all the way up. But we drove high enough (5200 feet) to break through the clouds and into a sunny panorama of mountains. In the winter, there is downhill skiing and snowboarding here. All we were missing was the snow; otherwise the temperature would have been right! With dreams of sunny days (and thousands of potential photo opportunities for Tim), we spent the night in Port Angeles, at the northern central top of the state.

Lake Crescent Rainbow

The next day started with a waterfall walk to beautiful Marymere Falls, where we experienced the temperate rain forest, intermittent showers and a rainbow over the nearby lake. One thing about this trip, patience with the rainy weather often came with a rainbow reward. The rain forest mixture of trees, ferns, and mosses covers everything and exists only a few places in the world. As one guidebook stated, the forest is so dense, “it makes the very air seem green.”

A short weather note: Tim refers to Di as the “weather goddess”. Actually, it is the reverse. If the sun is out and she puts on her sunglasses, it pretty much guarantees clouds will shortly appear. Taking off the sunglasses usually brings back the sun.

Helicopter over Tatoosh Island, Washington

Next was Cape Flattery, the claimed most northwestern tip of the continental U.S. It is that little corner of your U.S. puzzle that always got bent. It rained continuously as we drove the winding road through Native American lands to the Cape. The closer we got, the harder the rain fell and the wind blew. So we put on our jackets and raincoats (and hats and gloves) to trudge through the rainforest (aptly named here) until it opened out into Pacific Ocean. Just then the clouds temporarily cleared enough for a few photos of Tatoosh Island across from the cape (Di’s sunglasses were off). Then we heard a helicopter. A local guide explained that the crane used to repair something on the island was being airlifted in parts back to the mainland. It was interesting to see the body of the large crane swinging by cable from the helicopter over the water.

The day ended in the strange town of Forks, WA. For those of you who don’t know about the Twilight craze, it is a series of romantic books (and resulting movies) about teenaged vampires for teenaged readers (mostly girls). In the books, the characters (human and vampire) live in Forks. The author had not been to Forks before writing the books, but that didn’t stop the town taking advantage of the current Twilight madness. There were Twilight menus in restaurants, Twilight posters, Twilight shops, tours of houses that kind of resembled the fictional ones in the books, and so on, ad nauseam. The motel we stayed at even had a Twilight room decorated in black and red (no, we didn’t sleep there). It was enough to suck the life out of you (sorry, couldn’t resist!).

Deadly Logs and the Winter of 2009

After a hike through a couple of nature trails the next day, we arrived at Ruby Beach along the Pacific. Along the downhill trail there were warnings about deadly logs in the water. Deadly logs? Ruby Beach, Washington This became clear when we saw the huge trees that had been piled up on the shore. During storms, trees on the cliff overhangs or along rivers would end up in the ocean and eventually wash up on the beach. People have been hurt and killed by these logs while swimming in the ocean. The trees were so piled up in some areas, that you would have to climb over them. Photo opportunities abounded when you combined the ocean, the deadly trees, and the huge sea stacks (enormous rock formations in the water).

Later we got to our NP accommodation, the Lake Quinault Lodge. Built in 1926, it had architecture similar to Glacier, with large post and beam construction, and a dignified but rustic interior. We took a hike to a nearby creek and were surrounded by massive piles of fallen trees; the trail look recently cleared, but there were few trees along the trail that were upright. We later learned that this was the great windstorm of December, 2009. It hit all along the Pacific Northwest coast, taking down large areas of the forests like a giant with a lawnmower. Quinault Loop Trail A local said there were 120 mph sustained winds for 26 hours (he had a big tree go through his restaurant’s roof). It took tremendous effort to not only clean up private properties, but to get the numerous trails back into walking condition. Up before the sun the next morning to take a waterfall hike by the lodge. Again, we saw fallen trees, but got great photos as the sun rose. Then across the state line to Oregon.

The Land of Umpqua

A few years ago Tim, Di and our friend Rick Hamill drove down part of the Oregon coast during our spring break, so we were in familiar territory. However, we saw whole hillsides of trees taken down. We knew we were in lumbering country, but had to laugh when we saw the signs put up by Weyerhaeuser (paper company) that stated it wasn’t them, but Mother Nature who took down the trees and left such a mess. Later on, you knew the hillside was lumbered when there were few, if any, standing trees and only stumps and brush on the ground. Squeaky cheese from Tillamook To give the lumber companies credit, we did see some replanted areas, but when foresters use the term “clearcut”, they aren’t kidding. It was a little depressing, but how else would we have our paper and building materials?

A required stop in this area is the huge Tillamook Cheese factory, home of the squeaky cheese curds (like those in Wisconsin). Alas! They were out of stock! Di was crushed, until Tim found out there was a hidden stash….at the local feed store. So off we went to buy the only thing in the store that could be eaten by humans.

Squeaking along Hwy 101 which followed the Umpqua River, we saw several lighthouses along the coast. A disappointment was when we revisited the Cape Meares Lighthouse. During our previous trip, Tim had taken a wonderful photo of the Fresnel lens at sunset…this lens is the beautiful arrangement of thick, handmade optical glass pieces through which the old oil lanterns beamed out of the lighthouse. Darlingtonia The lens was gone. We later heard that two young guys shot it to pieces for fun…and that one piece of such glass in another lighthouse cost $25,000 to replace. So this vandalism was costly in many ways. We’d like to see these guys doing community service the rest of their lives!

On a happier note, we pulled into the Darlingtonia natural area, not knowing what we would find. To our glee, it was a small area named after the carnivorous plants there. They looked a lot like our pitcher plants in Michigan, but were easily 18 inches high. There were hundreds of them, in various states of growth. There were very few insects about and the plants looked well fed. We need a couple of those around our house in the summer, especially if they attract fruit flies!

Eight Waterfalls, 4.9 Miles of Walking and a Couple of Aleves

Watson Falls, Oregon

We left Hwy 101 for a detour to Crater Lake and Oregon Caves. The scenic inland route was also known as the Waterfall Highway. Armed with the National Park’s “Guide to Thundering Waters”, we aimed to see as many waterfalls as possible. Now, by the end of summer, the falls are no longer thundering, but we were unaware that waterfalls could come in so many shapes and sizes. Long, short, wide, narrow, divided horizontally or vertically, all eight we saw were beautiful in their own ways. At one site we looked down several feet where two rivers met. Next to us was a sign, taller that Tim that showed where the flood waters of 1964 reached. We heard of and saw the effect of this flood throughout Oregon with destroyed buildings; rivers rerouted, and moved trails.

Oregon rates its trails as easy, moderate or strenuous. Most of the waterfall trails were easy or moderate, but one had a rugged, narrow, rocky uphill climb (with the downhill just as treacherous). This just had to be rated strenuous (if there was a very strenuous, we would have labeled it that!) As we downed the Aleve later that evening, we realized the trails totaled 4.9 miles in length…..and that our legs felt not just used, but abused. Tim would say it was good for us, which it was, but I can see that getting in shape means more Aleve in the future! (I know our hardy relatives, the Kings, would consider this a “walk in the park”, but for us it was a milestone).

Getting to the Lake of Crater Lake or It’s all Uphill From Here

Wow! This place takes your breath away. As you drive up to the rim of the caldera of Crater Lake, you get a glimpse of this huge body of very blue, clear, calm water, surrounded by steep sided rocks. There is only one island (actually the result of a volcanic eruption) and one rock formation in this 4 by 6 mile oval lake. We drove around the lake on the Rim Road (33 miles) with many stops for short walks and photos. By last count, Tim took 15 series of panoramic photos of the lake (that’s 15 series of photos, not just 15 photos) plus lots of extras. Cleetwood Cove, Crater Lake The high point (or low point depending on your view) was the walk down to the lake’s edge, only possible at one place along the rim. The Cleetwood Trail was 1.1 miles down in a series of switchbacks and one long hot dusty trail. At the bottom of the trail (see attachment), we saw some (foolish) folks jump off high rocks into the very cold water. Di settled for just dipping her hands in the lake….that was cold enough.

What comes down must go up. So, we trudged up the trail taking about an hour, with frequent rest breaks required by Di. She is convinced that the uphill was a longer distance, but the laws of physics are against her. We finally made it to the top (and the car), hot and sweaty and tired; giving this trail five stars on the strenuous scale.

We relaxed that night at the Crater Lake Lodge (another classic post and beam NP lodge) watching the sun go down and the rocks turn pink for a few minutes. The sky that night was clear, with so many stars and the Milky Way viewable. This is most awesome and relaxing place (when you aren’t hiking uphill).

Crater Lake, Oregon

Oregon Underground

Our next destination was Oregon Caves with a stay at a chalet maintained by the local area. As far as caves go, Oregon Caves are neither the biggest nor the most colorful, but the tour was very well done and the caves were made of marble, not the usual limestone. Oregon Caves There are warnings on all the literature and all over the Ranger’s Center that the cave tour was strenuous (there’s that word again) and included 590 steps. After Crater Lake, however, this one was almost a piece of cake. We got into the area early and caught one of the last tours of the day. Tim and Di really enjoy going through caves and here we had to walk bent over and climb down a ladder bent backwards (like doing the limbo) due to the narrow passages. At one point, the ranger turned off all the lights putting us in total darkness. You really cannot see your face before your hand…kind of creepy.

There were such wonderful formations in the cave, we really didn’t notice the steps that much. Besides, they were not all uphill!

Unusual/Funny Things We Have Seen

* The towns of Remote, Trail, Wonder, and Happy Camp in Oregon. We may need to visit that last one.

Ruby Beach, Oregon

* A poster at a 76 gas station titled “Child’s Guide to Splattered Bugs” with pictures of bugs smashed on the windshield identified with their common and scientific names.

* Hotel soap that is shaped like a regular bar, but has a large oval hole in the middle. The claim is that it wastes less soap. The hole is about the size of the soap you leave after a couple of days in a motel.

We have to say, we really enjoyed Oregon. They have great signage on their roads, have a very visible and user friendly statewide effort to recycle and conserve resources. They also have frequent restrooms at the trailheads (not all flush, but sometimes you don’t even care!). The folks are friendly and the mountains, rivers, ocean, and forests are beautiful. Now it is off to California, land of avocados and expensive gasoline.

Thanks for reading.

-- Di & Tim

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Tim and Diane's email address is Home@ttdk.com