Driving Down Highway 101

Deon Matzen

© Copyright 2021 by Deon Matzen

Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash
Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

Sounds intriguing? Sounds like fun? I must admit, it was only a small section of 101, the Pacific Coast Highway. We are camping in late October. Not in a tent, but we are camping in a trailer. We started in Port Townsend, Washington this morning and have traveled to the Long Beach Peninsula, the southern and western-most region of Washington State.

The thing that has made it a special experience is this year the fall colors are spectacular. The trees along the highway are in full color as you can see from the photos. Part of the day was sunny which made the fall colors glow. Most areas through which we traveled the trees hadn’t lost any leaves yet. Some areas leaves had started to fall. As we travelled, it was easy to see a broad difference in colors due to the variation of the vegetation.

In Western Washington State, we have a lot of broadleafed maple. Some years they just turn brown and some years they turn golden, yellow and crimson. One of the micro regions through which we traveled had a preponderance of vine maples which are noted for their fall colors. These are not native to Whidbey where I live, though I have planted several in my gardens. Another tree that is absolutely spectacular is the wild cherry. It glows with magenta, cerise, violet, orange and yellow, a combination the really makes it stand out along the roadsides.

The foliage was not the only show of the autumn season. We stopped at Dosewallips State Park for an al fresco breakfast. The sun was shining and we sat under an electric yellow cottonwood tree with the leaves falling on us from overhead. Almost as nice as rose petals thrown at weddings.

While at Dosewallips we decided to walk down to the river by the same name. We have camped in the camping area of this park many times, but today we were in the day use park as this was just a stop-over for breakfast and a little exercise in the form of a walk to the river. The Dosewallips is famous for the salmon run that comes up the river to spawn. We were not disappointed as we had been the last time we visited. This year we were in the middle of the run. Salmon are splashing on the gravel bars and laying eggs for the next generation of salmon fingerlings produced by this river.

Part of the life cycle of these beautiful fish is moving into the freshwater river, laying their eggs, fertilizing the eggs, dying, fingerlings hatching, eating the remains of dead parents and eventually going out to sea again.

Needless to say, dead salmon were present in abundance as were the ones still actively mating or moving further up the river. It is an unusual and educational experience to be able to see this life cycle happening right before your eyes. Seagulls and bald eagles feasting on some of the remains. No fingerlings yet in site. The water was absolutely clear and sparkling with a slight tang in the air of decaying, rotting salmon.

Another thing we noticed about the Dosewallips in this location was that there had been a terrible event that must have happened during the spring run-off from the Olympic Mountains. It appeared that a log jam had happened on the river causing a dam which had made major new inroads to the riverbed in the region. It looked like a massive earthworks under construction. It hadn’t stopped the salmon from returning to their ancestral home. The life cycle continued.

Because of the river making its way whichever way it felt, there was a lot of mud, clay and open ground along the riverbanks. I was watching my footing as I didn’t want to step in deep puddles or slip on the exposed clay. Low and behold, there was a bear foot print. It continued down the riverbed. Another scavenger come to the feast. The bears love to fatten themselves on salmon before moving to hibernation. We, luckily, didn’t see any bears, just the tracks in the muck along the river.

But not only were there bears, but elk had wandered down this pathway as well. Elk tracks mixed in with the local deer. The Olympic Elk, introduced by Teddy Roosevelt when the Olympic National Park opened, have flourished here. They have traveled down the mountainsides to the low land for the winter. This trip we haven’t seen them, but we have seen them at Dosewallips in the past. Stay clear as they can be very aggressive.

Further down Highway 101 we encountered a coyote crossing the highway. It was just a little guy, probably “hatched” early this spring and abandoned by his mom this fall. He wasn’t sticking around for us to take pictures or even see more than about thirty seconds of his running full speed across the empty highway.

This trip, so far, we have seen more evidence of wildlife than in the past. We are traveling just a month later along this route. I guess most of the tourists with their chatter, and loud “toys,” have departed and things have quieted. Those who are here have settled down for the winter.

We stopped hat Hamma Hamma to purchase oysters for tomorrow’s breakfast and were the only folks there. Last time when we stopped I guess it was party time and the place was packed with the outdoor bar and oyster grill hopping with many folks. It looked like we were they only customers so far today.

Highway 101 in this region is not very busy this time of year. We travelled down highway 12 to the next segment of 101 and found that the need for construction lumber has savaged much of the drive from Arctic to the Naselle. Too bad, as this was a forested region where we have seen bears and coyotes. Much of the clear cutting has been replanted, but it will be another forty years before it looks like a forest again. The demand of trees for lumber to keep up with the building trade boom in the Pacific Northwest is decimating a great deal of the forests especially along this portion of Highway 101.

Stopped for coffee in South Bend, a town that is slowly dying and watched a bow picker fishing boat set his net across the Chehalis River. He had the net across the entire stretch of the river next to where we parked. I think there is another channel for regular boat traffic so he didn’t worry about blocking the entire leg of this stretch of the river.

South Bend is the county seat for Pacific County. They stole all the records, deeds, etc. from Oysterville across Willapa by in the 1800’s and named themselves the new county seat. If you ever have a chance to stop there visit the County Courthouse which has a spectacular and unbelievable stained glass ceiling in the dome. It has faux finish painted “marble” columns painted by a person serving time in the jail there. A very interesting place.

Well now, we are in Long Beach, Washington, the most Southwest part of Washington State and famous for its sandy beaches which stretch for twenty-eight miles and claims to be the longest continuous beach in America. It is spectacular and also a public highway. You may drive up and down the beach, but carefully. We have seen cars stuck and the tide washing over them. Bad way to get your car washed.

It is noted for its giant razor clams, cranberry bogs (which are being harvest right now), the International Kite Museum and the International Kite Festival in August. It has an Oyster and Jazz festival during the summer as well as a “Rod Run” noted for the restored vehicles that congregate here. It has some of the best restaurants in Washington. It is noted for almost eighty inches of rain a year. The Pacific Ocean does not provide very promising waves for surfers. Because of the breaking patterns, seldom do surfers ply these waters. It also has had the record wind speeds during a storm a few years ago with winds reaching 125 mph. Because it is so flat and has little land much above sea level, tsunamis can be an issue, though many years ago when Japan had its earthquake, the “tsunami” wave that hit this coast when I was here measured three feet. Even a surfer would have had trouble working that wave.

I have been visiting the Long Beach Peninsula and traveling down Highway 101 since 1953. The motel when I stayed with my family still stands and is for sale these days. We always came to clam and ate clams until my father finally got the hives. We canned and froze them in our kitchen-equipped motel room, we fixed them every way we could imagine and ate them breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now we go to the 42nd Street Café where I can have them for breakfast with eggs, hash browns and toast. They are still my favorite clams to eat and nothing like the Manila, horse, geoduck or butter clams which inhabit the beaches of Whidbey.

It is a pilgrimage to come here annually and revisit all these old haunts. Sometimes we make it a couple of times, but there are always new experiences. Hopefully we can continue for years to come.

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