We do not usually travel on holiday weekends. It’s so rare, we were nonplussed last week to realize that, way last January, we had made and confirmed plans for a weekend in the Olympic mountains of Washington State, and that our plans fell upon this weekend: Memorial Day. All we were thinking as we found a date for our trip was the likelihood we would be finished with lambing, and the lambs big enough to not require worrying about over a weekend, and that our destination, which is high enough in the mountains it can’t open until March, would be Open. All those things fell into place. The weather cooperated, and so did Richard’s Dad, for whom this trip was in celebration: 90 birthdays completed this year! So, daunted or not by the date, we set out with the masses of Americans hitting the Interstates for the onset of the vacation season.
Sol Duc is a hot springs resort inside the Olympic National Park. Early in the 20th Century it was the site of a deluxe hotel and sanatorium catering to the wealthy folks who could make the trip from Seattle into the mountains. That establishment perished catastrophically in a fire in the 1910’s. It’s a fate that seems to have fallen onto hot spring resorts fairly easily. Their locations were always far from emergency services, and safety precautions appear not to have been part of the plan. Unlike many spa spots of the last century, this one rose again from its ashes as a more modest destination. Folks arriving to take the waters today can camp nearby or stay in the little individual cabins clustered around the 1960’s era lodge with bath houses and a restaurant.
It seems odd to note, at this place originally a magnet for the infirm seeking a cure, access ramps for walkers and chairs have been added only in recent times. Two or three of the cabins are accessible (meaning stepless), and the lodge has a ramp attached to the front. Two of the pools have railed ramps leading into the water.
So, we collected Pop in Silverdale, Washington and set off into the wilderness. We took a side trip for the views from Hurricane Ridge, where the wind was mild and the view, though ceilinged by clouds, was ample. Pop summited the ridge with us, though he had to skirt the late, soft snow on the official path.
Here he is with Richard.
Both of them sat as models for the view from the Ridge:
I am not in the photo because I was on my knees with my nose in the liverworts taking photos of the blooming Glacier lilies (Erythronium grandiflorum):
…and here’s the view from behind:
From there we continued on, into the deep woods and steep inclines. We arrived at Sol Duc in time for a lunch at the poolside deli, afternoon check-in, and a change into our bathing clothes. Now, before you view the splendors of the spa pools, you must prepare yourself. After all, this is only the end of May. Unlike the Glacier lilies, who express their spring emergence in screaming yellow, we of the Anglo Saxon persuasion are the color of Cream of Wheat under our winter wraps. Here is a view of the poaching pools at Sol Duc. (As usual, the photographer is spared public exposure.) The temperatures in the mineral pools range from 98F in the children’s wading pool to the far right, to about 101-103F in the “Fountain Pool” in the foreground, to a simmering 104-106F in the round pool to the left at the back. At the far background you can see the corner of the large chlorinated swimming pool where the temperature on Saturday was a bracing 77F, and on Sunday had fallen to a truly alpine 75F. Only the youngest and most active patrons leap into that one.
Nothing in these photos can describe the purgatorial smell of the waters. It smells bad, but it feels good.
The guests make up a truly international group. Even this early in the season, there were travelers from Japan, Southern and Northern Asia, India, the Middle East, Central America, Central Europe, Northern Europe… and we few from Oregon and Washington. I didn’t interview comprehensively, but Sol Duc clearly draws its clients from nearly everywhere, and from all ages. And from all shapes! It was a fine thing to be able to go in public in my swimsuit and really not care that I am lumpier than I’d like to be. There were far lumpier women, and some of them had no tremors at all about their swimwear!
We took the cure for a couple of hours on Saturday, until the spa crew came out to do one of the twice-daily tests of the water in the pools, then went to recover for a while in our cabin. I imposed a short ukulele session on Richard and his Pop (Richard is no doubt happy I have taken up uke rather then trumpet in my advancing middle age), and then R. and I left Pop to read about the geology of the Olympics while we walked the pretty path up to the Sol Duc falls. Here is the top view of the gorge where the river plunges into a narrow chute:
Oh, look: along the path I found where someone with the same initials as ours had proclaimed their affection for one another!
Having exerted ourselves, we returned in time for dinner in the lodge restaurant, after which we took our weary bones to bed. I do not ever recall such indulgent behavior! Eat, bathe, eat, sleep… and then we rose in the morning in time to eat again, and bathe again…
Here is a shot of the bathed-in waters as they exit the pools and return to the stream below the spa:
It’s steaming slightly even after making its way from the pools. In the far background you can almost see a little brown guest cabin. Here is another view of them, this one from the Sol Duc brochure:
This may seem a trifling thing to note, but I was pleased to see that all the lights in the cabins were compact fluorescents. I don’t know whether to cheer for the Park Service or the management at Sol Duc, but I say, “Good for them!”
Alas, on Sunday we finally did have to put our proper clothes on and pack the car for our return. On the way out, we stopped at one of the Park Interpretive Centers and took note of this quote:
Though our spirits were, at that moment, surpassingly rich, it seems wise to keep it in mind: all things are connected.
Arrived home, and the farm scarcely seems to have noticed our absence.