PAT NEAL: Olympic Peninsula driving guide continued

In last week’s episode, we were traveling west on U.S. Highway 101 and had just successfully crossed the Elwha River bridge.

This antique structure’s foundation is being threatened by the Elwha Dam removal project.

It was intended to restore the estimated historic run of 400,000 salmon to the Elwha within 40 years, but predictably, that is not happening.

A five-year fishing moratorium was initially imposed, then extended to seven and then 10 years. The moratorium has again been reset to run until 2023, because the Elwha salmon are failing to utilize the restored habitat.

This is a common problem on the rest of our Peninsula rivers that were never dammed. Apparently, once salmon are extirpated from a stream, they typically fail to return because they are dead. We can only hope someone is studying the problem.

Once across the Elwha, we encounter another salmon restoration project blocking Highway 101, a new $36 million bridge to improve fish passage on Indian Creek, a tributary of the Elwha that drains Lake Sutherland.

After the initial Elwha dam removal in 2011, it took until 2017 for six coho salmon to make their way to Lake Sutherland — which gives you some idea of just how long it could take the Elwha to reach its imaginary goal of 400,000 fish, no matter how many millions we spend.

Never mind, we’ll continue west around Lake Crescent. Recently rebuilt, the road is smooth as a baby’s backside.

Further west, we encounter our next driving challenge, the Sol Duc River bridges, of which there are several — giving tourists the feeling that they are driving in circles.

No matter how many Sol Duc bridges there are, each can provide all the thrills any driver could want when encountering monster trucks and RVs hurtling like hogs in a chute while dodging dishpan-sized chuckholes.

With luck, our visitor arrives in Forks, where a temporary billboard warns of a “rough road for the next 35 miles.”

They aren’t kidding.

Giant cracks appear in the roadway. The edge of the road slumps into the canyon. At one point, Highway 101 is down to one lane with stop signs at either end causing stand-offs between motorists edging their way through the obstacle with flashing lights and using a variety of hand signals. Courtesy is advised.

When in doubt, do the math: A loaded log truck weighs around 90,000 pounds. You don’t.

Additional signs warn motorcycles to use caution, but caution would also be advised while driving an M-1 tank. Driving south of Forks is not unlike riding a bucking bronco. Hang on.

With luck, you’ll be crossing the Bogachiel bridge, built after the old one fell in the river — which is about the only time we’ll replace a bridge in this country.

South of the Bogachiel, we are treated with stunning views of Mount Olympus, but keep your eyes on the road. You’ll be crossing the Hoh River Bridge. This was voted, by me, to be the scariest bridge on the Olympic Peninsula.

Built in 1931, during the Great Depression, the Hoh River Bridge was the final link in the Olympic Loop highway that we now call Highway 101.

Traffic has gotten heavier and faster since 1931, but we can’t seem to afford to fix the roads and bridges we built back then.

The Hoh River Bridge, like the glaciers on Mount Olympus, seems to be shrinking as the heavy equipment and RVs grow larger.

South of the Hoh, you are in for a rough ride with chuckholes and a mountain of clay oozing onto the roadway, until at last you leave the Peninsula and kiss the ground.

_________

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 [email protected]

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