The journey to Quinault involved a lot of small Washington highway driving. Almost 3 weeks into the journey and I miss the big multilane mega-highways that is the Interstate Highway System. Washington has been very scenic to drive through so far, and I’ve seen everything from farms to rocky cliffs, to awesome bridges, and large bodies of water.
Once we arrived at Quinault, we went on a joyride down South Shore and North Shore Roads. South Shore Rd. was far more development for a gravel road: there were actually two lanes. North Shore had the fun of sharp 90 degree turns with no visibility, only one lane (for traffic of all directions), and no shoulders. Check the photos after the waterfall–sadly we couldn’t get a picture of how scary the road was when it was climbing elevation: Jamie was too terrified to look over the edge. It was a long drop off the road, and there was no shoulder. And there were rickety wooden bridges to drive over too.
The Lodge we stayed at was very beautiful and rustic, which helped support the ambiance of
being in the middle of a forest. The creaking of the stairs to the second floor brought back many members of sneaking up the stairs as a child–trying to avoid making any noise at all in the dead of night.
I enjoyed our insect filled journey to the waterfalls and up North Shore Road (the July Creek are) more than the standard hiking trail to Sol Duc Falls because we didn’t see any other people doing these. When you are on a hike and see another person every few minutes, it destroys any sense of adventure, as you know 1,000 other people are having the same experience right at that moment. When you go off the standard path and do something different, that’s real exploration.
The exception being the Sol Duc Hot Springs, which was a great feeling–105F water and sulfur in the air. It’s hard to keep something that awesome a secret. It might be the reason why I did not catch Jamie’s cold!
Olympic park did have enough of that type of “off the trail” adventures that I wish I could come back. I plan to avoid the “popular” hikes and do something different. It was a great experience, and is part of why I’m slowly falling in love with Washington state.
I think Jamie did a good job covering what we saw in Nature so I’ll take a different angle and talk a little about the human side. We took a boat tour on the Lake and our guide (and the other tourists, one of whom was a local to the area) where we not only saw the area, but learned about the people and their struggles there.
First, let’s talk size: Aberdeen, which was one of the biggest cities we drove through, had a population of a little over 15,000. Hoquiam, another city along the way, has a population of 9,000. Forks (aka: the town where Twilight takes place) has a population of 3,500. For comparison, the suburb of Houston we live in, Pearland, has a population of 100,000. The high school that I teach at has about 3,000 students.
What do the people here do? Mostly logging and fishing. Our tour guide was telling us about the local conflict “Wild Olympics”, which is the battle between logging in the area and a scenic preservation effort. My point isn’t which side is right, but rather that a population of 15,000 has rather limited options when it comes to employment. Pearland, Texas wouldn’t have that kind of concern, because with 100,000 people, there is no single issue that affects enough people to require unification of the population.
As we drove, we have not encountered a town like the standard Texas suburb. We have not toured the area around the bigger cities (which I image we’d find it). Instead our trip has consisted of smaller rural towns or urban environments that serve as a resting point for the journey. Each town that we pass through does leave a mark on my memories, and that’s why I find it so important to document not just the location but the roads we traveled to get there.
I was also struck by the socioeconomic difference in the people who come to stay in the Lodges and Resorts and the relative wealth of the local economies. Although appearances can be deceiving, money doesn’t lie: dinner at our lodge would easily cost about $30 a plate, with a wine menu ranging from $40 to $500 a bottle. While we avoided those prices with our Yeti-chilled cold pizza and freeze dried food (that teacher salary money!), there were a plenty of families racking up huge bills.
With those prices in mind, I drive through Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Forks, etc and see buildings that have seen better days, broken down cars in the driveways, and people would probably would feed a family for a week on $30. Tourists flock to this region (well, maybe not “flock” as much as a place like Yosemite), coming from far away jobs in the suburbia and the cities, exploring “nature” in a bubble isolated form the lifestyles and issues of the local communities. “Seeing” nature becomes a novelty for those who don’t work in it, and it worried me that the enjoyment of such an experience will soon be priced well out of the reach of the people who work to make it happen.
Am I one of those tourists? Experiencing nature as a prepared delicacy to be unpacked, tasted, and rated as an imported set of chocolates? I don’t know if I have the answer, but if I never traveled (and especially by road), I would not have exposed myself to these feelings. Not all of the emotions we feel during a long trip like this are supposed to be happy and positive. We go to see nature and enjoy beauty, and during that journey, the thoughts, questions, and worries we have will transform us. Every town I drive through, every time I stop and talk with somebody at a store, the more I learn about life in America, and the more I can value my own life in America.