Sunday, July 5, 2009

Cape Flattery hike and the Makah Nation

Three months after our 1,000+ mile move to Washington state, I finally started to get the desire to take another car trip. Over two days last week we completed a circuit of the Olympic Peninsula that included stops at Ruby Beach, La Push, and Forks (no, we are not huge Twilight fans, but we were amused at how the local economy has capitalized on the opportunity). Our ultimate destination, however, was Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and home of the Makah Nation.

I gained an interest in this area as a Boy Scout when we made several 50-mile backpacking trips on the Olympic Coast. I remember seeing a former archaelogical dig site at Cape Alava, where the Makah village of Ozette was covered by a mudslide in the early 17th century. The slide preserved thousands of Makah artifacts, which, when excavated, provided clear views into the tribe's past and reaffirmed oral traditions passed on by tribal elders.

Many of the artifacts from the dig are on display at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. After hours of winding along the Strait of Juan de Fuca on state highway 112, we reached the town of Neah Bay and made our first stop at this museum. Here we saw baskets, clothing, blankets, weapons, toys, and other artifacts unearthed at the Ozette site. We went inside a replica of a Makah longhouse and viewed a dugout canoe like the kind used by the tribe for whaling. (See this page for information on how the Makah have struggled to retain the traditional whaling rights granted them in their 1855 treaty with the United States).

The museum was well worth the $5 price of admission, especially if you like Pacific Northwest Native American artwork. The displays contain various pieces of old and new art from the Makah, and you can get many art prints and postcards with designs like this from the museum gift shop.

After the museum, we took a beautiful 7-mile drive to the Cape Flattery trailhead. From what I understand, the Cape Flattery experienced has changed somewhat in recent years. Contrary to what I read in one Internet report, the road to the trailhead is completely paved. The Makah tribe recently rebuilt the 1/2 mile trail, with generous use of stairs and boardwalk that allow even my two toddlers, to see the beauty of Cape Flattery. You do need a $10 Makah recreation permit to park at the trailhead, which is good for the calendar year and is available at the museum.

The trail keeps a mostly straight course through the forest, mostly downhill. As you approach the cape, various spurs head off to viewpoints at the left, then the right. These look out over storm-battered cliffs and deep blue coves. Although the viewpoints contain railing, you'll still want to keep ahold of children and pets as they are right on the edge of high cliffs and can be circumnavigated.

Continuing past the spurs, you reach the final viewpoint where the Makah have constructed an observation deck. At this lookout you feel like you are clearly at the "tip" of the cape, and can observe amazing quantities of water in the Pacific Ocean to your left and the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the right. The expansive Vancouver Island looms across the strait.

Although the trail was packed to almost California-like proportions on the sunny 4th of July weekend, we enjoyed staring in awe with many others at this wonderful area of God's creation. We feel grateful to Him and also the Makah tribe for providing us the opportunity to see it.


GirlWithCurls said...

Modern Dad,

Thanks for the informative post and the lovely pictures. I've been hunting for useful information about Ozette and Cape Flattery and unfortunately the western side of the peninsula doesn't seem to be well recorded. Again, I appreciate this article and I hope to be seeing Cape Flattery for myself, very soon.

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