Not all is still around Lake Quinault. The Quinault Tribe controls the Lake, and the National Park borders the lake edge on the north. Some property owners, disgruntled with the measures the tribe enacted to protect the lake and salmon habitat, tried through legal wrangles to wrest control of the lake from the tribe and have Washington State take control. They failed. But the signs of protest remain fading along the road as we drove in to our retreat.
We were returning to a cabin we had not visited for over fifteeen years. Nothing had changed except there was evidence of maintenance work. That is a good thing since the cabin basically sits on a precipitous rock above the lake. (Onion Rock to be more exact. This rock is unique since seeds washed down from the upper Quinault River lodge in its crevices, and develop as an unusual botanical niche.)
Ownership of the resort changed hands in 2020. The previous owners had devoted forty years of time and money into upkeep, and persuaded Derek to buy the place. Derek is an Amazonian living in Seabrook on the coast, commuting to this idyllic spot. Lucky guy.
Once ensconced, is there any reason to leave. The light plays across the lake and hills in fascinating patterns and I can just sit on the porch, or the daybed, mesmerized by reflection.
Yet still water is very seductive. Put me in a rowboat, canoe or shell and I have found my bliss. There is something exquisite in the sound of a paddle or oar smoothly slipping through the water. No motion is wasted. Quietly you can skim across the surface leaving gentle ripples behind. Water birds hardly notice your progress. Only the loons cry maniacally (especially if a bald eagle is circling nearby.)
The headwaters of the Quinault River run through the Enchanted Valley. We only ventured 2.5 miles up that trail to the Pony Bridge, but others, walking sticks in hand, were striding up to spend nights in the wilderness area. A controversy has arisen over the Enchanted Valley Chalet, now on the National Register of Historic Places (2007). Originally built (13 miles up from the Graves Creek trailhead) in the the 1931 prior to the area designation as a National Park, it was used by hikers and those arriving on horseback. In need of repair, it was renovated in 1983-1984 and the building was moved back 75 feet from the eroding East Fork Quinault channel in 2014. Apparently it sits now just 8 feet from the bank. (according to the Willis Wall blog 6/2021). Devotees of the wilderness ethic want it to be left to deteriorate, and mulch the land. Those with history in mind, feel it should be preserved. These opposing sides also are in disagreement over the shelters still remaining along a few of the trails.
Having help to build an Adirondack shelter in Merck Forest (back when I was hanging out with the Student Conservation Corps), I have a great deal of respect for those who constructed shelters in remote spots as solid protection from the elements for hikers. Cutting down the timber, peeling the bark with a Timber Tuff, cutting notches with shark axes and and raising the logs, then roofing and shingling – this is labor intensive. Having hiked in some awful conditions, a shelter is so welcome when you are desperate to get out of a storm. But the Wilderness Watch sued the NP over plans to reconstruct some shelters, stating this would violate the “primeval character” of wild landscapes. Three historic preservation groups joined the litigation supporting the park. (The Kitsap Sun June 2016). The United States District Court for the Western District dismissed the lawsuit against the National Park Service. (National Trust for Historic Preservation, 12/6/16). Some footprints of people remain historic, even in the ”wild”. And besides, wilderness in this day is an artificial construct, useful, but artificial. Growler jets from Whidbey Island fly over the park (averaging 12 flights a day) with noise levels exceeding 100 decibels (National Parks Conservation Association Press release , 9/18/20). So wildness is relative from moment to moment…unfortunately.
And speaking of restoration of historic sites in the park, the old Kestner Homestead (dating from 1891) sits near the Ranger Station along the North Shore road and is undergoing some work to shore up the old beams and roof lines.
Yet warning signs state that you enter at your own risk due to shaky posts and rat shit…beware the plague! We avoided the rat droppings and sampled one of the remaining apples on the ancient orchard. From there the Maple Glade walk offers a gorgeous stroll underneath enormous maple trees clothed from roots to limbs in lush green epiphytes. The variety of green hues in this verdant grove is astounding. Another plus is that the trail is smooth, no boulder hopping, nor roots to trip you up. You can gaze up and up as you walk without fear of falling foolishly into the ferns. A web might snare you, but these are gossamer threads that offer no resistance.
A very different short (1.5) mile hike heads north from the North Shore road (just a mile from the Ranger Station) up to Irely Lake. This trail has many roots to cross before settling down along Irely Creek. Frogs may resent your intrusion, though they rarely are startled. Yet the end point is a quiet opening onto the small lake with remants of old trees standing like the broken masts of sunken ships.
A magical array of “Tinkerbells” greeted us along the shore…dragonflies of various colors hovered and circled around us. Tiny frogs climbed on a small floating branch to sun themselves, paying us little attention.
Driving along the South Shore Road, we pulled over to check out the World’s Largest Sitka Spruce (this is after all the Valley of the Rain Forest Giants) just adjacent to the Lake Quinault Resort…and then wandered over to the resort store/office. It is a hoot. All sorts of tourist attractions from Lake vista post-cards to Smoky The Bear stuffed toys complete with shovels. Much more fun than the Lake Quinault Lodge shop where the staff person looked like she was doing time. Admittedly the Lodge has the classic lobby with large stone fireplace…but who can enjoy it with Covid. Most guests were seated outdoors, scattered across the lawn eating take-out dinner from the lodge restaurant.
Closer to the cabins, we paddled over to a decent beach at the Quinault River outlet to the lake. I had spotted a black bear loping along the sand bar earlier, so we moved with caution up stream. Sighting little in the way of paw prints, we took our time without any hyperventilation.
At the end of every hike, we could settle back into the cabin and just absorb the peace and quiet. Birds tended to come to Onion Rock and scavenge including a woodpecker. Three otters slipped through the water near our shore, diving down…leaving a trace of bubbles and then re-emerging and tilting their heads back to chomp down on fish dinner. A bundle of logs is the daily allotment per cabin, and a fire just about makes the setting perfect. Maybe too cozy. Put another log on the fire…and open the window. PLEASE.
It was very hard to leave…and I mean that in many ways including the hauling of all our gear up the precipitous staircase. Maybe I will trim down the essentials next time.