PAT NEAL: Baiting the tourists

FROM THE ACIDIFIED ocean to the melting glaciers, the Olympic Peninsula has seen an unprecedented invasion of tourists searching for solitude while waiting in line at culvert replacement projects.

Here in Washington, it’s illegal to bait bears, but baiting tourists with tall tales has been a proud Peninsula tradition since the first Europeans arrived on our shores.

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

The Strait of Juan de Fuca was named after a Greek tourist who may or may not have actually been here in 1592.

He claimed to have sailed for 20 days through the Straits in a land rich in gold, silver and pearls.

The Spanish, English, Russian and American tourists spent the next 200 years looking for this mythical Northwest Passage, an imaginary shortcut across North America to the treasures of the Orient.

It wasn’t until July 1787 that the Barkley’s, Captain Charles and his wife Francis, discovered this mythical Strait and named it after the legendary navigator, Juan de Fuca.

Subsequent waves of tourists discovered the Strait of Juan de Fuca was not a Northwest Passage but a dead-end maze of islands and narrows leading nowhere, with no gold, silver or pearls.

Tourism is a hazardous industry. Just ask our Native American friends.

When the first tourists showed up on our shores, they were shy, polite and needy.

The Native Americans traded them salmon, venison and berries that cured the scurvy-ridden crews, for alcohol, gunpowder and disease that decimated the indigenous populations.

The tourists wanted a quiet place to refit their ships after a long voyage.

That meant cutting down trees for new spars and dragging them through the woods to the sea shore in what would be a rehearsal for the massive deforestation of the industrial revolution.

The tourists liked to fish. The Native Americans showed them how and where — making the mistake of trading Captain Quimper the 100-pound salmon off the mouth of the Elwha.

Tourists have been coming here ever since looking for the 100-pound salmon.

For decades, the tourists were told the fisheries and timber of the Olympic Peninsula were inexhaustible resources. With predictable results.

The 100-pound salmon are extinct. The old-growth forests are economically extinct.

Native Americans told the tourists they never went into the Olympic Mountains because of a tribe of giant hairy cannibals and a Thunderbird that was big enough to pluck whales out of the ocean and drop them on the glaciers to save them for later.

Recent archaeological discoveries and tribal testimonies have shown that the Olympics were inhabited for thousands of years with trails to villages all through the mountains.

Our pioneer forefathers said there was a lake in the center of the Olympics with a bunch-grass prairie where the Indians still hunted buffalo.

The locals told the tourists of the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered.

Streams, lakes and mountains were named after the gold, silver, iron, copper and petroleum you were sure to find with enough venture capital.

These days, tourists are lured to the Peninsula in a search for solitude in a pristine wilderness, finding instead a conga line of cars waiting for crews replacing culverts for fish passage — the joke being there aren’t any fish in some of these creeks.

There never has been. They run dry. They run off a cliff. They are blocked by sand bars. No fish will ever swim through some of these culverts.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s a sick joke, but after all, it’s tourist season and they’ll believe anything.


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

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via