Pictured above: The Elwha River flows free again (see #24).
1. Dawn Patrol on a Local Board
What started as a chill, just-for-friends operation in 1977 by two snowboarders is now Mervin Manufacturing, crafting boards (of the snow, surf, and skate variety) out of an uberenvironmental building run on biodiesel. The board maker—the only major one left in the U.S.—constructs LibTech, Roxy, and Gnu products, but has no storefront; riders can shop at nearby North By Northwest Surf Company in Port Angeles. NXNW is a surf hangout and hub, but don’t expect easy admission into secret North Coast spots; like any surf scene, it takes years to fully break in, but shop staff can rent equipment and advise on beginner breaks. nxnwsurf.com
2. Bilingual Greetings
In May, Olympic National Park erected a new $80,000 sign made of river rocks and hand-peeled logs, its welcome message inscribed in both Klallam and English—echoing new bilingual street signs in Port Angeles.
3. Totem Poles by Bike
There are more than 40 hand-carved S’Klallam totem poles sprinkled throughout Sequim, all charted on a free map by local cycling headquarters Ben’s Bikes. bensbikessequim.com
4. Cross Country Discovery
Across the Peninsula
Eventually it’ll be 130 miles of gentle paved bike passage from Port Townsend to the Pacific Coast, meandering through Discovery Bay, Lake Crescent, and Forks. So far the Olympic Discovery Trail is more than 70 miles, mostly paved, of easy riding for bike beginners. olympicdiscoverytrail.com
5–7. Wander Fort Worden
Port Townsend’s old army base offers beaches, campgrounds, and picnic areas much like those in any other park, save the series of military installations, open for people to climb and reenact An Officer and a Gentleman, which was filmed here in the early ’80s. But thanks to a unique collaboration between the state park system and a network of otherwise unrelated organizations, more than a dozen museums, art and literary presses, institutes, and colleges occupy the historic buildings around the big grassy parade ground. The whole campus has an open-door policy, meaning if a nonresidential space is unlocked, you’re probably allowed to go in and ask about the yoga class or woodworking workshop or whale skeleton inside.
Wander in one direction on the 434-acre park and you’ll find a dramatic World War II memorial hidden in the trees. The sculpture, called Memory’s Vault, includes an imposing concrete chair that looks rather like a brutalist interpretation of the royal seat from Game of Thrones.
And even those who have explored every dark tunnel and remote clearing of Fort Worden will find something new this summer: An all-day eatery called Reveille just opened in the Commons, one of the white wood-sided buildings that used to house recruits. It complements Taps at the Guardhouse, a bar that sits next to the fort’s old jail cells and serves happy hour specials where soldiers once dreaded their courts-martial. fortworden.org
8–10. Small Town, Good Taste
The rural farmlands south of Port Townsend are sleepy, best known for farm stands and the blackberry pie at Chimacum Cafe, an eatery that hasn’t changed much since the Reagan administration (pie’s still good as ever, though). But last year, the area sprouted new sites like Finnriver Orchard cidery and tasting room, a new home for the cidermaker that began a few miles south. Open since last year, the onetime dairy farm now sports a feeding trough–turned–communal table and a bocce court as well as live music and pizza cooked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. At the same town crossroads, The Keg and I eyes a summer opening for its 15-tap bar in a 1905 farmhouse, where owners got community help for renovations by hosting a kind of modern-day barn raising.
Up the road in Port Hadlock, an old ethyl alcohol factory (once owned by Ansel Adams’s family, no less) is getting new life too. It morphed into an inn but closed in 2011, only to be reborn as Old Alcohol Plant last year—a combo of local-fare restaurant, hotel, and accommodations for community members struggling for lodging.
11. Hear Music on a Hay Bale
Across Port Townsend
It was the end of an era: In 2014, more than 30 years after the Olympic Music Festival began in a yellow barn on a rural road, the chamber music event moved to the park at nearby Fort Worden, partnering with arts group Centrum. But almost immediately the founder and barn owner, Alan Iglitzin, missed the sound of tunes in his hayloft. A new era began, the best of both worlds: The OMF continued its summer-long slate of programming in the fort’s old balloon hanger, and Iglitzin launched his own five-weekend Concerts in the Barn. The latter events are free, though a few of the seats are on hay bales.
12. Hands-On Bomber Wreckage
Hikers travel three miles by foot to the old Tubal Cain Mine, past tunnels and equipment that used to dig for copper and manganese, to the twisted metal skeleton of a B-17 plane crash. Rivets still hold sheets of airplane siding together in the marshy clearing, where a bulbous black wheel is settled into the dirt far below the canyon walls that claimed the McChord Air Force Base–bound plane, and three of its eight passengers, in a 1952 blizzard.
13. Hama Hama’s Oyster Mountains
Those mounds of white oyster shells along Highway 101 aren’t trash from the 95-year-old Hama Hama Oyster Company; they’re saved from the shucking house as a kind of bank, carefully hoarded so new oyster larvae can be grown on the pieces. The piles sit between the bivalve beds in Hood Canal and the company’s outdoor saloon, whose menu can be described as either limited or simply pared down to life’s essentials: oysters, clams, beer, and wine.
14. A Water Wheel Comes Full Circle
Tucked into the bucolic southern end of Hood Canal, the Dalby Water Wheel powered Seattle cable cars before relocating in the 1940s and still revolves as if a fairy tale is going to unfold at any moment.
15. Shout Into a Repurposed Nuclear Plant
They called it WPPSS, pronounced “whoops”—the Washington Public Power Supply System, which lived up to its nickname when most of its -nuclear power plants were mothballed before they were ever turned on. Two hourglass-shaped cooling towers, 500 feet tall, sat empty in a small town between Olympia and Aberdeen until the space became the Satsop Business Park. Turns out there’s a lot you can do with a seismically stable chunk of land (you don’t build nuclear power plants on shaky sites) with a lot of big buildings and gobs of fiber-optic bandwidth to sell.
Today it includes an Overstock.com call center and a grow facility for the state’s largest marijuana company, among other businesses. Fire crews practice in the dark, thousand-foot tunnels that snake between the never-used nuclear power plant buildings, and the iconic towers—vast, echoing, and apocalyptic—have appeared in a Transformers film.
But the coolest use of the defunct plant has to be Ron Sauro’s. The former NASA scientist built his acoustic testing lab in what was going to be the turbine building. The five-foot concrete walls give him the largest, quietest sound chamber in North America (second quietest in the world, he says), allowing for precise measurements.
Because the site gets more curious visitors than the normal business park, Satsop is holding free public tours this year, with outings on August 10 and 22 and October 27; hollering into the empty cooling tower chambers for an epic echo is included.
16. Gauge Sky-High Rainwater
The 1926 Lake Quinault Lodge shows off Olympic greenery in the best light— president Franklin Roosevelt ate here and, bam, nine months later declared it a national park. Its chimney boasts a totem-pole-shaped rain gauge that measures precipitation in feet, not inches.
17. The Precarious Beauty of the Kalaloch Tree
The sandy beach beneath one Sitka spruce tree’s roots on the Olympic National Park coast has almost completely eroded away, earning the Kalaloch Campground sentinel the nickname Tree of Life (and substantial Instagram fame). No one knows how long the massive trunk can stay suspended on its remaining earthbound tendrils, but every year or so a rumor goes around that it’s been toppled by the battering coastal winds. Fake news! (For now, at least.)
18. Nobody’s too Cool for Twilight
Nothing is as eternal as vampires and a little bit of fame, so the one-stoplight town of Forks has memorialized its book and movie notoriety with a gallery of Twilight artifacts bought at auction. That means that the dirt on the Harley motorcycle is the actual soil kicked up by star Taylor Lautner and the jorts worn by Sam Uley are…uh, the actual jorts worn by the actor who played Sam Uley. The memorabilia are on display at the Rainforest Arts Center or by request from the visitor center staff when Rainforest is closed.
19. Witness Ancient Ruins
Ozette Village is the Olympic Peninsula’s own Pompeii, likely buried in a 1700 landslide triggered by a 9.0 earthquake (i.e., one of the “big ones” that make us avoid the Seattle viaduct). A Makah community, one that predates outsider contact, was encased in mud on the remote northern Pacific coast until a storm peeled it away in 1970. More than 50,000 artifacts, from harpoons to iron blades salvaged from ship detritus, were unearthed by an archaeological crew; hundreds are on display at Neah Bay’s Makah Cultural and Research Center. Tread lightly in Ozette—items still emerge to this day.
20–22. Waterfall Windfall
Across the Peninsula
The Olympics are a waterfall mecca, thanks to the prolific rain. Many are well signed and easy to find, but the best cascades take a little sleuthing.
Wander off Highway 113 two miles north of Sappho for the wide, multifingered Beaver Creek Waterfall; it isn’t marked but is across from the Beaver Falls Quarry sign, only a few yards down a makeshift trail. Farther south, it takes a wetter walk—a hike followed by a few hundred yards of wading—to reach the 70-foot, two-tiered pillar of Spoon Creek Falls, not far from Lake Wynoochee.
For the real waterfall jackpot, commit to two days of backpacking through the Enchanted Valley on Olympic National Park’s southern end. Also called the Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls, it is bordered by steep green mountainsides that trickle water past a boarded-up chalet from 1931. Also: The valley is riddled with black bears; they don’t stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. http://olympicpeninsulawaterfalltrail.com
23. The Hot Springs Return
Olympic National Park
It’s almost as if someone out there didn’t want people to reach the remote, natural Olympic Hot Springs: Not only was the access route closed on and off during the Elwha dam removals, bridges and road sections keep washing away. But the national park expects the road and 2.4-mile trail to be in good shape by midsummer—if both stars and construction crews align.
24. All Hail the Restored Salmon
Just three years after the biggest dam removal project in American history, fish are returning—slowly—to the unblocked Elwha River, and visitors can stand on platforms that once formed the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam to peer deep into a roaring waterway through a rocky gorge.
25. An Expedition for Hidden Bunkers
Andy Audette is an explorer —the old-school kind, one who seeks out local legends and believes them, then goes on expeditions to see for himself. In a red beanie and forest green wool sweater, he’s a landlocked Jacques Cousteau moving through the damp Olympic woods. Every time he hears a tall tale about a cool artifact or strange structure down a logging road or off trail, he follows up. “Sometimes it’s nothing. But sometimes there is something there.”
There’s definitely something here, on a late spring morning when Audette leads me a few miles into the brush of a county park northeast of Port Angeles. He works nights at Mervin Manufacturing (see #1), which means he has all day to explore. We’ve reached a concrete bunker built into a hillside that falls abruptly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca; the green-on-green-on-green Olympic vegetation has turned the blocky military structure into a lost temple of the Amazon. Copper-colored metal bars block the entrance, but someone’s sawed out a two-foot section. This feels exactly like one of the good episodes of Lost.
Audette ducks low to slip through the hole, pursued by his purse-sized Yorkshire terrier, Todd (“I like people names,” shrugs Todd’s owner). He remembers there being bats in this bunker, so he heads excitedly into the pitch-black tunnel, a maze of concrete rooms revealed by his headlight.
The Olympics are chock full of old military installations, dating back to when World War and Cold War enemies were just across the Pacific. The gun turrets and watchtowers and ammo depots guarded Puget Sound, home of the nation’s third-biggest naval complex. But while the big batteries at Fort Flagler and Fort Worden retired into preserved historical parks, complete with mowed grass and guardrails, the rest of the peninsula is littered with discarded old bunkers and ammunition depots. Until Audette took me to three of his favorites, I had no idea there were relics so concealed that hikers five feet away would never know they’re there.
“The harder they are to get to, the more thoughtful the graffiti,” says Audette as we venture further underground. Our headlamps trace the vandalism: Racial slurs and the usual genitalia near the entrance give way to a row of spray-painted flowers and what looks like Slimer from Ghostbusters sporting a mushroom hat. Someone’s scrawled, “You are loved” on one wall; another reads inscrutably, “Spew your froggies.” Audette points out a multicolored “Gnu” tag, a brand of snowboard made where he works.
I’m tense, following Todd’s bouncy gait, waiting for the bats to swarm, but they’ve abandoned the bunker like the soldiers who came before them. Audette pops down a trapdoor in the floor, eager to survey something new. Just a storage space, he concludes, complete with rat nest.
Audette has found more than a dozen of these old structures in his wanderings, his rampant curiosity complementing a cheerful disregard for trespassing.
It’s hardly plumbing the depths for fortune and glory—there’s little left but battered iron artifacts—but poking around a dark, slightly trashed bunker makes me feel a little like Indiana Jones. Mostly it’s the renewed sense of possibility, of realizing that the wooded coast holds more secrets than I’d ever guessed. It’s the same for Audette, who’s only emboldened by each discovery. “As many of these as I’ve found, I know there’s more.”