PAT NEAL: Searching for solitude

Now that the tourists are here, it’s easy to see why we put a season on them in the first place.

From the acidified ocean to the melting glaciers and the majestic rain forests in between, the Olympic Peninsula has seen an unprecedented invasion of tourists searching for solitude in a pristine wilderness — while waiting in line for ferries, burgers, ice cream and National Park entrances.

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

These 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 tourist who may or may not have actually been here.

The Greek navigator Apostolos Valerianus, who went by the name of Juan de Fuca, claimed that in 1592 he found an inlet on the Pacific coast in which he sailed for 20 days 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 the continent to the treasures of the Orient.

It wasn’t until July 1787 that the first documented European tourists, Captain Charles Barkley and his wife, Francis, visited the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The results were catastrophic for the Native Americans, who regaled the subsequent invasion of European explorers and settlers with stories about how they never went into the Olympic Mountains because they were haunted by a tribe of hairy giant 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 camps and trails to villages all through the mountains.

Obviously, the Native Americans wanted to keep the Olympics for themselves.

Our pioneer forefathers had their own ideas about baiting tourists.

They said all you had to do was push a boat up the Elwha River far enough, and you’d find a lake and a prairie and maybe even some Indians that still hunted buffalo.

Hearing this tall tale, the Press Expedition of 1898 wasted no time in buying some green lumber from one of the pioneer forefathers to build a boat to find the lake.

The expedition wasted weeks building and pushing the leaky boat up the Elwha through the snow, ice and log jams.

Abandoning the boat, they discovered a camp of S’Klallam elk hunters with a big fire and elk quarters hanging.

The S’Klallam claimed they knew nothing about the upper Elwha country, confirming the usual story that no Indian would ever venture up there.

However, there is no doubt that, by then, the news had traveled through the moccasin telegraph about the white man wiping out the buffalo, and the locals didn’t want the same thing to happen to the elk. That would come later.

Throughout the early 1900s, the locals told the tourists of the great mineral wealth that was waiting to be discovered in the Olympics.

Mountains, streams and lakes were named after the gold, silver, iron copper and coal you were sure to find if you had enough venture capital. Promotions like these put Tull City on the map.

These days tourists are lured to the Peninsula searching for solitude on a crowded planet — with thousands of their closest friends.

It’s the end of the last frontier.


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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