In the answers are yes, then I have just the drive for you—Highway 112, a new National Scenic Byway along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the State of Washington.
In a sense, this is a highway to nowhere. It ends at the boundary of the Makah Indian Reservation, but no one should stop there. The road through the reservation leads to Cape Flattery, where a three-quarters-of-a-mile trail will take you out to the point of the cape. There, only Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse are between you and the continent of Asia.
In this place of stunning beauty, life seems reduced to its most basic elements as the sea crashes against the headlands. Rain and fog nourish a verdant forest and keep the trail damp. The Makah Tribe has done a lot of work on the trail using cedar rounds and cedar boardwalks to cross the marshy sections, but be advised it isn’t a handicapped accessible trail. At the end, there are several different lookouts where you can see the eternal battle between rock and water, as well as observe the birds and occasional seals and sea lions that make this place their home.
If the fog isn’t playing hide and seek with the coast, you may see Tatoosh Island and its lighthouse. The lighthouse is the oldest still-operating lighthouse on the coast, dating back to the 1850s. Be warned, however. When my wife and I got out of our car, another visitor stopped us and told us we should carry a telephoto lens if we wanted to photograph the lighthouse. By the time we got to the lookouts, the island and the lighthouse were totally wrapped in fog. Only thirty minutes had passed.
A completely different attraction is also on the Makah reservation in the town of Neah Bay. Some 500 years ago, prior to the time when contact began between Native Americans and European sailors, a mud slide roared down on an Ozette Indian village, burying it like some forgotten time capsule. A few years back, tribal members living on the Ozette Indian Reservation began noticing that erosion was bringing artifacts from this undiscovered and forgotten village to the surface. A formal archaeological exploration was launched, and is still ongoing.
The discoveries, including tools, garments, weapons and art, are an absolute treasure trove of life before contact with the Europeans. Many of these stunning and beautiful artifacts, including an unbelievable blanket woven in part from bird feathers, are now displayed at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. This is a museum you should not miss. The Makah tribe asks that you purchase a recreational permit for entry onto the reservation. The $5 fee per person includes entrance to the cultural and research center and access to the Cape Flattery trail.
Highway 112 begins west of Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula, departing from U.S. Highway 101 where that highway turns inland toward Lake Crescent. The rural character of the road becomes apparent immediately. Gone are the hoards swarming along Highway 101. Traditional brown highway signs mark some, but not all, of the parks and beaches accessible along the way.
At a Washington state visitors center, my wife and I picked up the America’s Byways brochure on Highway 112 printed jointly by Clallam County, the Federal Highway Administration and the Washington State Department of Transportation. We would strongly recommend you pick one up before taking this drive. It was this brochure that led us to Freshwater Bay County Park. There are no signs on Highway 112, so it would be easy to miss. Because we had the brochure, we spotted a side road sign with Freshwater on it and that led us to the park. One parcel of this park is located in a primeval cedar forest with an understory of fern that could lead you to believe man had never set foot here. Of course, the picnic tables tell otherwise. The upper park is only open May through September. The lower section on the water with nice views east along the strait is open year-around.
In the tiny community of Joyce, when you step through the door of the General Store, you also seem to step back in history by a century. The false front, oiled wood floor and original fixtures make you feel like you should have arrived on a horse. Across the street, a small museum is housed in what was once a railroad station. Being an unrepentant railroad buff, I had to know more about who would bother building a rail line into this remote area. Of course the answer was in the forests all around me. In the days before logs moved to the mill by truck, railroads were the primary means of supplying the nation’s voracious appetite for lumber. In time, the trucks took over the task and in the 1950s the rails were pulled.
Once the vivacious volunteer docent assuaged my thirst for railroad trivia, she directed our attention to newspaper articles telling how the locals in the 1890s tried to turn nearby Port Crescent into a major port. Today there is nothing remaining of the pier that once jutted out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca or any of the buildings that once lined the shore, according to those old newspaper photos. Now, if you drive out to Crescent Bay, you will find Salt Creek County Park composed of a quiet beach, campsites for tents or RVs (no hookups), and the remnants of an old fort, Fort Hayden, that once protected the sound from foreign intrusion. Just west of the park, a private RV park offers full hookups to those who enjoy traveling in comfort.
As you drive farther west, you pass through mile after mile of tree farms. Occasional logging trucks heading east with piles of logs are a reminder that our nation still has a large appetite for lumber. After passing Pillar Point County Park, which is a good place for a picnic with nice views of the strait, the highway winds inland for a spell, following the twisting path of the Pysht River until it intersects with State Route 113 that leads south to U.S. 101 and the community of Forks.
The National Scenic Byway turns back toward the coast and soon you are in the tiny, workaday community of Clallam Bay. There is a county park in the heart of the little town with a bridge under construction that will allow access out onto the beaches along the sound. Sekiu, a mile farther west, is a picturesque harbor community that unlike Clallam Bay has attracted tourists. A lookout on a hillside allowed us a bird’s eye view of the busy harbor and RV parks packed with rigs in anticipation of Labor Day.
From Sekiu west, Highway 112 hugs the water’s edge. The remoteness of your location is almost palpable here where residences are few and far between and the shore isn’t lined with “No Trespassing” signs. You can stop wherever there is room to pull off and putter along the rocky shoreline to your heart’s content. Vancouver Island and Canada are visible across the water; enormous cargo vessels and huge barges share the waters of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca with pleasure craft and hard-working fishing boats.
Just before you reach the Makah Indian Reservation boundary, two offshore sea stacks come into view. Sail and Seal rocks are, at the right time of year, feeding grounds for gray whales. Their location, surrounded by water, makes them home to numerous sea birds. From this point, it is only a short drive to Neah Bay and on to Cape Flattery and land’s end.
Gerald C. Hammon is a writer who lives in Silver City, New Mexico.