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.