July 23- La Push, Washington. We are on the Pacific Coast at a campground owned by the Quileute Tribe— and we are at the farthest out point of our trip. We still have three weeks and lots of plans, but from now on, we will be headed towards home. We've had a fairly relaxing couple of days, taking advantage of the day we gained by skipping Lassen. Yesterday we drove from near Mt. St. Helens out to the Olympic Peninsula. We stopped along the way in Aberdeen, which has the distinction of being the home of A) Kurt Cobain, and B) a Star Wars memorabilia shop that has had visitors from as far away as Australia, Belgium, and (just a few spaces above us in the log book) Manassas, VA. We got out of there with just $20 in damage, a victory of sorts.
We didn't have a camping reservation last night, so we were in a bit of a crunch to find a place in one of the "first come" NPS campgrounds. We lucked out and found a spot at South Beach, a primitive campground (ie, a place to park, a picnic table, and a fire ring) which, as the name implies, is right on the ocea. The only things between us and the beach were the people camped on the other side and quite a bit of driftwood, which, much to my amazement since we are in a National Park, was legally collectable for campfires. Campfires were even allowed on the beach, but since there wasn't too much of that at high tide, we stuck with the fire ring. I think it was the earliest we have made camp the entire trip, since we were so concerned about getting a site, which made for a relaxing afternoon and evening of walking on the beach, freezing our ankles in the water, and sitting around the fire. As in California, it is cold and misty along the coast, so huddling around a fire was well called for. The people camped next to us were very friendly and we talked to them for a long time during the evening. Bruce turned out to be from Pittsburgh (I can spot that accent 3,000 miles away), though they have long since settled in the Seattle area.
Olympic National Park is comprised of a long strip along the coast, and a huge chunk of the middle of the peninsula that is mostly roadless wilderness. So unless you are backpacking through, the only way to see it is to make little incursions along the few roads that go a little way into the park but don't connect (trust me when I say this is not a complaint). Today we went up the Hoh River valley into the heart of Lower 48's best temperate rainforest. . . and had another gorgeous sunny day. We promised Kieran rain in Olympic and the weather just didn't deliver (it was dreary yesterday and Kieran decided he wants to live in Aberdeen . . . god help us). But let's face it, it is easier to hike with kids in nice weather. We did the Hall of Mosses trail - take it from someone who got a Master's degree studying moss, you haven't seen moss till you've seen it in a rainforest. Then we hiked along the river trail till we found a spot where we could go out and enjoy the river, skip stones, etc.
On the way to our campsite we passed through a little town called Forks. It didn't have a whole lot to recommend it from any other town, but I saw a sign for "Twilight Tours" and thought (stupidly), Oh, that sounds kind of nice, sunset tours of the area. Uh, no. We figured it out a moment later when we saw the store called "Dazzled By Twilight." Then I remembered someone had warned me that this area has become a tourist mecca by virtue of being the setting of a certain vampire "saga."We then laughed heartily at seeing people actually on a "Twilight Tour" and laughed even harder when a few minutes later we entered Quileute Nation and saw a sign reading "No Vampires Allowed, By Treaty Agreement."
Treaty obligations notwithstanding, there were Twilight calendars for sale at the camp store when I checked in tonight. But I can totally absolve them their cashing in on pop culture on the grounds of what an amazing place this is—of all the beaches we have visited since leaving San Fran, I think First Beach is the most magical. The kids spent much of the evening playing on the remains of an enormous Sitka spruce on the beach - around here, driftwood sometimes comes in the form of whole trees (there was just enough bark left on it to tell what it was). The root mass stuck about 15 feet into the air and the trunk, which went up about 9 feet, was hollow at the base. Jungle gyms, we don't need no stinkin' jungle gyms. Off the north side of the beach is a series of islands, which in the sunset, with wind-driven mist pouring over them, absolutely looked like the gates at the edge of the world. Beyond here, there be monsters. The south side was maybe even better, with a big headland and a whole bunch of big rocks off the end, looking like a giant Avebury-in-the-Pacific. My kingdom for a sea kayak.
Postscript—we've had good birding out here, some of it tough (we had to pull out the spotting scope to ID some scoters). And I still haven't seen a varied thrush, despite being in a couple of the best spots for it these past few days. On the other hand, some was almost ridiculously easy—at one point Rob said, "hey, look up crows." Sure enough, the crows on the Peninsula are a different species, with a slightly different call than the American crow, but mainly distinguished by range. Cool!