PAT NEAL: Olympic Peninsula driving guide

The signs of summer are all around.

The roar of the lawn mower, the stench of burning charcoal and the seasonal spike in gasoline prices tell us vacation time will soon be here.

All of which means an influx of the dreaded tourist traffic.

Some are scurrying back to the rat race. Others are headed west in search of solitude in God’s country.

Unfortunately, God let people in it.

Many of these people are tourists who drive almost as bad as the locals.

At times like these, you need an Olympic Peninsula driving guide.

The Olympic Peninsula is a peninsula.

Surrounded on three sides by treacherous bodies of water.

You can approach from the south on roads that are more like paved elk trails that wind around in circles like a hound dog chasing a squirrel, or tempt fate and cross the water on a ferry and a bridge that can involve many hours of waiting in line.

It doesn’t matter.

Tourists come here from all over the country to clog up our roads.

Some are in a tremendous hurry with a powerful urge to pass the car in front of them, so they can get behind another car that has 25 more cars ahead of it.

Other tourists are in no hurry at all. They drive 15 mph under the speed limit, while testing their brakes.

All tourists fast and slow fear the king of the road, the log truck.

“They think they own the road!” I heard a tourist sob.

Do the math. A log truck weighs 90,000 pounds. You don’t. Pull over and let them by.

Sometimes the greatest challenge drivers face are the roads themselves.

The speed limits can go from 60 mph to 40 mph to 55 mph in just a few miles.

Fortunately, our State Patrol is usually on hand at one of their many usual and accustomed speed traps to help remind us of the speed limit.

Once you’ve figured out the speed limit, you’re ready for the next challenge — road construction.

Much of the road construction on the Olympic Peninsula is road destruction.

Between Sequim and Port Angeles, they are ripping up the road to replace the culverts on two creeks so salmon can theoretically migrate upstream, if they ever decide to come back.

Continuing west, we come to the most dangerous corner on the Olympic Peninsula, the Morse Creek hill.

It’s actually a long curve where 250 collisions have occurred between 2007 and 2019.

They’re putting a concrete median around the curve this spring, so that should make it safer.

Now if we could only fix the drivers.

West of Port Angeles, we come to a fork in the road where state Highway 112 takes off west along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or used to, until last winter’s mudslides closed this vital link to Cape Flattery.

So, go left at the junction down U.S. Highway 101, where you will soon come to another dangerous trouble spot, the Elwha River Bridge.

It’s on a nasty corner with a history of horrendous wrecks.

To add to the drama, the foundation is being eroded since the removal of the Elwha Dams.

Remember to always check to see if there is still an Elwha River bridge before you try and cross it.

As we shall see later, this simple precaution could possibly save you from a watery grave — but more next week.

West of the Elwha, we come to beautiful Lake Crescent, where the road around the lake was just rebuilt.

Enjoy, because the farther west you get, the worse the road gets.

To be continued …


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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