Luke, 11, tries to explain the card game Exploding Kittens while out camping with his family on their Sol Duc River property. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

Luke, 11, tries to explain the card game Exploding Kittens while out camping with his family on their Sol Duc River property. (Zorina Barker/for Peninsula Daily News)

WEST END NEIGHBOR: Just how beautiful it is on the West End

LUKE TOLD ME, “It takes like six or seven hours to drive out here.”

He is 11 years old and lives in Seattle. He and his parents came out to the West End for Memorial Day weekend.

His mom, Sonjia Smith, chuckled at her son’s sense of time.

She said, “We left at 2:30 Friday afternoon and got here at 7 that evening, but we stopped in Port Angeles for some necessities.”

Apparently some of those necessities included burgers at Frugals, and the “here” they refer to is their property on the Sol Duc River.

Like many people, this family has opted to purchase vacation property on the West End.

“For me, I never quite feel comfortable in the city, whether it’s our values or the hustle and bustle or whatever,” Smith said.

She grew up in Port Orchard and feels that is her hometown.

“When I was young, we packed up and went camping for the weekend at Brown Creek Campground [in Hoodsport] and I really enjoyed that the woods were all around us,” she said.

She and her husband, Phillip, bought their Sol Duc River property about five years ago and aside from adding an outhouse, their property is riverbank and forest.

Smith said eventually they would like to add a cabin with indoor plumbing, but for now they sleep in a big tent.

Smith’s mom, Sylvia Collis, and her husband, Jerry, joined them at the property for the weekend, driving out from Port Orchard and sleeping in their 1983 Chevrolet conversion van.

Phillip grew up in Forks and assorted members of his family also came out to visit during the long weekend. Everyone sat in chairs and on firewood rounds around the campfire and talked, snacking from time to time.

Meals were cooked over the open fire. Coolers lined the edge of the forest and a huge wooden spool served as a kitchen table.

Smith sees the property as beneficial for Luke.

She said, “We want Luke to know there is more than just city living and teach him to be comfortable away from other people.”

As for the boy himself, Luke said, “I like that I can get away from the city and I don’t have to get up for school.”

He has a definite dislike for the cold temperature of the Sol Duc River and explained “It’s really cold when the kayak tips over and I’m like, ‘Get me out of here!’ ”

Not everyone likes to camp out the way Smith and her family does. She told of inviting another family they met through Luke’s school, Hope Lutheran. They came out once and haven’t been back.

“We keep inviting them, but I think it was too rustic for them,” Smith said, adding, “I think they really like having access to plumbing.”

Smith doesn’t see her family moving out here. She is a certified public accountant and explained that “the big four accounting firms are all in downtown Seattle.” Her daily commute is 20 minutes for just four miles.

Both Smith and her mom said they love the natural surroundings of this vacation property and the West End.

Collis said, “You forget just how beautiful it is until you come back.”


Zorina Barker has lived on the West End for most of her life. She is married to a Forks native who works in the timber industry. Both of her kids have been home-schooled in the wilds of the Sol Duc Valley. She can be reached at 360-461-7928 or

West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.

Her next column will be June 11.

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