The News From N.O.A.A.

It was another tough week in the news. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration threatened further restrictions on salmon fishing from California north to the Canadian border. These new proposals are the result of NOAA conducting a risk assessment under the Endangered Species Act.

They evaluated the impact of fisheries on West Coast chinook salmon abundance and its effect on the designated critical habitat of the endangered southern resident orca of Puget Sound.

Recent research has revealed where and when the orca forage and their preferred prey.

Studies have shown their summer diet in inland waters consists primarily of chinook salmon.

Despite the increasing rarity of this species, chinook compose 50 percent of the orca diet in the fall, increasing to 70-80 percent in winter and increasing still more to 100 percent of their diet in the spring. Insufficient prey has been identified as a limiting factor in orca recovery.

To ensure the orca have enough chinook salmon, NOAA has proposed limiting commercial and recreational fishing when chinook numbers fall below a certain level of abundance that would provide prey for the orca.

While removing the Snake River dams to increase chinook salmon for the orca is not entirely off the negotiating table, it might as well be.

We need look no further than the Elwha for perspective. Our local $350 million Elwha Dam removal experiment has stalled in the attempt to produce the projected 400,000 salmon this environmentalist pipe dream foretold.

The estimated $1 billion spent on salmon restoration in Washington in the last 20 years has been largely squandered on grant-sucking, make-work projects, gratuitous research and public education that attempts to spin this failure into a plea for more money.

Attempts to increase hatchery production of chinook salmon for the orca have been hamstrung by environmentalist attorneys who sue the state to shut down fish hatcheries under the misguided assumption that, after 100 years of fish hatcheries, hatchery fish and their feral progeny that make up our so-called wild fish populations are somehow different species.

Meanwhile, the western United States is experiencing the worst drought in the last 1,200 years.

For the first time in 114 years, the canal that sends Klamath River water to irrigate 150,000 acres of farms in Oregon and California will stay completely dry this summer — which has ignited protests from armed, right-wing activists who are threatening to take control of the irrigation canals.

So, it is no wonder NOAA wants to stop us from fishing for chinook salmon. It is a simple solution to a complex problem. For example, an April 18 Peninsula Daily News article revealed that the recreational fisheries chinook quota “along the entire Washington coast” was 26,360 fish last year.

Meanwhile, in the same year the Alaska trawler fleet had an eerily familiar bycatch of 26,000 chinook salmon.

These fish, which are celebrated every spring in Seattle for $75 a pound, cannot be sold.

They are donated or thrown overboard. Trawlers drag huge nets through the water indiscriminately killing everything in their path in a process known as strip mining the ocean.

The trawlers are targeting pollock used in making fake crab meat and the McDonalds Filet-O-Fish sandwich, a favorite inexpensive meal of humans.

McDonald’s is able to keep its price on the fish sandwich low by keeping the wages of their workers so low that they qualify for government-sponsored benefits, such as Medicaid and Food Stamps.

While NOAA turns a blind eye to the trawler bycatch to bolster the federal policy of subsidizing the fast-food industry, it will stop us from catching salmon to eat.

Have a nice day.

Fun on the Farm

E ery year along about this time, I think about the good old days.

That was back when the Olympic Peninsula lowlands were filled with farms.

Children were considered farm machinery.

There were many fine farm careers to choose from.

I couldn’t wait get started.

You could buck hay bales. There was a career that would put some meat on your bones.

You’d spend the day trotting alongside a flatbed truck, bucking bales up to the stacker, who piled the bales up to impossible heights that would sometimes fall right back in the field when the driver popped the clutch, scattering the bales back all over the ground where we had to load them back on the truck all over again.

Then you’d rest up on the trip to the barn, where you stacked the bales once more until you knew each one of them by name.

Or you could move irrigation pipe, where you packed lengths of aluminum pipe across endless fields of boot-sucking muck from one end to another, spending the rest of the day trying to get the water pump started.

Or you could pick strawberries.

That seemed like easy money at the time — to start out early on a summer morning, gorging down endless rows of perfectly ripe berries.

That was strawberry heaven.

Until your guts started gurgling like a living thing, which started the endless trips to the outhouse, where you spotted a sucker-punching buddy from school who nailed you in the head with a rotten berry.

You could get fired for berry fights. Which meant no dough for the things you needed for a happy childhood — fireworks.

You didn’t want to get caught throwing berries.

Revenge could wait.

There would be many trips to the outhouse those first couple of days of berry picking, until you were so sick of berries you’d just as soon chew on a dirt clod.

As luck would have it, the boss kept all the boys picking together where he could keep a close eye on them.

For some reason, the other guy’s row of berries always seemed to be a little riper, with more of the really big strawberries that could fill up your boxes faster.

You only got paid for the berries you picked.

There were 12 boxes to a flat, which was a wooden box you pushed along the rows of berries.

You got paid a dollar a flat, as I remember.

Big money in those days.

One day just for fun, I made up a special strawberry box, half full of rocks covered with a thin layer of berries that I exchanged with my friend while he was visiting the facilities.

It was a dirty trick, but Franz had it coming.

As the day in the berry field wore on, your back began to ache from the constant strain of bending.

Your knees were raw from crawling down the endless rows.

Sometimes the gastric distress kept you dashing for the outhouse.

That was the bad news.

The good news was it was the only shade in the field.

After what seemed like all day, it was quitting time.

That’s when everyone got paid — except for me and Franz.

The boss gave us a stern talking to instead.

It seems we both played the same rock trick on each other —proving crime does not pay.

I went on to pick many other crops after that, berries, beans and peas.

I made a small fortune, which was immediately invested in fireworks.

Now the farms, the farmers and Franz are gone, and I miss the heck out of them.

Searching for Solitude.

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Now that the tourists are here, it’s easy to see why we put a season on them in the first place.

From the acidified ocean to the melting glaciers and the majestic rain forests in between, the Olympic Peninsula has seen an unprecedented invasion of tourists searching for solitude in a pristine wilderness — while waiting in line for ferries, burgers, ice cream and National Park entrances.

Here in Washington, it’s illegal to bait waterfowl and bears, but baiting the tourists with tall tales has been a proud Peninsula tradition since the first European arrived on our shores.

These early tourists all had one thing in common. No one believed them when they got back home.

The Strait of Juan de Fuca was named after a tourist who may or may not have actually been here.

The Greek navigator Apostolos Valerianus, who went by the name of Juan de Fuca, claimed that in 1592 he found an inlet on the Pacific coast in which he sailed for 20 days in a land rich in gold, silver and pearls.

The Spanish, English, Russian and American tourists spent the next 200 years looking for this mythical Northwest Passage, an imaginary shortcut across the continent to the treasures of the Orient.

It wasn’t until July 1787 that the first documented European tourists, Captain Charles Barkley and his wife, Francis, visited the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The results were catastrophic for the Native Americans, who regaled the subsequent invasion of European explorers and settlers with stories about how they never went into the Olympic Mountains because they were haunted by a tribe of hairy giant cannibals and a Thunderbird that was big enough to pluck whales out of the ocean and drop them on the glaciers to save them for later. Recent archaeological discoveries and tribal testimonies have shown that the Olympics were inhabited for thousands of years with camps and trails to villages all through the mountains.

Obviously, the Native Americans wanted to keep the Olympics for themselves.

Our pioneer forefathers had their own ideas about baiting tourists.

They said all you had to do was push a boat up the Elwha River far enough, and you’d find a lake and a prairie and maybe even some Indians that still hunted buffalo.

Hearing this tall tale, the Press Expedition of 1898 wasted no time in buying some green lumber from one of the pioneer forefathers to build a boat to find the lake.

The expedition wasted weeks building and pushing the leaky boat up the Elwha through the snow, ice and log jams.

Abandoning the boat, they discovered a camp of S’Klallam elk hunters with a big fire and elk quarters hanging.

The S’Klallam claimed they knew nothing about the upper Elwha country, confirming the usual story that no Indian would ever venture up there.

However, there is no doubt that, by then, the news had traveled through the moccasin telegraph about the white man wiping out the buffalo, and the locals didn’t want the same thing to happen to the elk. That would come later.

Throughout the early 1900s, the locals told the tourists of the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered in the Olympics.

Mountains, streams and lakes were named after the gold, silver, iron copper and coal you were sure to find if you had enough venture capital. Promotions like these put Tull City on the map.

These days tourists are lured to the Peninsula searching for solitude on a crowded planet — with thousands of their closest friends.

It’s the end of the last frontier.

The Fate of the Fish Ducks.

 For some, the New Year begins on Jan. 1. Out on our rivers, the new year begins with the emergence of the baby salmon from the gravel they were planted in last fall.

This is a cause for celebration.

After a century of over-fishing, pollution, environmental destruction and government policies that doom them to extinction, it’s not a question of what happened to the salmon, but why is there one salmon left?

The fact that the salmon have survived volcanoes, ice ages and the invention of nylon testifies to just how hard it’s been to eliminate this most important element in our ecosystem, the salmon.

Most everyone is familiar with the water cycle: how water evaporates from our ocean to form clouds that travel inland to drop water, forming rivers that flow back into the ocean.

The salmon cycle operates in the same way — exchanging energy from the ocean to the mountains and back, sustaining all life along the river, from the smallest bug to the largest tree with the spawned-out remains of their bodies.

That cycle is just beginning now.

Little schools of these tiny fish are wiggling out of the rocks to swim through the shallows on their years-long journey to the ocean and back during which everything wants to eat them.

Starting with the mergansers.

The male merganser, with his green head and large white belly, looks like a drake mallard. Instead of having a duck bill like a mallard, the merganser has a pointed, serrated beak they use to catch fish. Their feet are located toward the rear of the bird for maximum underwater propulsion.

Even the white belly is a form of camouflage that makes the bird difficult for the fish to see from below.

In comparison, female mergansers look like something the cat drug in.

She’s a boring brown, black and grey with a pathetic little red crest on top.

She’s built to blend in. She’ll be making her nest in a hollow of a cottonwood tree while the male migrates to Alaska with his pals to take care of his feathers.

Once the chicks hatch, they have to hit the ground running for the river that’s high from melting snow, where everything wants to eat them.

This is a well-disciplined brood that sometimes rides down the rapids on their mother’s back.

The chicks grow up fast on a diet of regurgitated fish.

Eventually, the mother will teach her chicks to hunt fish by swimming along with their heads under water looking for prey — a practice that some uncharitable bird watchers compare to texting while driving.

I once saw a mother merganser with 21 chicks. While the numbers of baby mergansers hatched by their mothers in a given year may not be an indication of the health of a salmon population on a salmon river, it will have to do until a better method comes along.

Twenty years ago, it was not uncommon to see a mother fish duck with a dozen or more chicks. This year, merganser broods are averaging about four or five. With the salmon gone, the animals and birds that depended on them are going away, too.

The forest itself is malnourished without the fertilization the spawned-out salmon carcasses provide.

Then, there is the human cost of the extinction of the salmon.

Much like the elimination of the mergansers, the extinction of the salmon has largely eliminated the culture of fishing among the people who depended on salmon for their food and livelihood.

With the salmon gone, people who fish for them could share the unfortunate fate of the fish ducks.

Clam Fever.

I don’t knowwhat made me say I was the fastest clam digger in the west. It must have been the COVID-induced cabin fever talking.

Unfortunately, exchanging cabin fever for clam fever is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease.

For the first and possibly the last time this year, razor clam digging was approved after marine toxin tests showed the clams were safe to eat — causing a massive clam rush to the coast, where, in an average year, over a more than a million people throng to the beach to get their clam fix.

It’s a clam party with thousands of your closest friends all looking for the same thing, the majestic razor clam.

Betting who can dig the first limit of 15 razor clams is not illegal, but it should be. Gambling by its very nature cheapens the adventurous spirit of clamming, and it really sucks to lose.

There are many different theories on how to dig razor clams.

Some use a shovel. Others employ a clam gun, which is a tube you push in the sand and pull out with a clam inside, hopefully. Both methods involve back-breaking labor.

Razor clams move with surprising speed in wet sand by extending their foot or digger, then flattening it out like an anchor. The clam pulls itself down to its anchor while pumping sand and water out its siphon and repeats the process, digging down at a rate that is faster than some people can dig with a shovel, given the conditions.

Sometimes it’s a challenge to match wits with a clam until you remember it has no brain.

When you find yourself laying on a tide flat with your arm in a hole in the sand, feeling around for a clam that is not there, it can hurt to realize you have been defeated and outsmarted by a creature with no central nervous system. Which makes perfect sense in the evolutionary scheme of things.

Bi-valves have been around since the Cambrian Era more than 500 million years ago. By comparison, modern humans appeared on the evolutionary tree only a couple of hundred thousand years ago.

Do the math. This whole time the clams have been evolving into stronger, smarter and faster organisms with complex abilities to survive in a hostile environment.

Watch the news. Humans seem to be evolving into weaker, slower and dumber creatures with each passing year.

It takes a sophisticated evolutionary tool kit to dig a razor clam. You must dodge the full fury of the ocean surf in hopes of spotting the faintest dimple in the sand that reveals the presence of the elusive razor clam.

Spotting the clam and digging them are two different things.

As the wave retreats, you have only a little time before the next one crashes in.

You must spot the clam and dig like a banshee with the roar of the surf at your back until you’ve dug as deep as you dare.

Then you reach down into the hole to grab the fleeing clam that is digging downward at a rate that is unbelievable to anyone but a clam digger.

With luck, you grab the shell of the retreating clam, maybe with only a thumb and forefinger.

There you struggle with the clam as it tries to dig to China.

It’s usually at this point that another wave approaches.

You must grab the clam and go, or continue to hold on and face the unpleasant consequences of lying in the sand in the surf.

It’s the only cure for clam fever.

Answering Tourist Questions.

Springtime must be my favorite time of year on the Olympic Peninsula. When uncounted millions of birds fly north along our coast to their remote arctic nesting grounds. All of which signals the start of another migration to our shores, the American tourist.

Don’t panic. Please remember but for the grace of God we could all be tourists, too.

These people have suffered through hundreds, if not thousands, of miles of travel through an aging infrastructure, braving long lines waiting for airplanes, ferries and road construction while enduring seasonally adjusted fuel prices as they flood our area in a never-ending pursuit of solitude.

Inevitably, our tourists will have many questions.

This can provide all of us an opportunity to act as ambassadors of good will for the tourist industry by providing our visitors with accurate, up-to-the-minute information on the recreational opportunities available in this emerald green paradise we call home.

How you do this is anyone’s guess. I charge the tourists $5 per question, but then again, I am a professional.

Here is a sampling of some real-life questions posed by real-life tourists.

The most popular one seems to be:

• “Where are the restrooms?” This is a sensitive subject.

One person’s comfort station is another’s toxic waste dump. Given the infrequency with which our public toilets are maintained, it’s sometimes best to just hand the tourist a shovel and tell them our restrooms are as big as all outdoors.

• “Do I need a permit?” Yes. Here in Washington, it’s legal to get married if you’re gay or smoke marijuana, but chances are you cannot get out of your car to use the restroom without one of the many permits required to be on public land.

• “Is the weather always like this?” Another popular question that gives the locals the opportunity to reassure the tourists that they are always right.

Of course, our weather never changes. It’s like this all the time except when it’s not.

• “When is the tide?” A particularly confusing question from confused individuals who obviously have no idea that the tide goes in and out twice a day.

Tides are confusing to many tourists because they have never seen an ocean, and they have no idea that it is constantly changing like that other mystery, the weather.

Knowing the tides is particularly important when hiking along the beach.

Two tourists figured that out just last week when they were stranded by a high tide and had to have the Coast Guard pluck them off a cliff north of the Hoh River.

They had neglected to pick up the free tide chart provided by the Olympic National Park at the trailhead. Duh.

• “What kind of clothes should I wear?” This question is a cry for help.

Fluorescent orange fashions are a good choice for tourists. It makes it easier for search and rescue to find them once they get lost.

The downside is that the innumerable nests of hornets and yellow jackets that swarm our recreational wonderland every summer seem drawn to bright colors — making it wise to choose a more muted fashion statement. You were warned.

• “Are the bears and cougars dangerous?” Yes. Extremely. But your chances of being attacked by bears and cougars are about the same as being hit by chunks of space junk. Be very afraid.

• “When is the fishing good?” Hard to say, but generally the best fishing occurs the week before you get here and the week after you leave.

Then there is my favorite tourist question of all time:

“Why do the loggers wear suspenders?”

This mystery has never been solved.

Understanding Our Fishing Regulations.

“When does the river open?” The tourist angler asked after I told him the river was closed.

He was standing knee-deep in trouble, casting away in a river closed to fishing.

I informed him that every angler in Washington has the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, then you probably can’t afford to go fishing.

I have spent many years trying to understand the logic of Washington’s fishing regulations in an attempt to translate them into English. It’s every angler’s duty to obey our fishing regulations, but you have to know what they are to begin with.

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what the fishing laws were, I could afford to go where the fishing is as good as it was here in the olden days. That would be in Chile. Where they took our salmon, planted them in rivers that did not previously have salmon and managed them with a degree of intelligence that’s unavailable in Washington state.

Chile allows enough salmon to escape upstream to spawn and keep the runs alive.

This is a foreign concept in Washington, where we have eliminated the most important single element of our river’s ecosystems, the spawned-out carcasses of salmon that feed everything from the tiniest insect to the largest tree in an energy exchange from the mountains to the sea and back again.

Instead of rebuilding this lost biomass to bring back our salmon runs, we build log jams as an excuse for salmon restoration.

The way we manage our salmon is a cycle of abuse.

Alaska catches fish bound for British Columbia.

B.C. catches fish bound for Washington.

Meanwhile, people in Washington get fed up with the poor fishing and go up to Alaska, to catch fish trying to swim back here.

Every winter, the state of Washington and the 29 Treaty Tribes of Washington get together for the mysterious “North of Falcon Meeting.”

These top-secret meetings divide the predicted runs of paper salmon returning to Washington between competing groups of tribal, commercial and sport fishers who can only agree on one thing, banning the other person’s gear.

These secret negotiations that set the salmon seasons are based on a theory that the fish that spawn naturally in a river and fish raised in a hatchery are two different species.

It’s a theory based on a misconception.

In fact, the National Marine Fisheries service has determined that, after a 120 years of releasing hatchery fish in Washington, there is no significant difference genetically between hatchery-reared fish and the so-called wild fish which are likely to be the feral offspring of hatchery fish.

Still, the hatchery fish and wild fish are treated as two different species in our fishing laws.

This inane dichotomy contributes to the extinction of our salmon.

Hatchery salmon are routinely subjected to the brutal, inhumane clipping of their adipose fins to identify them.

Any hatchery fish that are unclipped are simply released with their fins unclipped — where they are suddenly considered “wild fish.”

Catching and releasing numerous unclipped hatchery fish to catch and keep a clipped hatchery fish endangers our salmon.

The released fish feed the hungry seals that follow fishing boats around for an easy meal.

Anglers should just keep the first fish they catch instead of inadvertently killing bunches of fish to try to get a legal one.

It would make more sense to stop fin-clipping fish. It is a cruel, failed experiment.

Einstein said repeating a failed experiment while expecting different results is insanity.

Here in Washington, we call it our fishing regulations.

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.