PAT NEAL: Question marks fill tourism’s legacy

IN MY JULY 5 column, we traced the history of tourists on the North Olympic Peninsula from the prehistoric mastodon hunters seeking new lands ripe for the slaughter to the vast armada of European explorers who might or might not have visited our fair shores seeking souls for conversion, treasure for the taking and the fabled Northwest Passage.

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

Juan de Fuca said he found gold, silver and pearls in the Strait that bear his name, but he was flat broke by the time he got back to Venice.

All he had left was a bogus map to his mythical Strait that took another 200 years for others to discover.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Swift took advantage of the geographical confusion in his 1726 novel “Gulliver’s Travels” when he described the land of Brobdingnag, located somewhere on the Northwest coast, where a race of giants supposedly lived.

Swift’s story was somehow combined with the Spanish Adm. Bartolomé de Fone’s imaginary discovery of an inland lake into an enduring myth that manage to survive for 150 years.

Meanwhile, in 1790, the Spanish Capt. Manuel Quimper purchased some 100-pound salmon off the mouth of the Elwha River.

This set off an invasion of tourists who have been coming here looking for these mythical fish ever since.

These 100-pound salmon have probably been extinct for about 100 years, but tourists still come here trying to catch one.

Our pioneer forefathers improved on the giants and inland-lake story by adding a bunchgrass prairie and Indians hunting buffalo somewhere up the Elwha.

Hearing this tall tale, the Press Expedition of 1889 wasted no time buying green lumber from our pioneer forefathers to build a boat to push upriver to the mythical lake.

Abandoning the boat, they discovered a camp of Native Americans — with a big fire and elk quarters hanging — who said they knew nothing about the upper Elwha country.

By then the Elwha had heard through the moccasin telegraph about the white man wiping out the buffalo and didn’t want the same thing to happen to their elk.

That would come later.

Meanwhile the Press boys plowed through the snow into the teeth of the worst winter in 100 years only to emerge from the mountains starving and shipwrecked on a sunken raft in the Quinault River.

There was no mention of a lake.

Later, tourists were told of the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered in the Olympics.

Fortunately, that was another myth that saved the land from the effects of mining.

In the modern era in which we live our tourists are subjected to yet another myth that the rugged Olympic Peninsula wilderness is a recreational wonderland for everyone to enjoy.

A July 2 PDN article [“The Grand Tour, 31-Year-Old Sees Sights In Visits Of Park System”] described the National Park Service’s struggle to make the LGBT, (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community feel comfortable and safe during their visits to the parks.

While enhancing the wilderness recreational experience of tourists of whatever sexual orientation and gender identity is a laudable goal that we all must share to survive in the tourist industry, a note of caution might be appropriate when another PDN headline describes three bodies being removed from Olympic National Park in one weekend [“Names Put To 2 Park Bodies,” PDN, July 9].

Keep in mind, these are just the missing visitors they found.

Every year, people disappear in the Olympic Peninsula wilderness without a trace.

Feeling safe and comfortable in the Olympics is just another myth.

This land is wild and dangerous.

Maybe that’s what brought tourists here in the first place.


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

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

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