Sand Point Trail at Lake Ozette, Washington

Moss covered bridge leading to the Sand Point and Ozette Loop trail heads.
Bridge leading to the Sand Point and Ozette Loop trail heads.

Far off the semi-beaten path of Highway 101, near the northwestern corner of the state of Washington, lies Lake Ozette and the Sand Point trail. It’s a ways from the usual tourist stomping grounds, but there are few places a person can go to better witness the Washington coast in all its raging, primal beauty. Lake Ozette itself is a good place to visit in itself, but today I’m going to cover the Sand Point trail and the rugged beach it leads to.

The Sand Point trail represents 3 miles’ worth of the 9 mile Ozette Loop trail. My intent upon visiting Lake Ozette was to do the whole loop, but the rain started dumping heavily on me at the end of the Sand Point trail, and I was ill-prepared to keep my camera safe from the elements. (A little-known fact is that the full extent of the Northwest Nomad’s hiking preparations generally consist of him running towards his destination with tongue flying in the wind like an idiot dog.)

Anyway, all is well, because the Sand Point trail itself was a good walk, and the Northwest Nomad escaped with his camera and his fantastic, artful, brilliant, sensitively gorgeous photographs intact. His humility survived, as well! Worry not, fair readers. Worry NOT!

To your right, my dear friend, you see a wooden walkway that represents the makeup of roughly a quarter of the Sand Point trail. The rest of the trail is a regular sort of National Park trail over the forest floor, but in the first portion of the walk is designed by National Park Service to keep your feetsies dry (thank you, Big Brother, ha!).

I’m not sure if the trail gets flooded by Lake Ozette floodwaters or if there’s some other explanation for the ground’s rather aqueous influence, but I could see in the vegetation composition that the ground there is frequently wet. Why else would they build a wooden footbridge, anyway? This isn’t rocket science, people!

The trail was nice and quiet while I walked, and I didn’t see a single other hiker on that stretch. It’s 3 miles out and 3 back, and I didn’t see one other person on either the going-out or the coming-back leg. I was there in January, so I’m not sure if it’s always so little-traveled.

Regardless, one thing I know for sure is that it leads to one of the best beaches I’ve ever found in Washington state. I’d rate it right up there with La Push and higher than the always-awesome Ruby Beach.

I wandered that beach for about half an hour and only left when the rain blew in and drove me out. Truly it was a transcendent experience of nature’s awesome power. The place looks like it was just blasted out of the side of the Earth by waves less than a week ago. The wounded land is raw, and the ocean’s power immense. I’m pretty sure if I stood there much longer I would have torn off my clothes and run off to live naked and free in those savage lands, living for only a few days, certainty, but oh so ecstatically so!

Damn you, civilization! The Northwest Nomad has felt life outside your deadly comforts, and it was sweeter than honey, damn it. Sweeter than honey!

Who am I? Who cares! Look at that rock yonder, that massive presence contemplating the sea forever. That’s what matters and that’s why you walk a trail like Sand Point.

Be the rock! Witness the rock! Love the rock! And worship it…yes, yes! Get down on thy knees and worship its beauty!

But no…no! I’m teetering on madness now, fevered with the memory of that brush with freedom, that little taste of honey at Sand Point, three miles from Lake Ozette, on the ocean side and ready to fall headfirst into eternity.

And is that not the dark side of sublimity? Becoming lost in one’s own nonexistence? No, I say. No!

…I pull back…

It was a recuperative trip, friends, and nice to get far out of cell phone range and into the mighty elements, to be reminded of how simultaneously small I am and how monumental life itself is.

The rock and the sea and the wind blowing through it all…Sand Point is a good place. Perhaps one of the last of the good places, as I imagine Hemingway might say if he’d been in my shoes.

Sand Point. Lake Ozette. DIG IT.

Northwest Nomad, over and out.

The 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum, Tacoma

Last weekend I visited the 9th and 10th Horse Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers Museum in Tacoma in order to research a piece I was writing for Grit City. I’ve been interested in checking the place out from the moment I first saw its sign just off 19th Street a couple months ago, but I underestimated how moving the experience would actually be.

“Buffalo Soldiers” was a term given to African American soldiers in the late 1800s, reportedly by Comanche or Cheyenne Indians (there’s some debate among historians over which it was) seeing a resemblance between the hair of the soldiers and the tufts of hair between buffalo’s horns. Some sources suggest that the tribes were also impressed by the buffalo-like toughness that the soldiers displayed.

Whatever the exact inspiration for the name, the term “Buffalo Soldiers” became the widely used monikers for black Army units back when the military was segregated. The term persisted all the way up until the end of the Korean War, when the last all-black unit was dissolved.

I already knew about the Buffalo Soldiers before I went to the museum, but actually walking among the artifacts they used and the stories hit me a lot stronger than I expected it would. I’m a veteran, and it really bothered me to hear about the disrespect that those men had to endure while they were serving their country. As Colin Powell said it, “For a long time they served a country that didn’t serve them.”

It was difficult for me to not allow my anger to overshadow everything else in my experience. I didn’t want that to be my focus. Those men deserved to be honored, not pitied, and I made sure to keep my mind fixed on that outcome. Still, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bothered by it.

It’s remarkable to think of the hardships the Buffalo Soldiers endured. The thing that stuck with me the most from the visit was something that the woman running the museum told me.

Her name is Jackie Jones-Hook, and her father, William Jones, had been a Buffalo Soldier and POW in the Korean War. The museum was stated in his honor.

When I asked Jones-Hook if her father ever talked about the racism he and his brothers in arms had to endure while they were doing something that should have been commended, she replied that he used to repeat the phrase, “We got this far by faith.” William Jones was a man of deep faith in the Good Book, and he lived his life by that standard.

Ultimately, Jones-Hook told me, her father and his compatriots served for their faith in God more than anything else. When their own country disrespected them, they went right ton serving, because they had faith that God would make things right some day. I found that notion moving and powerful, and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot ever since, and it’s something I doubt I’ll ever forget.

It’s hard to fathom the strength of character it takes for men to persist in the way that William Jones and the Buffalo Soldiers did. I’m left humbled and awed by their example. Sincerely, I want to be a better person in light of their stories.

I also want to encourage as many of you as possible to visit the Buffalo Soldiers museum in Tacoma. The place doesn’t have a big budget and so doesn’t have a lot of advertising. Go there and tell others about it, if you’re so inclined. The place deserves to continue operating because the men and women it memorializes deserve to be remembered.

I’m not going to write any more about what I saw or felt there. I’m not that fond of talking about myself, but most importantly, I’d like to encourage you all to go see it for yourself rather than take my word for it.

It’s well worth the trip.

Critters Chilling at Clallam Bay

On my recent trip to Forks, Lake Ozette, and the Hoh Rain Forest, I drove through Clallam Bay. I didn’t stay there long enough to get much to write about, but I did get some cool pictures from a high point looking down on the bay.

Seals and double crested cormorants relaxed on the rocks below me. The temperature was cold to my standards, but they looked comfortable as can be.

It was a reminder of what I love about living in the Pacific Northwest…and, well, just living in general. Clallam Bay is a beautiful little place with a wild heart tucked away in the to left corner of the state, all right there for the seeing. It’s like stepping into a time machine and getting a few thousand years away from social media and politics for a bit.

Clallam Bay is quite a bit off the beaten path of the 101 loop. The roads are well paved and easy driving, but it’s a bit of a long haul to get there. Still, it’s the only way I know of to get to Lake Ozette, so if you decided to see that sight you may want to put some time aside to visit Clallam Bay. I wish I’d had more daylight to explore it further.

I’ll definitely be visiting Clallam Bay again. For now, however, I’d just like to share my pictures from my brief drive-through.

Your Very Own Hoh Rain Forest

If you’ve ever dreamed of having the entire Hoh Rain Forest to yourself, then go there in January. While it won’t legally be yours, there’ll be so few people there that you can pretend it is.

At least, that’s how it was when I went there last January.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.
A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The area was so quiet, in fact, that I nearly walked into a tern on the way back to the my car.

I was in the parking lot and had just entered a short trail that connects the two primary parking lots. The tern burst into flight no more than five feet away from me.

The bird flew a little ways and then settled back down by the water. Using my ninja-like stealth, I got close enough to take the glorious picture you see above.

The Hoh Rain Forest is one of the prettiest parts of Olympic National Park, which makes it one of the prettiest parts of Washington state. It’s also more difficult to access than any other part of the park simply because it’s on the far western side of the Olympic Peninsula. The closest town to it is Forks.

A great blue heron in the Hoh Rain Forest.

The Hoh Rain Forest is beautiful in January because the mountains in the distance are snowy while the lower ground is not, creating a nice aesthetic contrast.

I stood on that riverside you see to the left for a solid twenty minutes and only saw one pair of people other than myself. It was quiet and peaceful there, even though I was less than half a mile from the parking lot.

My favorite Hoh trail is the Hall of Mosses. Less than a mile long, it takes you on a walk through a forest of enormous trees blanketed in moss. The place feels ancient, as if you’ve stepped into a time machine and traveled back to a time  before human beings. This is doubly true in January.

But, the purpose of this post isn’t to go into specific hikes or sights; I’ll add those things in other posts later. For right now, I just wanted to pass on a little insider information.

Go to the Hoh in January (or presumably any time around that), and you’ll find lots of silence to roam in.

Your very own rain forest. Can’t beat that.

Dreaming about the Lions, the Mountain and the Sea

Come join me by the fire, friends. I’d like to talk, if you’ve got the time. I’ve been dreaming about the lions. Maybe you have been, too.

Do you know what I’m referring to? Yes? No? Let me explain.

From the first time I read Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea,” the book’s final line has stuck with me. “The old man was dreaming about the lions,” that line goes.

That sentence refers back to an earlier part of the book in which the story’s main character, the “old man” Santiago, is said to have found that in his old age he’s been thinking less and less about his own exploits and accomplishments. What’s stuck with him the most in his twilight years are the wonders he’s seen. One of those wonders is a beach full of lions.

Much has been made about these lions and about Santiago’s dreaming of them, and most of that much-ado is interesting and worthy of meditation. What resonates so much with me, however, and what has me feeling so sentimental today, is something different.

For me, Santiago’s dreaming about the lions is ultimately a hopeful thing. The most hopeful thing in this life of rust and despair, in fact.

For me, the dream of lions comes to Santiago because old age has softened his ego, and the softening of that ego has made him wise. Santiago in his final years has found the simple love of life for the mere sake of life, rather than life as a stage upon which to assert his own being.

To my view, Santiago has achieved enlightenment. This doesn’t mean he isn’t still a proud, strong, defiant man–indeed a “strange man,” as he so desperately wishes to prove himself. But, in that strangeness, he has learned to step outside of himself and appreciate the grandeur of life as it was and will be when he is gone.

I find that notion very beautiful, and very hopeful.

I’m not an old man yet, but I’m old enough that that line from the book has been resonating powerfully with me. As I find myself ruminating upon the things I’ve seen, the mountains and seas and rivers, I find myself thinking about Santiago.

And as I think about Santiago, I think about all my friends, too, and about all of their own inevitable endings.

I thank God for the mountains, seas, and rivers I’ve seen. Beyond all the hardships and the tears of this life, I’m grateful to have smelled and touched and heard nature’s music. I don’t ever want to lose that gratitude, and I hope that no matter how hard things get in the future, I find myself dreaming about the lions.

And to you, my friends, on your own hard, splendid roads, I fare thee well with gratitude. Through all the suffering life will inevitably bring, through all the loss and sadness, may you dream about the lions.

And when your present seems pale and twisted, your future dark and broken, may you dream about the lions.

And, most of all, when that good long night of forever comes to sweep us up into the canopy of mysteries, I hope you’re dreaming about the lions, my friends.

And I hope I am, too.

And that’s all I have to say, I guess, tonight around the fire. Thank you for sitting a while.