Don’t tell my fourth grader we didn’t need her free National Parks pass on vacation, but we did go to the park. I loaded Stella to the gills with a roof basket of gear, four humans, and two dogs. Our supplies still spilled into the cabin and the girls had their feet resting on their sleeping bags, or maybe the two buckets of freeze-dried meals we brought so we could skip the cooler, even cooking, altogether. Kitchen chores while camping make this mama unhappy, but I’m content with the simple act of boiling water. Repeatedly.
Bear didn’t take well to riding in the pop-up crate, but didn’t cause chaos when I gave in and folded it flat, staying in the back rather obediently now that he knew the alternative. My puppy horse, as my husband calls him, takes up most of the rear cargo area, but there were a couple of food bags to one side which he miraculously did not explore.
It was my hope to stay at Kalaloch without a reservation. Go ahead and laugh. This year a couple of loops remained first come, first serve and I wasn’t sure how fast they’d go on a Monday. I was very nervous as we neared the campground, knowing at least that feeling would soon be gone, one way or the other. It was full. Of course it was. But I wasn’t satisfied. I asked the ranger at the booth how he thought the open sites experiment was working out. He said it very decidedly wasn’t and the experienced rangers weren’t happy with it. The sites weren’t going to newcomers, but to campers who were already present and chose to extend their stays or change sites. So everyone could forget the afternoon check-in time because they were all being grabbed early in the mornings. Alrighty then…
Since the first order of business was to find a place to stay, we moseyed on up the road, with plans to check out Hoh Oxbow, possibly Bogachiel, and the more distant but larger Mora camp. We were in luck and found an excellent site beside the Hoh River in just half an hour! There was no piped water, but the last thing I’d packed was my water filter, just in case, so I had us covered. But there was bad news, too. Both ends of the site had been recently and heavily used as bathrooms with copious amounts of toilet paper. So in addition to a bike helmet and a single Heineken left behind, which I drank, I first had to clean everything up to make the place habitable. I deserved a lot more than one beer.
It was a short drive to Ruby Beach the next day. Though I spent hours looking, I didn’t see much sign of the garnet that gave it its name. I saw just one rock in a sea stack that had the natural shape of garnet, but no red anywhere.
When Bear wouldn’t stop barking at other dogs, a newly discovered problem I didn’t know how to solve on the spot, I put him in the pop up crate for a break. I took my time making cute sandwiches out of graham crackers, dried apple slices, and peanut butter. The girls and I were enjoying our lunch and saving some for the Hubster for when he returned from the bathroom. Then a dog walked by. Bear rolled the crate and crushed my little creations! The girls and I pooled our remaining resources so there would be some food for their dad to come back to. It’s a rare thing for me to be mad at my lab, but I was done.
We were hoping for a quiet 4th of July, and it was moving day. We enjoyed our second long, lazy morning by the river and I carried my last two liters of water up the steep bank back to our spacious site. We were off to Lake Quinault, and this time we had a reservation. I was lucky enough to grab someone else’s cancellation a week before our trip, though I wondered if it would fit our tent…
I made a lazy, unplanned loop around the lake. The forest was lush and beautiful, a thick shag carpet of sword ferns as far as we could see. This side, the north side of the lake is part of Olympic National Park. Where we were to stay on the south side is not, which became very clear when I had to hold my dog down in the tent that night.
After twists and turns and gravel and dust, we arrived at the paved, plumbed campground and our little site above the water. Very little. It was a bit of a shock to move from such a large space to one in which you couldn’t immediately see how it was possibly going to work. Is that what downsizing feels like? The site was graveled and narrow with a too-small tent pad. But ultimately, the tent spilling over the sides worked alright, we got creative with the dog cable, and we had a lovely, private view of the lake from our chairs. With our own lake access, though still steep, we were all pretty happy in the end. When it started to rain, I couldn’t stop smiling.
Having done a little reconnaissance, I had located a couple of trails that were short enough for my family to enjoy, and I surprised them with a little waterfall in the morning. Lured by the promise of a restaurant meal, my husband even walked a couple of extra miles to check out Quinault Lodge while I took the girls and dogs down to the water for a swim. He returned unimpressed and with stories of very rude staff. We would not be eating at the lodge, but the mercantile across the street was a very friendly place and served breakfast.
With the family’s needs and desires satisfied, it was time to set off on my own. I went with a water bottle in one hand, a camera in the other, and a few hours to myself. My face would show that I forgot my hat. How far would one liter of water get me? I rationed it and calculated conservatively. At my farthest point, I went left while my heart went right, curving back toward the lake for a refill. I loved the cedar bog section with the boardwalk, and the cool shade under the bridges, but didn’t like that the trails were graveled.
I didn’t want to go home. I wanted two more weeks to explore the north shore and the heart of the peninsula. I wanted to meet Mt. Olympus. I had only seen the tip of the iceberg. How about just one more night? There were walk-in sites available at the next campground over. I knew this because I’d explored it during my solo hours, had refilled my water there, lifted a New York Times there, crossed a creek where it entered the lake there. But no. My family was looking forward to home, and I would have to look forward to another visit.