Nature: April 2004 Archives

Adventures in Neah Bay

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Yesterday was a long one. The party kicked off at 2:30am PST to watch Arsenal drop their FA Cup semifinal to ManU 1-0. This was not the pre-dawn mood I was hoping to find myself in.

By 6:30am the auto was loaded and off towards the Olympic Peninsula with distant Neah Bay in sight. After four hours of driving and one car sick passenger, I crossed the boundary to the Makah Indian Reservation. Californians will be delighted to know that even in this most remote corner of the country gas prices are still under $2/gallon. I strolled into Washburn's General Store to pick up my $7 recreational permit to display in my vehicle/ensure my car isn't looted at the trailheads. I overheard a cashier in there talking about how she can speak Spanish, German, Dutch, Japanese, and Makah. I wish I had pressed her on this subject as now I have unfinished business at Washburn's.

Now it was off to Cape Flattery-the northwestern tip of Washington. There is a 4-mile gravel road to the trailhead but the 1.5-mile roundtrip hike is as luxurious as can be--boardwalks with four observation decks along the way. The milage:scenery ratio on this trail is off the scale. By far the most spectacular almost wheelchair-friendly short hike I have enjoyed. And I made a new friend along the way. The final observation deck gives you a view of Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery lighthouse--just a half-mile offshore and the northwestern most point in the continental United States. The U.S. Coast guard still operates the lighthouse but the island is closed to the public.

With suntan lotion and sand castle building supplies in hand, it was then time for a trip to one of "America's Best Beaches". So technically, getting to Shi Shi Beach (pronounced Shy Shy) requires a 13-mile one-way coastal hike but I obviously cheated here and used the shortcut through the Makah Reservation. The legit way is still on my list of things to do.

Finding the trailhead proved to be quite an adventure. The main road to it had just been closed by a downed utility pole and power line. The Neah Bay police officer at the scene of the incident asked me for help. I assumed he was joking and proceeded to ask him for directions to the trailhead, he explained an alternate route to me, and I was on my way. After navigating several unpaved and unnamed roads, I ended up at the closed road again. The police officer again asked me for help in clearing the road and again I shrugged it off (in retrospect I realized that he did in fact really want my help). I asked him for directions for hopefully the last time. This was like receiving instructions from Yogi Berra: "when you see a fork in the road, take it." I can't really fault the guy as giving directions on nameless gravel roads you've been driving on your whole life to some guy with Ohio license plates is far from a simple task.

However, this time the directions were clear enough to get me to the trailhead. It is about a 2.5 mile one-way stroll down to the coast. It is a straight forward and well-marked trail starting with nearly a mile of boardwalks and bridges with plenty of skunk cabbage along the way. There was about a mile of non-boardwalked trail that was extremely muddy but in those places there were beaten paths off the trail to avoid the mess. The same person who got carsick on the ride there also managed to lose a shoe to the suction power of the mud.

The sky was clear and the temperature was in the 60's so it was a gorgeous day to check out Shi Shi. Once arriving I enjoyed my Safeway-made hoagie before further exploring of the Point of Arches, tidal pools with starfish, and such. Considering I don't know how to swim, I am far from a beach guy. But Shi Shi made me want to take off my shoes, sit in the sand, and read a John Grisham novel. Well worth the trip and effort.

On the way home, I picked up some dungeness crabs from a fisherman in Clallam Bay. The two of them were a little rowdy in the backseat on the trip back to Seattle but they were treated to a very warm reception on arrival. Delicious.