PAT NEAL: Olympic Peninsula summer driving guide

IT’S TIME ONCE again for the Olympic Peninsula summer driving guide.

With the approach of the three-day Memorial Day weekend, we are about to face a seasonal invasion of tourists, some of whom drive almost as bad as the locals.

The No. 1 complaint the tourists seem to have about driving the Olympic Peninsula is that, “the log trucks act like they own the road.”

Do the math. The log truck weighs 90,000 pounds.

You don’t. Pull over and let them go by.

Log trucks and tourists have a lot in common: They are both in a big hurry. The truckers to get another load of logs in and the tourists are putting as much mileage as they possibly can on a rental car before they have to turn it in.

Adding some RVs and SUVs to the mix of road construction and infrastructure decay can require an uncommon degree of alertness and caution.

Don’t take anything for granted, such as the bridges. Here on the Peninsula we seldom fix a bridge unless it falls in the river, which is entirely possible with the U.S. Highway 101 bridge over the Elwha.

With the removal of the Elwha dams, the river is running wild and free and threatening the bridge. It’s part of a laundry list of unintended consequences and collateral damage of dam removal that took out Olympic Hot Springs Road and two campgrounds, and threatens the Port Angeles water supply.

Use caution when approaching this Elwha River bridge. You might want to check and make sure it’s still there.

West of the Elwha we come to the biggest construction project the Peninsula has seen in years at Lake Crescent.

People like to complain about the four-hour closures and delays, but the fact is the mountains are falling on the road and the road is falling in the lake.

Building and rebuilding this road is a marvel of logistics, engineering and good old American know-how.

It all started back in June of 1903 when Ranger Chris Morgenroth of the Olympic Forest Reserve, a precursor of Olympic National Park, started slashing a trail from East Beach west along the south side of the lake.

The crew intended to intersect with an old Native American trail on the Sol Duc River that would lead to the bright lights of Sappho.

Driving the steep country around Lake Crescent today it’s hard to figure just how much dynamite they needed to blast even a horse trail across the cliffs, but they had a whole tent full off it stashed back where the Storm King Ranger Station stands today.

Someone thought it was a good idea to set a fire to clear some land. The dynamite was moved just before a burning tree landed on the tent.

Morgenroth was known for using a lot of dynamite for fighting fires and blasting trails. One of his explosions blew his sledgehammer into the lake, which gave the place the name of Sledgehammer Point.

By 1909, this trail extended all the way to Grays Harbor. In 1920, Hugh Govan of Sequim started building a road around the lake that followed Morgenroth’s horse trail.

This road has been rebuilt periodically ever since.

In 1949, a chain gang from the Walla Walla State Penitentiary was hammering away at the vertical face of the road cut. A sledgehammer bounced off a rock and into the lake, again at Sledgehammer Point.

Now it’s time to fix the road again before it turns back into a horse trail.

The crew is doing an amazing job. The guys were repelling down cliffs with jackhammers!

That should be an Olympic sport. Give them a break.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patnealwild [email protected]

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