Things Could be Worse.

Recently, we described the deterioration of our antique transportation infrastructure on the Olympic Peninsula. State Highway 112 was closed by landslides and there are no plans to permanently fix it. U.S. Highway 101 is down to one lane of traffic with no apparent plans to fix it.

Many of our bridges are approaching their centennial.

It’s ironic that these roads and bridges were built around the period of our history known as The Great Depression — also known as the greatest economic downturn in our nation’s history, with mass unemployment, monetary deflation and social upheaval that affected every country in the world.

Since then, our technology has evolved from the age of steam power to the time of diesel, hydraulics and computerized everything, where we reach for the stars with spaceships and satellites while we ignore our roads and bridges on Earth.

Now, as we approach one of the biggest travel holidays of the year, Memorial Day, we have only to look back a few years to consider that things could be worse. The recently republished classic, “Trails and Trials of the Pioneers of the Olympic Peninsula, State of Washington,” was originally compiled by the Humptulips Pioneer Association in 1959. It was reprinted in 2021 by Jane Castleberry and the Lake Quinault Historical Museum. The book describes the difficulties of traveling the Peninsula in the good old days.

Leaving Seattle on the Steamer “Garland” on a Sunday in August 1897, the Ben Northrup family arrived in Clallam Bay the following day.

Unloading their wagon and horses to pull it, they hit the muddy trail through the wilderness that would eventually take them to Forks.

There was trouble on the way. The wagon wheels kept falling apart and had to be pounded back together with rocks.

At some point on the trail over Burnt Mountain, now known as state Highway 113, the wagon and most of the family’s possessions had to be abandoned.

Packing their blankets and provisions on horses, they continued their journey on foot, reaching Forks after two days of hard traveling.

Their journey was far from over.

They continued south of Forks on what was known as “The Pacific Trail.”

This was a road that the local pioneers began working on in 1892. At the time, the homesteaders could pay their taxes by working on the trail, and there was plenty of work to go around.

The ground of the West End of the Peninsula was so wet, people and animals would sink in the mud if they had to walk on a regular trail. And there was very little rock or gravel to cover the mud and no way to haul it. The Pacific Trail was built entirely of split cedar boards.

At one time, the trail ran from Forks to Moclips, with spurs branching off to remote homesteads on Goodman Creek, the upper Hoh River and Oil City, then up the Queets and Clearwater rivers. A small stretch of the Pacific Trail survives to this day just off the Upper Hoh Road, where it represents the oldest surviving roadway in Washington State. Which, for whatever reason, is not included in the National Register of Historic Places. But I digress.

Crossing the Hoh River, the family continued south to the Clearwater, where a horse that was packing a small child strapped to its back began sliding off a cliff. The horse was caught and drug up to the trail. The child was saved!

Upon arriving at Clearwater, they feasted on potatoes, rutabagas and carrots.

I often think of this while complaining about our modern roads.

 

The Olympic Peninsula Driving Guide: continued

In last week’s episode, we were traveling west on U.S. Highway 101 and had just successfully crossed the Elwha River bridge.

This antique structure’s foundation is being threatened by the Elwha Dam removal project.

It was intended to restore the estimated historic run of 400,000 salmon to the Elwha within 40 years, but predictably, that is not happening.

A five-year fishing moratorium was initially imposed, then extended to seven and then 10 years. The moratorium has again been reset to run until 2023, because the Elwha salmon are failing to utilize the restored habitat.

This is a common problem on the rest of our Peninsula rivers that were never dammed. Apparently, once salmon are extirpated from a stream, they typically fail to return because they are dead. We can only hope someone is studying the problem.

Once across the Elwha, we encounter another salmon restoration project blocking Highway 101, a new $36 million bridge to improve fish passage on Indian Creek, a tributary of the Elwha that drains Lake Sutherland.

After the initial Elwha dam removal in 2011, it took until 2017 for six coho salmon to make their way to Lake Sutherland — which gives you some idea of just how long it could take the Elwha to reach its imaginary goal of 400,000 fish, no matter how many millions we spend.

Never mind, we’ll continue west around Lake Crescent. Recently rebuilt, the road is smooth as a baby’s backside.

Further west, we encounter our next driving challenge, the Sol Duc River bridges, of which there are several — giving tourists the feeling that they are driving in circles.

No matter how many Sol Duc bridges there are, each can provide all the thrills any driver could want when encountering monster trucks and RVs hurtling like hogs in a chute while dodging dishpan-sized chuckholes.

With luck, our visitor arrives in Forks, where a temporary billboard warns of a “rough road for the next 35 miles.”

They aren’t kidding.

Giant cracks appear in the roadway. The edge of the road slumps into the canyon. At one point, Highway 101 is down to one lane with stop signs at either end causing stand-offs between motorists edging their way through the obstacle with flashing lights and using a variety of hand signals. Courtesy is advised.

When in doubt, do the math: A loaded log truck weighs around 90,000 pounds. You don’t.

Additional signs warn motorcycles to use caution, but caution would also be advised while driving an M-1 tank. Driving south of Forks is not unlike riding a bucking bronco. Hang on.

With luck, you’ll be crossing the Bogachiel bridge, built after the old one fell in the river — which is about the only time we’ll replace a bridge in this country.

South of the Bogachiel, we are treated with stunning views of Mount Olympus, but keep your eyes on the road. You’ll be crossing the Hoh River Bridge. This was voted, by me, to be the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula.

Built in 1931, during the Great Depression, the Hoh River Bridge was the final link in the Olympic Loop highway that we now call Highway 101.

Traffic has gotten heavier and faster since 1931, but we can’t seem to afford to fix the roads and bridges we built back then.

The Hoh River Bridge, like the glaciers on Mount Olympus, seems to be shrinking as the heavy equipment and RVs grow larger.

South of the Hoh, you are in for a rough ride with chuckholes and a mountain of clay oozing onto the roadway, until at last you leave the Peninsula and kiss the ground.

 

Olympic Peninsula Driving Guide

With the real and present danger of an imminent tourist invasion, it’s time once again for the Olympic Peninsula Driving guide.

Escaping Pugetopolis, you head west to endure a two or three hour wait to get on a ferry, because ferry crews are down 70 percent, due to reluctance to get vaccinated or pass a drug test, and the fact it is a tough, sea-faring job that entails a lot of responsibility. But let’s assume you make it across Puget Sound.

You cross the Hood Canal bridge without it unexpectedly closing. You dodge the Sequim elk and make it through Port Angeles without hitting a tweaker spinning in circles in a crosswalk.

Congratulations — but abandon hope as you head west. Your adventure begins as you cross the historic Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha River.

Built in 1926, the Elwha bridge is a survivor. The life span of a bridge is between 50 and 75 years and the Elwha bridge is approaching its centennial celebration. But no celebration is planned.

The Elwha bridge is part of a laundry list of collateral damage from the $325 million Elwha Dam Removal Project that includes a fishing closure, a resort, a rafting company, two National Park Service campgrounds, one private campground, two boat launches and the Olympic Hot Springs Road. It also includes two beautiful lakes, but never mind — it was the largest salmon habitat restoration in the country that was predicted to bring back 400,000 salmon to the river, someday.

Meanwhile, last November, the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha was closed completely as a precaution due to concerns about the foundation, which had never reached bedrock. This happened before.

Tom Aldwell failed to reach bedrock when constructing his dam on the Elwha in 1910. In 1912, as the reservoir filled, the dam failed and flooded the river, taking out a bridge just downstream, all of which sounds vaguely familiar.

A 2016 Peninsula Daily News article described how removing the Glines Canyon Dam endangered the Highway 101 bridge on the Elwha by lowering the riverbed 14 feet, which caused erosion around the foundation of the bridge.

That was the year a crack was found in one of the bridge piers. A tilt monitor was installed to keep an eye on it. A Department of Transportation spokesperson issued a disquieting assurance that as long as the bridge is open to traffic, it’s safe. I have always assumed that as long as the bridge is safe, it is open to traffic. Silly me.

A 2017 PDN article said the Elwha bridge replacement was fully funded and was expected to go out for bid in 2019. That didn’t happen.

In March 2018, a Forks Forum article described DOT plans to rebuild the bridge in 2020, before something bad happened.

The failure of the Elwha bridge would have left the paved elk trail we know as Highway 112 as the only route to the West End of the Peninsula. Ironically, that was one plan for a detour around the imaginary new Elwha bridge construction until last winter’s mudslides destroyed Highway 112

A Feb. 10, 2022, PDN article headlined, “No lasting state fix coming for Highway 112” revealed the roadway presents “a consistent problem” because it crosses a slide zone that is falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The article further states “there will be no repair of 112 until there is an increase in the gas tax.” Which is not happening.

Instead, we will purchase new imaginary electric ferries that nobody wants to work on.

Next Week: Abandon hope, all who drive west.

No Selfies in the Outhouse.

From our majestic melting glaciers to the acidified ocean, and all the scenic splendor in between, this year’s tourist migration seems even heavier than last year’s mob scene. While tourists keep the lights on, people can go crazy when they escape the city and enter the woods or the water.

I blame the media.

City folks watch nature shows telling them animals are just like people and some people are just too pushy for their own good.

They get too close, harassing animals that don’t like people.

The animal shows are punctuated with commercials showing SUVs plunging through streams, beaches and mountaintops like the world is their race track. All of which fosters the crazy idea that if we spend enough money and do crazy things in the wilderness, someone will like us on social media.

Even if it kills us.

The smartphone is an amazing gadget that has become the most important component of any modern vacation. It is as if you have to constantly take pictures of yourself on vacation to prove to the world that you really actually went somewhere and are having a wonderful time.

This same smartphone gets people into a lot of trouble every year. It can be easy to get lost in the woods while relying on a phone for navigation. Many hikers take a smartphone along on their journey instead of a map and a compass. Then for whatever reason, the weather, lack of coverage or dead batteries, the phone is useless, leaving the hiker with no idea where they are or how to signal for help.

Taking selfies can be self-destructive behavior. Such as the guy who fell off the edge of the 75-foot-high Sol Duc Falls taking a selfie a few years ago. At least someone got a video of it.

The Sol Duc Falls is much more than just an iconic National Park destination. Over the years, it’s been a tourist magnet, luring them like lemmings to the edge of the cliff, past the warning signs and over the safety railing where it does not go well.

On April 15, a guy, (why is it generally a guy?) climbed over the railing at the edge of the falls and wound up falling to the bottom, where he was trapped and suffering from hypothermia.

Other hikers called 9-1-1 and lowered supplies down to him with their shoe strings.

An amazing YouTube video shows him climbing out of the falls by sticking a pocket knife in a log and pulling himself up and out of the canyon five minutes before Search and Rescue teams arrived.

We don’t know if he got a selfie.

A week later, the Olympic Peninsula made the national news with a big story about a woman who got into a pile of trouble losing her phone in the outhouse on Walker Mountain.

While it is unknown at this time if she was taking a selfie, the Walker Mountain outhouse is among the most scenic sanitary facilities on the Olympic Peninsula.

Somehow, the phone was dropped into the outhouse.

The owner fell in after it trying to lower herself down with a dog leash to retrieve the phone. She obviously had not purchased the phone’s insurance but, points for style. Search and Rescue came to the rescue. They rescued the woman and recommended she seek medical attention.

Let’s review a couple of safety dos and don’ts for tourist season.

  • Do tell someone where you’re going and when you’ll get back.
  • Do take the 10 survival gear essentials on your wilderness trip.
  • Don’t take selfies in the outhouse.