Recently, we described the deterioration of our antique transportation infrastructure on the Olympic Peninsula. State Highway 112 was closed by landslides and there are no plans to permanently fix it. U.S. Highway 101 is down to one lane of traffic with no apparent plans to fix it.
Many of our bridges are approaching their centennial.
It’s ironic that these roads and bridges were built around the period of our history known as The Great Depression — also known as the greatest economic downturn in our nation’s history, with mass unemployment, monetary deflation and social upheaval that affected every country in the world.
Since then, our technology has evolved from the age of steam power to the time of diesel, hydraulics and computerized everything, where we reach for the stars with spaceships and satellites while we ignore our roads and bridges on Earth.
Now, as we approach one of the biggest travel holidays of the year, Memorial Day, we have only to look back a few years to consider that things could be worse. The recently republished classic, “Trails and Trials of the Pioneers of the Olympic Peninsula, State of Washington,” was originally compiled by the Humptulips Pioneer Association in 1959. It was reprinted in 2021 by Jane Castleberry and the Lake Quinault Historical Museum. The book describes the difficulties of traveling the Peninsula in the good old days.
Leaving Seattle on the Steamer “Garland” on a Sunday in August 1897, the Ben Northrup family arrived in Clallam Bay the following day.
Unloading their wagon and horses to pull it, they hit the muddy trail through the wilderness that would eventually take them to Forks.
There was trouble on the way. The wagon wheels kept falling apart and had to be pounded back together with rocks.
At some point on the trail over Burnt Mountain, now known as state Highway 113, the wagon and most of the family’s possessions had to be abandoned.
Packing their blankets and provisions on horses, they continued their journey on foot, reaching Forks after two days of hard traveling.
Their journey was far from over.
They continued south of Forks on what was known as “The Pacific Trail.”
This was a road that the local pioneers began working on in 1892. At the time, the homesteaders could pay their taxes by working on the trail, and there was plenty of work to go around.
The ground of the West End of the Peninsula was so wet, people and animals would sink in the mud if they had to walk on a regular trail. And there was very little rock or gravel to cover the mud and no way to haul it. The Pacific Trail was built entirely of split cedar boards.
At one time, the trail ran from Forks to Moclips, with spurs branching off to remote homesteads on Goodman Creek, the upper Hoh River and Oil City, then up the Queets and Clearwater rivers. A small stretch of the Pacific Trail survives to this day just off the Upper Hoh Road, where it represents the oldest surviving roadway in Washington State. Which, for whatever reason, is not included in the National Register of Historic Places. But I digress.
Crossing the Hoh River, the family continued south to the Clearwater, where a horse that was packing a small child strapped to its back began sliding off a cliff. The horse was caught and drug up to the trail. The child was saved!
Upon arriving at Clearwater, they feasted on potatoes, rutabagas and carrots.
I often think of this while complaining about our modern roads.
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]