Man Plays Tuba on Mount Si

Just a brief post here to share some pictures of a funny event I witnessed while climbing Mount Si on Saturday.

There was a fellow hiking up the same time as me with a full-sized tuba on his back. It wasn’t even stored in any kind of outdoors/sports backpack, but was just jammed into a giant instrument pack.

Mount Si is not an easy hike. All respect to this man for carrying his tuba to the top of Mount Si and playing it. I was on the top of the Haystack when I heard the sweet, surreal sound of tuba calling out like some kind of alpine whale.

Respect to you, sir, and gratitude for a good story and some funny pictures.

On the Eve of Twin Peaks’ Return, Year’s First Trek up Mount Si

Sun is Out and the Time is Right for Hiking Mount Si

I rarely have a hard time finding an excuse to hike Mount Si, but this year I have a particularly good one. Tomorrow, Twin Peaks will run again. That’s all I needed to know.

Mount Si, for those who are unaware, is the actual name of the Twin Peaks mountain, and town of North Bend is the real town in which the series was largely filmed.

Mount Si Gets a Lot of Love

Mount Si is one of the most hiked mountains in Washington State, and with good reason. The views are absolutely stunning, and it’s not a far drive from Seattle (about 40 minutes depending on where you start from in the city).

Don’t let the number of visitors fool you, however. Mount Si is NOT an easy hike. This is a bone of contention for me, to be honest, and I want to address it now. Far too many people I’ve seen online talk about Si from the perspective of experienced, in-shape hikers, but Si attracts people of all fitness levels. I’ve seen them, gasping and looking defeated on the trail, having no idea what the hell they got themselves into.

I encourage everyone to do this trail, but be aware of what you’re in store for. Si is not easy. It starts out tough and gets tougher. You get almost no warm up before the ascent begins. A couple miles up the trail it slightly levels out for a while, but then that last mile or so is brutal.

Again, I’m not talking anyone out of this! Do it! But prepare adequately. Bring a GOOD amount of water and trail snacks. Most of all, psychologically prepare yourself, especially in the heat.

With Si, like all mountains, heat is the main enemy. Try to get to Si as early as possible and beat the heat. Take your time. Take breaks when you need. Remember to drink your water. As long as you understand you’re going to put up with some suck, it will be a great experience. Things go bad when people go skipping up there assuming it’s got to be easy because so many people are doing it, bring inadequate water, and then give up before getting to the top….or worse, get their butts medevaced off.

Si is pretty tough, which of course is what makes the summit so fulfilling and satisfying. So, do it…just be forewarned and be smart about it.

On to better things: the flowers are blooming.

The Views

There’s little mystery here. The reward for the climb up Mount Si is the slate of views you get. They are truly awe inspiring.

The beauty is all the sweeter as you sit up top after your long climb and enjoy a well-earned meal and rest. This is the stuff of spiritual epiphanies…and selfies.

The Haystack

When you get to the end of the trail, you have a rocky spot full of incredible views. You can go further, though, fellow adventurer. You can go further.

A ways further up the trail, you come to a stark protrusion of metamorphic rock known as “the Haystack.” It looks somewhat like this (actually exactly like this because this is a photo of it as seen from below):

You have to climb the Haystack. It’s not something you can hike. I’m talking actual, hand-over-foot climbing. The slope is relatively mild for the most part and there are plenty of good handholds. Anyone feeling up for it should definitely give it a try as it’s a fun climb with the best views in town. Going down can be a bit sketchy for people unaccustomed to climbing.

These birds are all over the Haystack, and they are eager for your food. I’ve watched them eat food from people’s hands many times. This behavior of course is frowned upon, of course, but there’s no denying it’s fun to watch…and possibly do yourself.

It’s a Long Way to the Bottom if You Want to Eat at Twede’s

 There are many fine restaurants in the town of North Bend, but my personal ritual is to eat at Twede’s Cafe after the climb. I discovered the place on my first trip to the town because is the cafe called the Double R Diner on Twin Peaks.

I love Twede’s burgers, and I still get a kick out of eating inside a part of Twin Peaks lore.

This is a ritual I perform every year, at least twice. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mount Si is popular for a reason…and so is Twede’s.

Enjoy!

 

Secrets of Sequim, Washington’s Dungeness River Audobon Center

I found some interesting patterns and hidden gems in the area surrounding the Dungeness River Audubon Center.

I’ll write up a full post for this great little corner of Washington soon. For now, I just want to share some of my photographs. I’m going to get much more. My hopes are to expand this gallery significantly.

If you love birds or simply a nice walking trail, check this place out for sure.

Where to Find Roosevelt Elk at Quinault

Roosevelt Elk at Quinault

Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest provide some of the best outdoors recreation in the Pacific Northwest. They’re terrific for hiking, fishing, and viewing wildlife.

Black bears, black-tailed deer, bald eagles, and cougar all inhabit the region. In my travels across the landscape (it’s my favorite spot in Washington and I go there frequently), I’ve run into all of those animals at least once, and often at close proximity (the bear a little too close for comfort in fact) in their natural environments.

Perhaps the best wildlife to see in the area is the herd of Roosevelt elk at Quinault. The sizable herd regularly inhabits the area and can be found quite reliably in the woods and fields just off northeast portion of North Shore Road.

This area of Lake Quinault gets little visitation, especially in the off-season autumn/winter months. The road is rough and sometimes washed out, so even on days when Lake Quinault Lodge is full, you can find some solitary remove in this area.

Roosevelt elk at Quinault eating ferns in a roadside meadow.
The elk here were about 100 yards off the side of North Shore Road, Lake Quinault, Washington.

The Roosevelt elk of Quinault feel safe and at home there, so they generally won’t scatter if you set up shop to observe them (as long as you don’t get too close, of course). They’ll go about their social business at ease.

I watched them for nearly an hour once, and they just went about their routine as though I wasn’t there. Obviously, I can’t speak for every encounter with the animals, but in my personal experience they’ve never bolted when I stopped to watch.

About the Roosevelt Elk at Quinault

According to the National Park Service, the elk at Quinault represent the Pacific Northwest’s “largest unmanaged herd of Roosevelt elk.”

The elk are named after President Theodore Roosevelt, famous wildlife enthusiast and the man who started the national park system in the United States. The elk at Quinault are significantly bigger than the black-tail deer they share space with (the deer are beautiful, as well, though harder to find).

Male elk at Quinault, identified by their antlers, are larger than the females, but all share the characteristic darker-brown heads and lighter-brown bodies. They eat meadow grasses, ferns, shrubs, and lichens.

Male roosevelt elk at Quinault displaying a fine young-of-season rack of antlers as he stretches his neck out to eat some leaves.
Stretching that neck out for the tasty upper leaves.

The elk can also be seen regularly in the Hoh Rain Forest, and I’ll be covering that area, as well. For the purposes of this article, however, I’m focusing on the elk at Quinault.

How to Find the Roosevelt Elk at Quinault

The elk move throughout the area, but they frequently congregate along a stretch of North Shore Road. Google Maps won’t let me pin to the fields, so I had to pin the Quinault Rain Forest Ranger Station (which has a nice little nature trail) in the interactive map below.

If you go east about 10 miles east of that ranger station, you’ll find some open fields. The Roosevelt elk herd often hangs out in those fields, which are pretty close to the road–I’m talking close enough to watch clearly without equipment. With binoculars or a camera, you can see the sky reflected in their eyes.

North Shore Road Approach

You can drive to the area either from North Shore Road or from South Shore Road, both of which run into each other to form a loop around Lake Quinault. South Shore Road has merit because it’s better maintained and makes the approach from Lake Quinault Lodge, but I’m going to start with North Shore Road because the ranger station is the most easily identifiable landmark close to the elk.

Before going on, let me stress that you WILL lost phone reception for a good portion of this drive. This isn’t a great cause for concern, as I’ve explained below, but just be aware that you may want to write directions down or bring a hard copy of a map.

It’s difficult to get lost on the North Shore Road drive because it’s the only real road out there, other than some primitive Forest Service roads branching off into the woods. The one spot that may cause confusion is at the end of North Shore Road. There, you’ll encounter a spot where the North Shore Road turns left/north to continue as North Shore Road and right/south to go over a bridge connecting North Shore Road to South Shore Road.

If you want to continue the loop and head back to the main road, you need to go over the bridge to the south rather than the road continuance to the north. Even if you miss this exchange, though, you’ll just end up driving a dead end road that leads to North Forks Campground, a Park Service ranger station, and the Irely Lake Trail (among other walks). It’s a dead end road and will just take you a few miles out of your way and into beautiful country.

South Shore Road Approach

You can also get to the elk-viewing spot by driving up Lake Quinault’s South Shore Road from Lake Quinault Lodge, which may be the most desirable route if your car isn’t well suited to rough driving. North Shore Road gets pretty tough in parts, particularly after heavy storm events. South Shore Road also has its hairy moments sometimes, but in my experience after years of visiting this area regularly, it’s generally kinder to vehicles than the North Shore Road.

If you decide to come up South Shore Road, just remember to turn left over the bridge linking South Shore Road to North Shore. If you’ve got the vehicle for it, though, I recommend driving the whole Lake Quinault North/South Shore Road loop. It’s a terrific drive through moss-laden trees and mountain views.

Regardless, remember to write directions down or take a hard copy map, because you WILL lost phone reception for a good portion of this drive. Also, South Shore starts out well paved, but be prepared because it will turn into a dirt road that has lots of big holes and rocks.

Come for the Roosevelt Elk at Quinault, but Stay for all the Other Critters

As mentioned in the preceding section, close to the area with the elk herd is the North Forks Campground and the Irely Lake trail. I go camping and hiking in that area frequently.

 

Female elk at Quinault eat grasses in a meadow near Lake Quinalt.
Lady elk enjoying meadow grasses.

Once, in winter, I stumbled upon a black bear in one of the North Forks camping spots (I was the only person staying there). It was a spectacular encounter. The bear was no more than 10 yards from me when we first realized we weren’t alone. He watched me curiously as I walked to the outhouse and then lumbered off. I was a bit nervous camping that evening!

If you go to this area during the salmon runs, you’ve got a good shot of seeing bald eagles picking off the fish. Having grown up in Pennsylvania where bald eagle were nonexistent, I’ve never stopped being amazed at the sight of these birds.

One time (I swear) I saw a lynx dip into the woods on South Shore Road. A big chunk of road had collapsed from flooding and made the road inaccessible to vehicles. National Forest Service sites say lynx aren’t found in this area, but I swear that I caught a fleeting glimpse of one.

Lake Quinault is also an excellent place for birding.

The area is a terrific spot for wildlife enthusiasts. Obviously, you can never know for sure what you’ll run into, but the elk are about as safe a bet as I know of.

Go check them out. Maybe you’ll see some bear or eagle, too.

If you decide to make a longer trip of it, consider staying at the Quinault River Inn. There are many great choices for lodging in the Lake Quinault area, but the Inn has always been my favorite. It’s run by terrific people and is set off on quiet spot by the riverside.

No, I do not have any affiliation with the Inn and receive no compensation from them. I just really like their establishment.

If any of you need more specific directions to the open fields I discussed, shoot me a message and I’ll walk you to the spot. Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

The Best Indian Restaurants in Tacoma and Olympia

East India Grill is the Best Buffet in Tacoma/Federal Way Area

Indian food is my favorite cuisine of all the world’s offerings. I’ve tried every restaurant within 50 miles of Tacoma, and many beyond. In terms of overall food quality, Olympia’s Curry Corner and the Little India Express in Freighthouse Square are worthy competitors for the top spots, but when it comes to the buffet, the best I’ve ever found is the East India Grill.

I’ve eaten the East India buffet more times than I can count, and every time have found it to be top quality. The food is never stale or cold, and is always delicious. The servers are also very attentive and quick to refill beverages.

Curry Corner of Olympia

Determining my favorite overall Indian food in the area isn’t easy, but if someone were to force me to make the decision, Curry Corner would probably be my choice.

The restaurant interior is somewhat nondescript and even a little cramped, at times, but don’t let this fool you. These folks put together the most flavorful Indian food I’ve ever found.

It’s been almost a year since I ate there. When I used to live farther down south, however, I ate at this place every week or two, and I find it hard to believe that anything short of a full blown tragedy would make this place any less than great. I never had a bad dish from Curry Corner, and everyone working there has always been very professional.

(Be warned, foodies: If you ask for it “spicy” from Curry Corner, you’re getting a three-alarm fire in your mouth.)

Little India Express in Tacoma’s Freighthouse Square has an Interesting Location to go With Its High Quality Food

Freighthouse Square near the Tacoma Dome is a neat little place that feels every bit of its 105 years. Walking through its halls and visiting its shops feels like stepping back in time. Sometimes I’ll sit down there and just imagine what it looked like a century ago, full of workers and tourists shuffling along with the mad bustle of Old Tacoma in all its industrial glory hammering, pounding, and steam-whistling away outside.

The Square also has a few secret gems of cuisine, and one of those is the Little India Express. It’s a little kiosk restaurant in the food court area, but it serves a heavyweight menu. You can sit and watch the cook work if you’d like, as the whole kitchen is open to view. I have done this on a few occasions and find no mystery as to why their food tastes so good. That guy is an artist. I actually plan on asking if he’d be willing to a do a brief interview with me, because he’s an interesting guy who talks with an artist’s passion about his food.

Little India sometimes can take a little longer than one might hope, but that’s because they make every dish from scratch and because they do everything right.

The lead cook once told me how all his traditional Indian dishes have little twists of his own that he throws in. “Nobody cooks Indian like me,” he said with unabashed pride. In my experience, that statement has always held true.

Little Indian Express is a great reason to check out the Freighthouse Square. They’ve never steered me wrong.