Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sea Lions, Sandpipers and BBQ - Westport Washington

Aberdeen, Washington, has a long history as a home to the logging industry. But logging is not the only business on Grays Harbor. One day on my journey, I went out to explore some of the others.

Grays Harbor offers over 100 square miles of protected water. It has been home to commercial fishing boats and canneries for many years. Today that industry is centered in the town of Westport which sits on the peninsula between the harbor and the Pacific Ocean. Westport was founded on 1914 on the south shore of the entrance to Grays Harbor. It occupies the site of Fort Chahalis, built here in 1860. While Westport’s main industry today is tourism, it is home to over 300 commercial fishing boats and three canneries.

The Westport Marina sits mostly along Westhaven Drive, at the northern end of town. Here you will find the Westport Maritime Museum, which is located in the old Coast Guard station, built in 1939. The museum houses exhibits on area ship wrecks, the whaling, and fishing industries. It is also home to the Destruction Island Lens, which was in the Destruction Island lighthouse from 1891 to 1995. Along this street you will also find several charter fishing boats, ready to take you out for some deep-sea fishing.

Westhaven Drive is also home to several restaurants. I found one that aroused my interest and taste buds – Aloha Alabama BBQ and Bakery. Run by Brook and Jari Priest, one from Alabama and the other from Hawai’i, they serve excellent BBQ. 

After lunch I was walking along Westhaven Drive looking at the boats in the marina when I heard the unmistakable sound of sea lions. I could see where they were, so I followed their barking to the south end of the marina. The pier they were on appeared to be attached to one of the canneries, and I thought that I would not be able to get near them. But someone told me that actually there are more piers south of the canneries, and that is where they were. I drove around the cannery, to another section of the marina, and there they were.

The sea lions migrate up to this part of the world for the late summer and early fall. Several hundred of them make the Westport Marina their home. They sun themselves on the piers, which are open to the public. I have never been able to get this close to wild animals outside of a zoo setting. It was amazing. If you are lucky enough to visit while the sea lions are here be careful. Don’t get too close or try to feed them. Just watch and enjoy their presence.

From the marina, I drove south and the west across the peninsula, to the Grays Harbor Lighthouse. At 37 meters, this is the tallest lighthouse in the state of Washington. It was built in 1898, and still functions today. While the original lens is still in place, today the signal is provided by a much more efficient light mounted on the balcony. One reason that this light is so tall is that it sits in a small valley about 800 m from coast. So, it has to be up high to be seen.

Continuing on to Westport Light State Park, I walked down to the Pacific Ocean. The park takes up most of the northern end of the peninsula, with hiking and biking trails among the dunes. On my visit the beach was deserted, except for a fling of sandpipers. Watching these birds in action reminded me of one of my favorite Pixar shorts – Piper, which you can see here.

It was great to be here on a weekday during the off-season. There were no crowds and I had a great chance to explore without feeling overwhelmed by people.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Aberdeen WA, Home to the Washington's Logging Industry

Having spent a week in and around the Olympic National Park, it was now time to head south, and explore the Washington Coast. My travels were now taking me to Aberdeen Washington.

Lumberjack Statue
Aberdeen is a small city of around sixteen thousand residents, sitting on the shore of Grays Harbor. Grays Harbor is a natural bay and protected bay that is 17 miles long and up to 12 miles wide. The first European exploration of the inlet was in 1792, led by Captain Robert Gray. Permanent European settlements were established in the 1870’s as the logging industry moved from east to west and began to grow in the area. Aberdeen and the neighboring towns of Hoquiam and Cosmopolis became the center of the logging industry during the early 1900’s with 37 sawmills at its peak in 1930. Unfortunately, the Depression took a toll on the lumber business, one from which it never fully recovered. Today, while timber is still important, the area also depends on commercial fishing, tourism and regional services for employment.

I stayed at the Guesthouse Inn and Suites, which is an inexpensive motel on the main drag through Aberdeen. I had a comfortable room in a place that was close enough to the center of town to make walking to restaurants possible. However, Aberdeen, like many older industrial towns, has a downtown that can feel very deserted, especially at night. But there is a move to bring people back to the area in the evenings by offering good dining choices. I can recommend two restaurants downtown. One is Amore Pizza and Pasta, which offer very good traditional Italian food. The other is Rediviva, which offers a modern foodie menu, but very well done. Rediviva also played a fantastic collection of songs as I ate. For an afternoon snack I strongly suggest Scoops Ice Cream. Located in a repurposed service station on US-101, they serve excellent coffee, ice cream, baked goods and other treats.

Home to the Museum of History - Joe Mabel [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)  via Wikimedia Commons
While in Aberdeen I visited two places to explore the history of the area. The Aberdeen Museum of History, which is located in an old armory that has been converted into a combination museum and social service offices. The museum presents a comprehensive look at life in Greys Harbor over the past hundred and thirty years. Its collection includes three lovingly restored antique fire engines. There are also recreations of several store fronts including the train depot, a general store and an auto repair shop. There is also a tribute to Kurt Cobain, who was born in Aberdeen, and lived in the area before moving to Seattle and founding the band Nirvana. The staff, mostly volunteers, are extremely helpful and friendly, taking the time to give me a personal tour of the facility.

Mid 20th Century Class room

1894 - Class Rules

Classic fire truck

General Store

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My other visit was to The Polson Museum. This historic mansion is in the town of Holquiam, just to the west of Aberdeen. It is a 16-room building, built in 1924 for F. Arnold Polson and his new bride. Mr. Polson was the scion of the Polson Logging empire. The Polsons owned twelve logging camps up in the mountains, two sawmills in town and their own railroad line to bring timber from one to the other. The family lived here until 1965, when they moved to Seattle. The house was donated to the city of Holquiam in 1976 and has been a home to many donated historical items since then.

Polson Mansion

The first floor is a space used for exhibitions. During my visit there was a show of photographs of loggers from the 1960’s and 70’s, working at their jobs. Upstairs, the rooms are filled with the bric-a-brac of life. Clothes, dolls, high school yearbooks, newspaper clippings, and just about anything else you can think of. All of these are arranged in themed rooms. The grounds also have a rose garden and an equipment shed that is home to some classic pieces of logging equipment and railroad engines.

Butter Churn

Steam Engine undergoing refurbishment

Aberdeen is at the heart of the logging industry, and has been for over one hundred years. It is an interesting place to explore the history of Pacific Northwest. But the area has more to offer – Next week: visiting Grays Harbor – What lies beyond the town.

Note – Grays Harbor does NOT have an apostrophe. It did originally, but at some point, it was dropped. No one could definitively say when, or offer a reason why.