Georges and I are thinking of starting a new club. It might be called the Grand Slam Four Points Club, or GSFPC for short.
To be a member you must have visited all four of the contiguous U.S. furthest-most points – north, south, east and west. And you must have done it in a single year.
(Maybe such a club already exists? We haven’t received any membership invitations, so we’re going the DIY route. Let us know if you’d like to join….)
Attentive readers of this blog know we made it to the northernmost point last month, without sparking an international crisis. Here’s how that expedition went.
In April, we visited the southernmost point.
In July, we scored the easternmost point – though our joy was overshadowed by our horrific experience at the Canadian border the next day.
And just this week, we bagged the westernmost point, Cape Alava in Washington state, the only point that requires a hike to get to. It’s also the only one of the four points that is unmarked by any official designation at the site.
(And, as promised in yesterday’s post, I’ve included the answers to the Geography Quiz at the bottom of this post. How did you do?)
It was misting when we left our campsite on Lake Ozette, a non-contiguous extension of Olympic National Park which is about an hour’s drive east and then south and then west from Washington State’s northwestern-most tip at Cape Flattery.
The lake, lovely even in the drizzling rain, is the largest unaltered natural lake in the state. It was 45 degrees and cloudy at 9:38 a.m. It didn’t take internet service (which we didn’t have) to tell us that we wouldn’t see much sun on this day.
There are two ways to see Cape Alava. One is to hike out to the cape and back the same way for a round trip of just over six miles. The other is to do the “triangle” hike, which is roughly three miles through the forest out to the cape, three miles south along the beach to Sand Point and then three miles back through the forest to the start.
We’d already decided to do the isosceles thing.
The first third was delightful, much of it on a hand-hewn boardwalk through a jungle of dense underbrush and huge red and twisted cedar trees. It was dark and mysterious – all the more so on this overcast day.
An hour in, we passed through a more open wooded area, still on the boardwalk. This is Ahlstrom’s Prairie, a huge soggy meadow once farmed by two Swedish immigrants. Sheep and cattle reportedly grazed here then, but that’s hard to believe as the bog has long since been taken back by native plant and animal life.
There is absolutely no way you could get from Lake Ozette to the coast without the NPS-built boardwalk. The forest is too soggy and too dense, with vines, bushes and tree branches all gnarled together to form a six-foot “wall” on both sides of the slippery-in-places boardwalk. We were listening in the car the other day to the audio book The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey about the former president’s 1913-14 expedition through the Amazon jungles and I wondered how that jungle could possibly be any denser than this one.
By 11 a.m. we crested a small bluff, burst out of the forest and found ourselves at Cape Alava on the Pacific coast.
Our arrival felt a little anti-climatic. With no official marker, we had nothing to embrace as evidence of our accomplishment – nothing to pose next to for that all-important documentary photo shoot.
The tide was out so there was plenty of kelp and seaweed on the beach. The sun was still hiding and the mist had turned to a light rain. The view, frankly, was more bleak than beautiful.
We shared a tuna sandwich and a Clif Bar to celebrate.
Austin snapped that photo of us to document our official arrival at the cape. A resident of Washington state, the 18-year-old was camping on the beach for a few nights, with an NPS wilderness permit, and revisiting the site of his childhood camping memories. We chatted a bit, snapped a picture of him for his record books, and resumed our hike along the beach.
This part wasn’t fun. Picking our way amid the rocks, boulders and marshy piles of flea-infested kelp was difficult. But there’s no alternative – the bluffs inland are too steep to climb and too densely forested to hike. Now I understood why we’d been advised to time our hike to low tide, otherwise we’d be pounded by the waves crashing on downed trees and sharp rocks at the foot of the cliffs.
It was slow going. I was terrified one of us would twist our ankle and have to carry the other one out. Whose bright idea was it to do this hike in the first place? (Ahem … mine.) It took us nearly twice as long to do this segment of the hike as the first.
But there were interesting sights along the way. Check out the root ball of this fallen tree.
In fact, there was almost as much wood as rocks on the beach.
G loved the geology of the area. Here’s a granite-and-olivine pebble that caught his eye.
And what about this lovely conglomerate?
And then there was this unique embedded combo. (The lighter is ours; added to the photo for scale.)
The drizzle stopped. We marveled at this tiny crab struggling to survive in the tidewaters…
… and this fragile, near-perfect, abandoned shell.
We passed maybe a half dozen other people picking their way along the beach, heading in the opposite direction. We all looked for the famed 400-year-old “wedding rocks” petroglyphs in the area and commiserated that they seem to have faded to invisibility.
Suddenly, I heard a loud honking noise. I looked around. What could that be?
Is that a seal way out on that rock?
I got out my binoculars and sure enough, there were 4-5 white-speckled harbor seals sunbathing (cloudbathing?) on the rocks about 50 yards out from the shore. They conversed in a series of barks and honks.
That was cool.
We finally reached the Sand Point trailhead a little after 1:30 p.m. It was a welcome sight. The trail back through the forest, much of it via another boardwalk, was beautiful.
We walked through acres and acres of red cedar trees, licorice ferns and serviceberry bushes. Parts of the boardwalk are elevated several feet off the marshy ground. The photo leading this blog post is from this segment of the hike.
Here’s a shot G took of looking up at an especially gnarled and knobby forest sentinel.
We were back at our campsite before 3 p.m., enjoying a drink, watching a couple of otters pursue their fish aperitif in the lake and basking in the only 30 minutes of sunshine of the day.
And then there was this.
Welcome to the charter meeting of the GSFPC.
Answers to the quiz in the previous blog post entitled How Well Do You Know U.S. Geography:
1. The furthest north point is Angle Inlet, Minnesota. (In the summer, you actually have to drive into Canada to get there – unless you prefer to swim or fly.)
2. The furthest south is Key West, Florida. (Yes, you can get there without getting your feet wet.)
3. The furthest east point is West Quoddy Head State Park, Maine. (Why is it called West Quoddy Head when it’s marking the eastern-most point? Because its companion rock formation, East Quoddy Head, is in Canada.)
4. The furthest west is Cape Alava, Washington. (It beat out the better-known and frequently misidentified Cape Flattery at the northwestern tip of the state by just a few meters.)
5. Founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited European-established settlement.
6. Maine is the only state that borders only one other state – New Hampshire.
7. Canada is the country south of Detroit, Michigan.
8. You can drive east in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (near the Wisconsin border) and move from the Eastern time zone into the Central time zone.
9. Duluth is the westernmost Atlantic port in the United States, thanks to the navigable Great Lakes.
10. The Rainy River. It separates Minnesota from Ontario, Canada.
11. Glacier National Park in Montana (from Triple Divide Peak).
12. Rugby, North Dakota.