An Earth Day Review.


How was your Earth Day? Many hoped it would lead to some progress in reducing the pollution of our planet’s air, water and soil.

It was once thought that, by using science and technology, we could clean up the industrial mess we have made with our science and technology. Instead, this year’s biggest scientific achievement would be flying a helicopter on Mars while we ignored our own dying planet.

Look at Hood Canal. This glacial fiord was once the most productive marine environment in the Pacific Northwest.

Hood Canal was once home to an inexhaustible bounty of oysters, clams, shrimp, crabs and bottom fish. The rivers that ran into Hood Canal were teeming with salmon, steelhead and sea-run cutthroat. Unfortunately, since that first Earth Day, we have turned parts of Hood Canal into dead zones. We are studying the problem.

Traveling west, we come to Discovery Bay. It was also once home to “inexhaustible” marine resources. Until it was used for a dumping ground for mill waste and undisclosed military waste then treated to a slipshod so-called restoration project that unleashed plumes of sulpheric acid and metal precipitate that heavily impacted formerly inexhaustible sea life.

Further west, we reach Dungeness Bay. Home of the famous Dungeness Crab, Dungeness Bay has fallen on hard times. Since that first Earth Day, much of the sea life of Dungeness Bay is either polluted, endangered or extinct. That means no more Dungeness Bay oysters or King salmon. Crabbing is closed most of the year. Even the clams are periodically unsafe to eat. In short, Dungeness Bay has outlived its usefulness.

Coincidentally, real estate prices around Dungeness Bay have never been higher. If the bay is too toxic for sea life, a cost-benefit analysis indicates the highest and best use would be to fill in the bay, pave and short plat it as an age 55 and older retirement community.

West of Dungeness, we come to what was once called “False Dungeness” or Port Angeles. After over a century of being used as an industrial dumping ground where heavy rains can still wash raw sewage into the harbor, we are studying possible cleanup scenarios, someday.

West of Port Angeles, we find the largest man-made structure on the Olympic Peninsula, a pyramid made of garbage. In the bad old days of the first Earth Day, we threw our garbage off a cliff into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Then we burned it. Now we truck our garbage to Tacoma, railroad it to the Columbia, barge it upriver to eastern Oregon, where we truck it out to the desert and throw it off a cliff. That’s progress for you.

West of the Port Angeles pyramid, we come to the biggest environmental movement this place has ever seen, the removal of the Elwha Dams. Experts told us that, once the dams were removed, up to 400,000 salmon would magically appear. Yet other undammed rivers all across the Peninsula have lost their salmon populations. The fishing moratorium on the Elwha has been extended, an indication of the failed attempts at restoring this great river. Are there other factors besides dams that affect salmon survival? We don’t care.

Traveling west, we view clear cuts habitually sprayed with herbicides to eliminate anything that might compete with a future crop of trees.

Then we reach the acidified Pacific Ocean. A walk on any Pacific beach reveals a growing problem of plastic pollution from minute particles to giant blobs of Styrofoam.

The Pacific Ocean is too big to pave, but it is not too big for us to kill. Happy Earth Day.

Highway 101 Blues.

Thank you for reading this. Somebody must. Because when I mentioned in last week’s column that the Highway 101 bridge over the Hoh River was “the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula,” the pushback was immediate.

Competition for the scariest bridge on the Peninsula is intense, but the bridge over the Hamma Hamma River is a definite contender.

Maybe you don’t have to fold in your mirrors and grease the sides of your truck to cross that bridge in oncoming traffic, but it couldn’t hurt now that the tourist invasion is heating up.

While it is common to see massive RVs the size of battleships lumbering through our antique bridges, other vacationers take a minimalist approach.

They ride bicycles.

These brave souls travel the thin strip of asphalt between the white line on the edge of the road and bottomless brush-choked canyons unencumbered by any guardrails.

In Washington state, it’s interesting to note that bicycles have the same rights and responsibilities as cars — except for one major difference. It is currently legal to ride a bicycle while drunk. Although it should be noted that the police can take your bike if you are too drunk. Whatever that means.

I think it means you are riding your bike around Lake Crescent on U.S. Highway 101. Especially after the Spruce Railroad Trail on the north side of Lake Crescent was built to keep cyclists off this dangerous section of road.

Perhaps the strangest mode of tourist transportation was spotted last weekend on the high ground between the Bogachiel and Hoh rivers, where a pair of adventurers was seen headed south on the edge of the oncoming lane of U.S. Highway 101, pushing some heavily loaded shopping carts.

The intrepid pair was later spotted south of Kalaloch. Causing questions to be asked, such as, how did they make it across the Hoh River bridge?

It’s scary enough just driving a vehicle across that pioneer edifice.

Walking across that bridge is a death wish, but pushing a shopping cart? Pushing a shopping cart while drunk must be legal in Washington, too.

Just last February, a California man carved a whole new chapter in the history of that bridge while performing a daredevil feat that we can only hope will not be soon repeated.

The man was traveling north on U.S. Highway 101 sometime during the night.

He missed the Hoh River bridge entirely, blew through the guard rail and went airborne for 260 feet, almost across the Hoh River, landing on all four wheels, upright in a foot of water, 60 feet under the bridge.

Fortunately, the individual was wearing a seat belt. Even so, the stunt put him in the Harborview trauma center.

The State Patrol said the cause of the wreck was, “speed too fast for conditions.” Duh.

Rumors that this stunt was part of a fishing video I was filming when the chute failed to deploy were nothing more than hurtful gossip spread by other guides who didn’t think of it first.

South of the Hoh River bridge, U.S. Highway 101 snakes its way through mud flows and swamps until it reaches the Pacific Ocean.

To build that road back in 1927, equipment was landed at the mouth of the Hoh River. Crews had to dynamite their way south through the rocks to begin work at Ruby Beach.

In August 1931, what was then called the Olympic Loop Highway was completed.

The fact that we could build this engineering marvel with hand labor and antique machinery during the Great Depression begs the question: Why can’t we maintain that road with our modern technology now?

Olympic Peninsula Driving Guide continued.

In last week’s episode, we were hurtling west of Port Angeles and, having crossed the Elwha Bridge, headed west on U.S. Highway 101. This bridge is yet another unintended consequence of the Elwha Dam Removal experiment. This liberated Elwha was freed to erode the footings of the antique bridge that had never quite reached bedrock.

A March 2018 Forks Forum article described Department of Transportation plans to rebuild the bridge in 2020 before something bad happened like, say, a log jam like the one currently piled up against the Sol Duc bridge on Mora Road.

Out and out failure of the Elwha Bridge would have left state Highway 112 the only route to the west end of the Peninsula. Until last winter’s mudslides destroyed what amounted to the paved elk trail we knew as Highway 112.

The other not-for-the-faint-hearted detour would have been the paved goat path along the eastern shore of Lake Crescent, which formerly connected highways 101 and 112. Until a forest fire showered the road with rock slides so it’s been closed with no clear date of reopening.

Leaving the labyrinth of logging roads through the uplands between the Twin Rivers and Bear Creek as a last possible link to the West End of the Peninsula in the case of emergency.

But you made it across the Elwha Bridge, arriving at the shores of beautiful Lake Crescent. Completed in 1922, the road around the lake is in the best shape of its 100-year history. A recent rebuild finds the road around Lake Crescent a dreamy drive on a fresh carpet of smooth asphalt. People still crash their cars here anyway. They’ve watched too many car commercials of people stump-jumping through the wilderness and splashing through creeks and … bam.

West of Lake Crescent, get ready for another driving adventure. One of the more popular tourist questions is, “How many bridges are there over the Sol Duc River?” Visitors can think they’re trapped in a Groundhog Day vacation loop. No matter how many Sol Duc bridges there are, each of these antique structures can provide all the thrills any driver could want.

Driving across a Sol Duc bridge behind a line of tourist traffic feels like you’re a hog in a chute. Then you meet a log truck, monster RV and Lowboy tractor trailer while trying to miss the platter-sized chuckholes. After which, our visitor will want to stop in Forks, kiss the ground, get an apple fritter and move on.

South of Forks, one encounters an eroded landscape of Pleistocene clay deposits. These remains of the continental ice sheet are worthless for anything but ruining your day. Unstable at any temperature or moisture content, the clay oozes downhill, taking the road with it when you least expect it.

Eventually, the persevering driver is rewarded with a new bridge crossing the Bogachiel River. The old one fell in the river. Confirming the locals’ belief that it’s the only way we can get a new bridge out here in the West End. Remember to always check to see if a bridge is still there before you cross it.

South of the Bogachiel, we are treated with stunning views of Mount Olympus and the Hoh River Valley, which means crossing the Hoh River Bridge. This was voted by me to be the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula.

Built in 1931, the Hoh River Bridge was the final link in the Olympic Loop highway that we now call 101. Traffic has gotten heavier and faster since 1931. The Hoh River Bridge, like the glaciers on Mount Olympus, seems to be shrinking. More next week.

Olympic Peninsula Driving Guide.

The signs of summer are all around.

The roar of the lawn mower, the stench of burning charcoal and the seasonal spike in gasoline prices tell us vacation time will soon be here.

All of which means an influx of the dreaded tourist traffic.

Some are scurrying back to the rat race. Others are headed west in search of solitude in God’s country.

Unfortunately, God let people in it.

Many of these people are tourists who drive almost as bad as the locals.

At times like these, you need an Olympic Peninsula driving guide.

The Olympic Peninsula is a peninsula.

Surrounded on three sides by treacherous bodies of water.

You can approach from the south on roads that are more like paved elk trails that wind around in circles like a hound dog chasing a squirrel, or tempt fate and cross the water on a ferry and a bridge that can involve many hours of waiting in line.

It doesn’t matter.

Tourists come here from all over the country to clog up our roads.

Some are in a tremendous hurry with a powerful urge to pass the car in front of them, so they can get behind another car that has 25 more cars ahead of it.

Other tourists are in no hurry at all. They drive 15 mph under the speed limit, while testing their brakes.

All tourists fast and slow fear the king of the road, the log truck.

“They think they own the road!” I heard a tourist sob.

Do the math. A log truck weighs 90,000 pounds. You don’t. Pull over and let them by.

Sometimes the greatest challenge drivers face are the roads themselves.

The speed limits can go from 60 mph to 40 mph to 55 mph in just a few miles.

Fortunately, our State Patrol is usually on hand at one of their many usual and accustomed speed traps to help remind us of the speed limit.

Once you’ve figured out the speed limit, you’re ready for the next challenge — road construction.

Much of the road construction on the Olympic Peninsula is road destruction.

Between Sequim and Port Angeles, they are ripping up the road to replace the culverts on two creeks so salmon can theoretically migrate upstream, if they ever decide to come back.

Continuing west, we come to the most dangerous corner on the Olympic Peninsula, the Morse Creek hill.

It’s actually a long curve where 250 collisions have occurred between 2007 and 2019.

They’re putting a concrete median around the curve this spring, so that should make it safer.

Now if we could only fix the drivers.

West of Port Angeles, we come to a fork in the road where state Highway 112 takes off west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or used to, until last winter’s mudslides closed this vital link to Cape Flattery.

So, go left at the junction down U.S. Highway 101, where you will soon come to another dangerous trouble spot, the Elwha River Bridge.

It’s on a nasty corner with a history of horrendous wrecks.

To add to the drama, the foundation is being eroded since the removal of the Elwha Dams.

Remember to always check to see if there is still an Elwha River bridge before you try and cross it.

As we shall see later, this simple precaution could possibly save you from a watery grave — but more next week.

West of the Elwha, we come to beautiful Lake Crescent, where the road around the lake was just rebuilt.

Enjoy, because the farther west you get, the worse the road gets.

To be continued