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 timeĀ  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.

The First Time I Laid My Eyes upon Mount Rainier

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped outside the Fort Lewis barracks door and saw Mount Rainier on the horizon for the very first time.

I’d been brought into the base the night before, fresh off the Ranger Indoctrination Program. It was first time ever in Washington,Northwest Nomad sitting on a rock with Mount Rainier in background. but I’d been dreaming of going there for years. Being an outdoorsman, and also being a product of the 90s grunge generation, the state was almost a mythic place to me. There was no way, however, to be prepared for the awe-inspiring sight that is Mount Rainier.
I’m not alone in this. I’ve talked to many people who told me that the first time they saw Mount Rainier was practically a religious experience.

From that moment on, I knew the Pacific Northwest was my home. One could even say the Northwest Nomad was born that day.

Nearly 15 years later, and still there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t look at the mountain in awe and gratitude. This excludes the many days when it’s not visible at all (which as we Northwesterners know is pretty damn common), but when it’s out, I’m as in love with it now as ever before.

So, here’s just a little letter of appreciation to the mountain. I’ll never forget ye, nor the day I first laid eyes upon you.

Anybody else out there in the ether remember the first time they saw Rainier? Got a story to tell? Please do.

Lake Quinault in Winter: Introvert’s Delight

Mosses cover the deep forest, blanketing rocks and fallen trees, clinging to the living spruces and firs like babies embracing their mothers. In some places a pale-green, stringy species dangles from branches like clots of witch hair. The vast, living coat absorbs sound and leaves the whole area in a hush. This is Lake Quinault in winter, and there’s no place in the world I’d rather be.

Lake Quinault in winter barely resembles its summer self, when tourists fill the area. In winter, the rain almost never stops. There are windows of sunlight here and there, always brief and always glorious, but for the most part it’s a persistently gray time. The upside of that is a region left in solitude and silence, perfect for those who yearn for those things as a break from modern life.

The hiking can be a slog. At times, it can be downright sloppy. But, the slog and slop keeps everyone else away, and even a short hike will leave you feeling like the whole of the rain forest is yours’ and the animals’ alone.

The Irely Lake trail, a short trek usually full of hikers in summertime, leaves you feeling continents away from the modern world. The trail is frequently flooded and blocked by fallen tree — great for keeping out the halfhearted. I’ve had conversations with trees there, and there wasn’t a single person (other than myself) to call me crazy for doing it.

You don’t even need to get on the trails, really. Very few people drive the “loop,” which is what I (and presumably others; it’s not all that unique or creative of a moniker, after all) call the North Shore and South Shore roads that will take you in a complete circle around the lake and a good portion of the river feeding into it.

Merriman Falls after a hard rain, just off South Shore Road.
Merriman Falls, right off the side of South Shore Road, part of the Lake Quinault Loop.

You can simply drive out along the road, park your car, and walk that. That’s nice way to do it, really, because the river adds a pleasant musical backdrop. There are also many things to see right off the road, including Merriman Falls and the Roosevelt elk.

My favorite place to stay in the area is the Quinault River Inn, but that’s just my personal preference. The Lake Quinault Lodge is a beautiful building with the best views of the lake.

No matter where you go, you’ll find a quiet place, perfect for silencing that mental cacophony that’s been driving you batty.

If you find yourself somewhere along the Irely Lake trail talking to trees, please tell them the Northwest Nomad said “hello.”

My Visit to the Wolf Haven International Wolf Sanctuary (Great Bald Eagle Views, Too)

Wolf Haven International

I still can’t believe that Wolf Haven International has been in my backyard all this time, and I’d never even heard of it before two months ago. Luckily, I did happen to stumble upon information about the site, and I immediately decided to visit. I would have done so already a dozen or so times if I’d known it was there.

Located in Tenino, Washington, just outside Olympia, Wolf Haven is a sanctuary for wolves that have been rescued from unhealthy or just unhappy situations. Some of the animals have dramatic stories of being sold into travelling circuses and living day after day hooked to a wall by a chain barely longer than they were. Others were taken in by well-meaning but ill-equipped adopters who didn’t realize that wolves can’t be domesticated the way that regular dogs can. Whatever the wolf’s particular story, Wolf Haven exists to give them a safe space to live in with dignity and a measure of freedom.

The Wolves

The sanctuary is located on a beautiful piece of land full of towering trees and mossy rocks. Even before you step inside the sanctuary itself, the area has a great energy to it, that deep, rich smell of untrammeled nature.

The sanctuary itself is located beyond a metal gate. Within that area are several fenced enclosures, ranging in size from 1/2 to 3/4 of an acre. Each one of the enclosures is home to two wolves, a male and a female. Each of these has a name, and each has a story, which the guide will you about during your tour. You have to make reservations to join in on one of the guided tours and can’t lead yourself through unattended.

This wasn’t exactly what I expected, to be honest. For some reason I didn’t research the details of the sanctuary, and I thought it was going to be a wide open space with the wolves ranging freely about.

Still, I wasn’t disappointed. What was most important for me was knowing that the animals had a safe place to call home, away from the abuses of their former lives. Besides, while these wolves are accustomed to their homes, they are still wild at heart. You can see it in their eyes. Even with the fence between them and you, the animals’ savage grace was apparent in every powerful movement.

There are Eagles, Too

Though it’s not advertised and not part of the sanctuary’s mission, there are several bald eagles frequenting the area. I watched one hunt a raven and attemp to snatch it out of a tree branch (the raven caught on and escaped in the nick of time) and watched three of them fly together for a while and then perch in treetops, crying out to the sky.

Two bald eagles flying together.

The trip would have been worth it for the eagles alone. Seeing them so close and hearing them calling out to each other was awe inspiring.

A Sense of History and Community

There was a real sense of history at the sanctuary, and the love that the volunteers put into the place is obvious.

Burial plot of a wolf named Tahoma. Outside the wolf enclosure area is a trail winding through a wolf graveyard, with each of the animals honored by a burial site and a stone with their name and time of passing.

The gesture made it clear how deeply and sincerely the people at Wolf Haven care about the animals under their care.

Nearly everyone in my tour group seemed touched by the energy of the place, and they asked for volunteer forms so they could help out, too.

There’s no way to know how many will actually follow up on those applications of course. I’m just happy I got mine before the office ran out of them.

Wolf Haven International is well worth the visit. I’ll be going back again soon.