After the weekend monsoon, it’s been a glorious week. I decide to play hooky from yoga on Thursday (though that also means no Daughter on Duty blog post and no Trader Joe’s for wine—which will be a crisis tomorrow) and take a road trip with CuRVy. I’ve been wanting to return to Willapa Bay, and on this beautiful autumn day it’s a no-brainer.
It was a sparkling diamond-studded hoar frost morning that day I went to Tokeland, on the north side of the bay, in 2013, and I was enchanted. I returned one other time with the summer crowds (less memorable) to visit Long Beach and Cape Disappointment on the south side of the bay (so named for a British fur trader’s failure to cross the Columbia in 1792, a few years before the arrival of Lewis and Clark).
The long, pencil-thin strand of Long Beach Peninsula—at 28 miles claimed to be the longest continuous sand beach in the United States— is Not My Beach, with its barren expanse of sand between ocean and bay providing a super highway for people loath to leave their vehicles. But I don’t go for the beach; I go for the drive through farm land and rolling hills. I go for the dots of small towns Highway 6 winds through: Adna, Meskill, Dryad, PeEll, Walville, Frances, Holcomb, Menlo, Willapa, Raymond, Nemah Junction, Naselle.
I start out—with my road trip latte, of course—under disappointing overcast skies, but with the promise of blue. As I turn west off the interstate, a few miles from home, I soon begin to see the sky clearing in the distance. Just west of Labam, I’m under a cloudless canopy.
The beach is my destination only because that’s where the road ends, and I’m in no hurry to get there. As I cross the Chehalis River on Highway 6, I begin the 100 mile journey that crisscrosses waterways from creeks and sloughs (rhyming with through, not with tough, a testament to our confusing language) to rivers; all of them, however small, christened with a name as they make their unhurried meander to a confluence with the mighty Columbia or an escape into the Pacific Ocean. My mother—my favorite naturalist—tells me there are more varieties of birds and waterfowl in this area than in any one other place in the country.
I pull off the road and walk to the bike/foot bridge over the Willapa River, part of the Discovery Trail system. I cross the Willapa River two more times, and the South Fork Willapa. I drive up to a hillside cemetery in the lingering thin veil of fog and gaze across the verdant valley of grazing cows to the sun shining a golden light on the tops of the Willapa Hills.
“Willapa” is one of my favorite place names in this state of fabulous names. The inhabitants of the area clearly love it too. The largest town along the river is locally known as “Raymond on the Willapa”; and there are any number of businesses and parks named Willapa this and Willapa that.
The road crosses other rivers too: North Nemah, Mid Nemah, South Nemah, and Naselle; Bone, Niawiakum, and Palix. The sloughs: Skidmore, Potter, Caruthers, Stuart, Tide, Jorgenson, Teal, Greenhead, hop and skip with the creeks: Hope, Rock, Fern, Pinnock, Half Moon, Forks, Trap. It’s a perfect environment for cranberry bogs, and they are here too.
I head to Oysterville first where blue meets blue, at the northern tip of the peninsula, at the urging of a friend, and realize I have been there before.
I drive back south to Long Beach for lunch, then park at the access to the sea. I have no interest in being on the sand with the cars, but the Discovery Trail extends the entire length of this strip of land through the dunes to the rainforest at the southern end. I walk north on the boardwalk then down to the bike path and wander back through the grass on the footpaths. I can hear the pounding surf, but I can’t see the cars unless I top a dune. It’s a weekday, it’s not summer, there aren’t many cars; but still it would annoy me if I let it. I don’t, it’s too beautiful a day, and I feel no need to walk across the tire tracks to touch the glistening water.
It’s mid-afternoon and I am tempted to return east to “Raymond on the Willapa,” then back west on the other side of Willapa Bay to Tokeland, a tiny fishing village (and casino, but that’s not my interest any more than the ocean is); I love the drive with more creeks and sloughs, and the old clapboard hotel. But I decide to go south instead to Cape Disappointment, at the peninsula’s southern end.
I remember, too late, my vow last time I was here and discovered trails through the rain forest and down to the driftwood beach, to make this a hiking destination. Head slap. And now I don’t have time, again. But I stop at the Beard’s Hollow overlook, then, making use of my annual Discovery Pass—that I finally find, not in the glove box with the broken latch, but in the drawer under the seat—I visit the North Head Lighthouse where I watch Coast Guard helicopter training maneuvers, and walk through a bit of the forest to Bell’s Overlook then on to another walk through forest and swamp to the dunes.
Next time I will remember just to come to the Cape! But now it’s time to head back over the rivers, creeks, and sloughs to my home on the hill. What a day for a daydream. I love where I live.