Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Olympic Peninsula......Mountains, Beaches, Elk, and Clams

      We visited with mom in Tumwater, WA for about 9 days and then headed out again to do some exploring on our own.  We got some work done around her house and kept her in good meals:  including Basque Rack of Lamb, Wild Boar Ribs, New Mexico Green Chile Pie, Tillamook Apple Cheddar Salad, and Croque Madame. 
      Unfortunately, our visit also included a visit to the local veterinarians office.  Dharma has had a history of cysts and tumors for the past several years, including two malignant ones she had to have removed.  She has had the current cyst for about 11 months now, originally diagnosed as a fatty cyst.  It began the size of a golf ball, but has since grown to 'tomato size' and is beginning to wear on her. We had it checked once again and is now diagnosed as malignant, but non aggressive.  It is not expected to spread.......just grow larger on her hip.  We had it drained and are hoping to make it back home to Michigan to have things resolved.   We do have a follow up with a Veterinary Oncologist in 2 weeks to determine a course of action.  Dharma is nearly 13 years old so we are planning on the best course of pain management care. 
      I haven't been 'around the loop' since I was a young child and my wife has never seen it.  'Around the loop' refers to driving around Washington's Olympic Peninsula.  It may not be as pretty or warm this time of year, but when retired you have to choose your battles.  We departed Tumwater venturing up US Highway 101 (sound familiar?) towards the Kitsap Peninsula to Bremerton and another high school buddy, my old wrestling partner, Tom Ainslie.   Tom was a very good varsity wrestler and I was more of the "dang you're good" JV type of competitor.  He has spent a career in law enforcement and now construction nearing retirement himself. 
      We caught up on old times while his wife, Teri and Barb got acquainted as well.  Tom and Teri love boating, crabbing, and shrimping in Puget Sound and camp whenever they get the chance.  Teri works for the local school district so we also had some tales to share.  It was a great evening!  

      Next up for us was a trip up Hood Canal enjoying the sights of the Olympic Range, ending up in Port Townsend.  We ended our boondocking streak at 10 and got a camping spot at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds on the north end of town.  Fort Worden State Park was nearby, but was nearly twice the price and full.  Port Townsend was originally settled as a major shipping and fishing port.  The town is an excellent example of a Victorian Seaport in the U.S.  Much of that architecture has been preserved in the downtown district. 

      There is plenty to do in town including strolling, shopping, dining, beach combing, and just plain enjoying the waterfront.  We picked up a few souvenirs and then had lunch at the Lighthouse Café.  If you are ever in PT I recommend dining there.......nothing fancy, but delicious food at a reasonable price.  Their Hot Corned Beef Sandwich is one of the best I have ever eaten! 
      The amount of deer in this area is amazing.  Apparently there is no hunting within the local area as there are literally hundreds of Blacktail Deer roaming wherever they please.  I don't just mean the parks and rural areas, but even in the old town hillside areas we saw them in several yards.  You have to expect to see them nearly wherever you drive. 
      From Port Townsend we traveled an easy 50 miles west to Heart o' the Hills Campground just 5 miles south of Port Angeles.  We were only staying one night, but this would be our staging point to travel up to Hurricane Ridge.  Unfortunately, despite what the Visitors Center told us, the campground was NOT open yet so we retreated into town to find an RV campground.  Amazingly, the road to the top was open this time of year.  In fact there isn't much snow in the Olympic Range at all this year.  They have had an incredibly mild winter.  Their snow pack is only at 3% of normal!  Going to be a long, hot, dry summer.  Hurricane Ridge is located near the top of the range and offers great views into the center of Olympic National Park, including Mount Olympus. 

       Next up for us we traveled on westward, unfortunately passing up some stuff we just didn't have time to visit, but we did make a couple stops around Crescent Lake as it was just so beautiful this morning. 
      We ended up in the town that 'Famous Vampires' hail from:  Forks, Washington.  We camped just south at Bogachiel State Park, full hookups:  $25.  Again, we used this locale as a base camp to explore the surrounding area.  First up we visited the Quileute Reservation, most notably La Push.  It was a warm, but windy day and the waves were pretty active, but there were no surfers.  Dharma gets as much beach time as she wants this trip. 

       We did get some local area sightseeing in, shopping for souvenirs for Barb's 'Twilight' fan niece, as well some laundry, and saw plenty of elk in the area.  There are also plenty of fisherman on the local rivers as the spring steelhead season is just getting warmed up.  This is the first place during our entire trip where we found diesel fuel cheaper than unleaded!  If only that were true everywhere.
       From here we headed south towards Gray's Harbor and most notably Westport where this month's clam season and cooperating tides began.  The drive down was very wet and windy.  It is never any fun packing or unpacking in the rain, but this day we got to do both.  Thank God for Gore Tex raingear and a very patient wife!  There is no boondocking in the Grays Harbor area other than WalMart which is 20 miles from the beach so we stayed at the Westport Inn RV Park.  Located near the center of town with close proximity to the beach with full hookups, cable TV, WiFi, showers, firepit/wood, and a fish cleaning station:  $210 for 8 days. 

      Pacific Razor Clam digging in Washington takes place during any month with an 'R' in it......(i.e. January, September, etc.)  These cooler weather months negate the worry about any type of marine toxins that otherwise might be present.  Because of the climate, most digging takes place during rainy, foggy, or even stormy weather, but not always.  You should usually count on getting wet regardless.  When the tides are good literally thousands of people flock to the beach to get their share.  It can still get cool on the beach due to the winds so dress accordingly.  Clam digging is not necessarily a skill, but a lesson in endurance, mostly due to the weather and tides.  Obviously, the lower the tide the better, exposing more clam 'shows'.  A show is the dimple-like depression in the sand that a clam makes when the tide recedes.  The show is caused by the clams feeding or respiration loosening the sand above its neck. 

      The clams are usually somewhere between 1 and 2 feet deep.  Although shovels are the most common method of digging, I like to use a clam 'gun' which you place over the hole and then press into the sand and pull out creating suction pressure much like a straw.  Sometimes the clam shows up in the sand withdrawn, but most times you have to get on your knees and go after them manually with your arm as deep into the hole as you can reach.  Sometimes they get away.   Yeah, the clams make this a participation sport.   
        Our first two days of digging provided very nice weather, but with mixed results.  Day 1 was a marginal tide with smaller clams while Day 2 had a lower tide (plus we tried a different location) and much nicer clams.  We did get our 30 clam limit both days.  Mid week another friend of mine from high school and her husband arrived to dig with us the remainder of the week.  I have known Annette for many years, but only recently reconnected.  Her husband Clarence is also an avid sportsman and seasoned clam digger.  They turned us on to some different areas to try our luck at as well as providing us with another couple who enjoyed playing pinochle as much as we do. 

      As the week progressed digging turned out to be more of a challenge as many more people arrived to dig each day and finding 'shows' was more work.  We always got our limits though, with Day 4 being our best; 45 clams in 25 minutes with literally clam 'shows' everywhere you looked. 
      We cut all of our clams up and packed them into Vacuum Sealed bags of Diggers, Clam Strip Meat, Chowder Meat, and just plain Steak Meat.  In the end we had frozen nearly 19 pounds of clam meat. 
      The final accoutrement of these clams is the kitchen preparation.  Perhaps the best part about Razor clams is that they are a large, meaty treat.  They are delicious cooked several different ways, but my favorite has always been breaded and fried.  You can steam them, use them in chowder, pasta, fritters, and even smoked.  No matter how you prepare it, razor clams provide a delicious meal.  Barb and I look forward to enjoying the bounty of our harvest throughout our travels till our next visit home......Yum Doggies! 
WiFi via Verizon HotSpot and courtesy of Westport Inn & RV Park 

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