Out of the Forest, On to the Coast…

I was hoping to write blog entries each day, but so far I’ve only managed one. A lot of that is due to exhaustion at the end of a long day of hiking and shooting… just not having it in me to compose something despite having a million thoughts and observations I’ve filed away (and likely forgotten) for the next entry.berryjam.ru


The other big issue the last 36 hours has been crappy connectivity. That’s not all bad, frankly, since when I do have connectivity I tend to spend more time online and less time shooting or otherwise engaging in things I can’t do once I leave this amazing place.  What connectivity I have involves sitting in my car outside of the main office of the resort where I’m staying. Inconvenient to put it mildly.

In my previous entry I was deep into the rain forest of Lake Quinault and, thus far, I have to say that it’s quite simply my favorite part of the trip. I’m glad I scheduled the most time there. I had intended to set out early Wednesday morning for my next location, but I just wasn’t quite ready to leave. I cleared out my room, packed the car, said goodbye to what had been my riverside home for the last three nights and set out on South Shore. My goal was to wrap up that leg of the trip by going deeper into the rain forest using the six mile long Graves Creek road. I’m glad I did, because I saw even more beautiful areas than before including several of the greenest glades I’ve ever encountered, complete with two much closer Roosevelt Elk encounters.

The sense of being alone was even greater than past days with the exception one chance encounter.

As I rolled slowly through yet another amazing riverside glade, I noticed someone’s upper body pop up out of a low spot a little way off to my right. It turned out to be a park ranger who was actively splitting a 500 year old fallen cedar. He was doing it the “old school” way with modern wedges and some downright antique, but purpose-built tools seldom encountered today. The split twelve foot cedar segments would be dragged out and used as replacement rails up in another part of the park around Port Angeles.

He invited me over to see what he was doing and very enthusiastically explained the process, lamenting that he is likely the last of the rangers in that area with the skills and passion to do this. He also allowed me to record and film a good 20 minutes of the process (which he narrated) along with other discussions that ranged from his being attacked by a bear last year and, despite that tidbit, just how much he loves his job. He manages the trails throughout the deepest parts of the park and, as a result, lives eight day stretches in a tent as he hikes from point to point doing all sorts of trail maintenance and new trailblazing. After each eight day shift, he’s off for six days and returns to his six acre property at Lake Ozette (which is likely just as lush as the park). He made it quite clear there is nothing else in the world he loves more than his work and, frankly, I can see why.

After perusing a campground I fully intend to use on a future trip, I grabbed a final lunch at the Lake Quinault Lodge and, finally, pried myself away to head for my next stop: La Push, a Quileute Indian reservation on the coast northwest. Aside from their fishing harvest, their other primary commercial endeavor seems to be the medium sized beachside resort they operate. It sits on national park land that is under their management (since it overlaps the reservation) and fronts what is know as First Beach, directly facing the largest single sea stack on the coast (James Island). The island is a critical piece of their tremendous history since their ancestors repeatedly used it as an impregnable fort during wars between tribes. Seeing it, you would suspect any attacker would just shrug and go home. This stack juts up out of the ocean to a tremendous elevation and offers little but sheer rock faces that you could helplessly stare at while being pelted from above.

Today, La Push is a small reservation with a tribal population somewhat over 700, a  small marina, a single restaurant (where I am alternating between eating dinner, looking out across the river and writing this entry), the beachside resort I mentioned, a small school whose curriculum still includes their unique native language, a community center, a small fish processing facility and all the other things you’d expect in a tiny community. La Push itself sits right where the Quileute river meets the Pacific. I highly encourage you to read the Wikipedia entry to get a sense of their history and culture.

The resort is… functional. It has a certain charm that falls somewhere between rustic and reasonably modern. Granted, I’ve only experience the A-frame cabin I rented rather than the motel or the varying levels of larger cabins that look to range toward condos (the word “luxury” is used on their website, so I’ll not assume the fit and finish of my cabin applies to the higher-end ones). Honestly, for the very reasonable price I am paying, my no-frills cabin works well even if things are a bit clunky and clearly done on the cheap. I small allotment of firewood (cute little pieces compared to the 30+ lb logs I burn by the stack in our outdoor wood furnace back home) is left on my porch each day and I use them in the tiny wood stove in the kitchen/dining/bedroom (plus a loft above) that is the cabin’s single main room.

After some issues starting the wood stove, I got it burning so well that at 1 AM I woke up parched and hot as all hell, having pushed the now dry heat of the little cabin into the stratosphere. I staggered out of bed, closed the damper and cracked a window. I awoke some hours later cold due to the fire being out, the window still cracked and apparently the front door swinging a quarter of the way open due to my not latching it properly before bed (again, things are a bit fiddly and rickety here and there). It’s all, however, part of the adventure and I’d gladly stay here again in the future.

My self-induced climate control adventures are an appropriate analogy to the weather here. I’ve seen blue sky and clouds and pouring rain, often only minutes apart and in several cycles over my day and a half here. One of my main goals last night was shooting a sunset and the weather all day seemed to support that possibility. Minutes before the sun hit the horizon, though, a rain squall obscured it and then proceeded to roll in on me as I rapidly piled back into the car. I did get a bunch of nice pre-sunset shots, one of which I assembled as a slightly overdone HDR. (When I came here to dinner about 6:30 PM it was raining and, in the course of writing the paragraphs above, the sun has now come out rather blindingly, teasing me with another opportunity to shoot a sunset. Over an hour to go, so anything could happen…)

Between dinner and the sunset last night I wandered over to the tribe’s community center where I was invited to sit at their spiritual drum circle and fish dinner that occurs every Wednesday night. A member of my tribe called out my name (I had signed a register coming in) and greeted me during one of the many seemingly impromptu talks given by various tribe members from within the circle. Members of the nearby Hoh tribe were also present and participated in a number of the drumming segments. They took carefully paced steps and made strokes with a ceremonial paddle they each carried, miming the paddling of a canoe as they walked the circle. I grabbed some video and stills, of course, along with some longer audio recordings that I hope to use in whatever mixed media creation comes out of this trips in the near future. I was fascinated and stayed for a while before quietly excusing myself and making a dash for the sunset.

Needless to say, the contrast between the rain forest and a rocky, sea stack-studded coast is pretty dramatic… all the more by it being a mere 40 minutes of driving before first glimpsing the pacific and the massive stacks towering out of the water. The beaches are littered with a staggering quantity of bleached white ancient trees that have floated down the rivers before being unceremoniously thrown back along the coast like so many jack straws. Most are worn smooth and eerily resemble a seemingly endless jumble of whale bones. Outside of my cabin on First Beach is the largest such tree that I’ve seen and it is every bit as large as the moss-covered monsters I have marveled at in the rain forest for three days. Even on its side, it towers over you on the beach, the upper end of it disappearing who knows how deep under the sand and rocks.

Naturally, I’ve been taking photos non-stop of all of what I’ve mentioned above (and more, including one of the four bald eagles I saw 50 feet outside the window while I ate breakfast this morning). All of this coastal beauty aside, I’ll be honest in saying that my heart is still in the rain forest of Lake Quinault. This is area is rugged and beautiful and there is lots of creative shooting still to be done… but I’m drawn back to the forests. I even took a quick jaunt to the nearby Hoh rain forest today for a quick fix.

On another photography note, I ended up being one of three be-tripoded photographers gunning for a sunset yesterday evening. We ended up congregating after silently orbiting one another for a bit, ultimately having some fantastic discussions about our travel experiences, techniques, gear, etc.

Two of us were shooting digital SLRs (Canon for me, Pentax for the him). The third person, an older white-haired gentleman, was using a large antique view camera, a handheld meter and throwing a black drape over his head as required to see the composition and focus. Of the three of us, though, I think he was the one most screwed by a sudden rain squall that ended up blocking the sun in the final minutes. The other two of us were shooting HDR and squeezed out a little drama, however contrived. I venture to bet, though, that his work is far, far more compelling than ours in the end and I’d love to see it. In talking, I learned that he was visiting from New Hampshire and UPS ships all but the camera ahead of him for any trips involving flights.

And while I’m sad to be ending this Pacific Northwest part of my trip in just over 36 hours, at least I’ll be ending it on another crystal mountain lake surrounded by old growth forest and waterfalls. Tomorrow morning I set out for Lake Crescent and its early 20th century lodge. It will only be a quick taste of that area, though, since I’ll need to pack again Friday night in preparation for more airline travel out of Portland Saturday afternoon. I’m truly not looking forward to the packing or, above all, the leaving…

In closing, I’ll just randomly list a few observations I’ve made in the last few days:

I lied. One more thing. There was another sunset tonight and I got some decent HDRs, but one in particular really made me happy. This is Chloe, another photographer who dropped by to get a shot of the sunset. I saw her and, since I was already bracketing for HDR, figured I’d get a dramatic silhouette and, if she didn’t move at that moment, a full HDR. I got both and here is the HDR version. Enjoy!

One Response to “Out of the Forest, On to the Coast…”

  1. You really have a way with words, I love this article and it has a fresh take on the topic I hope a lot of people read it.