Adventure Log: Tokeland on the Willapa

My first adventure of 2020 began in typical manner: I got lost. It was ridiculous really. I have two favorite Lewis County roads: Hwy 12 across the sun-licked prairie going east, and Hwy 6 heading west across rivers and sloughs and through tiny towns with names like Lebam (Mable backward) and crossroads with names like Swiss Picnic. Hwy 12 is a destination road: mountain hikes. Hwy 6 to the edge of America is for the love of the drive.

It’s been a long winter. Western Washington has lived up to its [usually undeserved] wet reputation. It officially rained 30 of 31 days in January, and I suspect a similar ratio has been true of February until this week. I think I read there hasn’t been a full day of sun since sometime in November. That record broke yesterday, with a forecast of blue sky and 0% precipitation. I was more than ready for an adventure.

Anyway, back to getting lost. The day begins in dense fog and I decide there is no reason to pick up my adventure latte before dawn so I can watch sun come up over the farmland. Unlike trekking on 12, the sunrise is behind me on 6 anyway. But I drive down I-5 on autopilot and before I know it I’ve missed my exit and am at the Hwy 12 exit. I should have just crossed back over the interstate and driven back. But no, it’s an adventure, right? I’ll go cross country.


Long story short, I don’t trust GPS not to be taking me back to the interstate, can’t figure it out on the paper map, and did I mention fog? My usual good sense of direction is lost in the murk and the damn car navigation won’t shut up and the next-turn arrow is on the screen where the compass usually is. I push the button on the steering wheel and politely say, “stop navigation.” The equally polite voice says, “It doesn’t appear navigation is set to a destination,” just before she tells me to hang a left in 8 miles. “Cancel the damn route!” I scream. My mother said I have anger issues, and apparently my car doesn’t compute “damn.”

I finally get back on track, my 16-oz latte prematurely nearly  empty. I check my irritation, and settle in to enjoy the drive.


I’m heading for Tokeland, a tiny town on Willapa Bay. I want to live on Willapa Bay just so I can breathe the word, repeat it in my head, roll it off my tongue as often as possible: Willapa River, Raymond on the Willapa, Willapa Hills, Willapa Trail, Willapa Valley, Willapa Harbor.

Even without getting lost, the drive always takes longer than the hour and 40 minutes boasted on Google Maps. I keep stopping for photos, or slowing down thinking about   stopping. I pass by the yellow house leaning way back as if the Big Bad Wolf is winning. I’ll stop on the way back, I think. But then I don’t see it.


And what was—in its day—that building with corner to corner, roof to foundation walls of small panes of glass, most broken now? Was it a house, a barn, a workshop? I want to stop and trespass, but I don’t. I don’t even  take a picture. Maybe next time.  I exit the main road and wander narrow lanes through the cranberry bogs.

Y8cc5ouDRPKoqyXisoj4uw_thumb_355c1I always take a photo of this lovely church, and the trestle on the rails to trail Willapa Trail.




At the bay I continue driving to the beach trail in Grayland; a cement path through the dunes. This is not my beach and, though the sky couldn’t be more blue, it’s cold. Still it’s good to breathe the air and watch the waves roll in.



I drive to Westport at the end of the peninsula, because why not, and gaze beyond the docks and boats in their slips to the snowy Olympics before heading back to the historic Tokeland Hotel and lunch, which is my real destination.


Back in Grayland, though, I stop at a succulents’ nursery. A few days ago I had the idea of planting neglect-tolerant succulents in my mother’s geranium pots under the rain-protected roof overhang on the deck. She watered them every day. I don’t, and they’re dead by July. The proprietor is a storyteller, and I love a good story. The property has been in her family for 104 years, her great-grandfather put in the tennis courts, her grandfather the long house, her father the greenhouse. She has her story down pat, as I do the story of my family property for Airbnb guests. I describe my dilemma and specifications and she puts together a flat of a variety of over-wintering hens and chicks for me and shows me how to divide, clean, and plant them.


Back at the hotel, I wander a bit, inside and out before sitting at a sunny window table with my book.





I order shrimp and grits, which I have been craving. The dish is AMAZING! I sit by the fire for a few minutes before heading  back east, passing and crossing all the Willapas again.


The thing about out and back trails and roads, you see different things on the out and the back. I completely miss on the return the windmills above the cranberry bogs I left the highway to wander closer to earlier in the day.


And heading east, there is the majestic Rainier, proudly showing off her winter coat. The road to Paradise, by the way,  is closed due to mudslides. The road will reopen,  but I fear my beloved trails are in very bad shape. I pull up the webcam output once in a while. I hope the marmots socked away lots of food. I fear it will be August before the Avalanche lilies bloom!



One last stop before home to sit on the grass at my parents’ grave stone for a while. I wish they could see this beautiful day.


For another Adventure Log to Willapa and Long Beach three years ago, click here.











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