From the Blog

Travel Tuesday: Willapa National Wildlife Refuge

On a remarkably clear day last week, we decided to hop in the car and head north into Washington on route 101. We’ve already spent a little time on the Long Beach Peninsula all the way up to Leadbetter Point State Park.  But we’ve never gone up the coast on the east side of Willapa Bay. We are always on the lookout for places to camp, and we’ve never driven through South Bend or Raymond, Washington.

I wasn’t sure what to expect heading north, but the further we drove up 101, the more remote it got.

No towns, no houses, very few other roads. It was a fun road to drive on, too. Traffic was light in the middle of the week. On our left was Willapa Bay, on the right was miles and miles and miles of wetlands and forest. It was very pretty, but there were not many turnoffs, and it’s hard for me to take photos while driving.

I was reminded again of the micro climates long time residents have told me about. The coast weather, the folds in the land, and the breeze rushing in from the water all create pockets of variable climate. It is often sunny in Long Beach when it is clouded over in Astoria. For this trip, we started in warm sun that disappeared as we headed north. By the time we reached South Bend and Raymond, there was a low ceiling of clouds and it was a little dreary. We thought about driving all the way to Aberdeen, which we have also never visited. But we turned around and saved that for another day.

We drove through Bruceport County Park, which had a number of campsites with beautiful views of the bay. The sites were a little small, not very private, and oddly shaped for our tastes, with just a little room to park the car and pitch a tent. The fire rings were made out of rusty old tire wheels.

We continued south and stopped into the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters.

You can click on the sign above for text-legible giganto size.

Did I mention how remote this whole area is? It’s about 50 miles from Astoria to South Bend, and there were barely any human structures for the whole stretch. It was very pretty. In some places, dramatically pretty. But it’s not a recreation paradise. From what we saw, there were no boats whizzing around in the water. No easily accessible beaches. Not a lot of trail heads or fishing holes. It’s a refuge area, not a recreation area. It was lovely.

At the refuge headquarters, we followed the Willapa Salmon Art Trail. And I sort of realized, again, that art kind of throws me off in natural settings.

I like art. And I like nature. I just don’t know if I like those two things together.

Fish on trees. It disconnects something in my brain.

I understand it’s a celebration of nature. And we need to have a better appreciation for our unspoiled spaces. And we basically need to stop screwing everything up. There were other pieces of art nestled into the habitat along the boardwalk. A little metal frog on the railing, or sculptures amongst the rocks. I liked those little touches.

Some pieces of art were hidden in deep along the path where your eye might wander into the woods. You wouldn’t expect something artificial and intentionally semi-concealed, and that’s where the art sort of gave me the heebie jeebies. It sort of felt like an intrusion. Perhaps that was the point.

So again, I like art. I’m not just crabby. I’m crazy.

Along the boardwalk was a trail leading off into the woods, and despite not expecting a hike and being a little hungry, we followed it. Dave had the camera on this hike and took all these photos.

I’m pretty much never in our photos, because I’m always taking the pictures.

Here’s me, looking heroically into the heavens.

We were glad to take this hike. It made this excursion more of a trip, instead of just a car ride. And because I’m flabby and out of shape, I got a little exercise. And a few powerful bug bites. Bastard bugs. Damned nature.

We hopped back in the car and headed home. I’ve since learned there are campsites within the refuge, but you have to take a boat to get there and hike in. And that will be hard to do with a cooler full of beer. We are car campers. I’m not proud. But that is what we are.

It’s nice being this close to “nowhere.” I’m glad they are trying to keep it that way.

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