Monday, August 11, 2014

Northern Convergence: America's Pompeii and Sailing to Canada

The first day of our journey through western Canada and the Pacific Northwest continued...
Source: Wikipedia

On this lonely beach on the far northwest corner of the Contiguous United States a village once stood. It was home to some of the Makah people who still live in the region today at Neah Bay. The village, called Ozette, was finally abandoned by the Makah in 1917 because of directives from the federal government requiring their children to attend school. The Makah had lived at the location for at least 3,800 years. Their oral history spoke of a massive landslide that destroyed an earlier town, but not much thought was given to the idea of researching the site. Archaeology in the northwest is hampered by the fact that organic material doesn't do well in the very wet and acidic conditions of the temperate rainforest. For a people who dealt mostly in wood objects, excavation seemed pointless.  A few exploratory holes were dug in 1966-67, but little of interest was found.
In the winter of 1969-1970, severe storm erosion exposed wood planks, and archaeologists and Makah people were alerted to the presence of surprisingly well-preserved artifacts. Excavations were begun and continued for 11 years. Some 55,000 artifacts were uncovered. It was an unconventional excavation: archaeologists didn't use brushes and dental picks; they used hoses. The wood and fabric artifacts had been preserved in oxygen-free mud, and needed to be immersed in preservatives before they could dry out and decay away. The excavations eventually uncovered six longhouses dating to around 500-550 years ago. A mudflow (quite possibly a seismically induced liquefaction event) had produced America's version of Pompeii: a perfectly preserved moment in time. For the Makah people, it was a affirmation of their cultural heritage. Many of the Makah participated in the excavations, knowing they were revealing the history of their own ancestors.

The Ozette site was backfilled and little is to be seen today, but hundreds of artifacts are on display at the museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center in Neah Bay. We took the winding road through the second-growth rainforest to see the museum, and it was worth the long drive. The exhibits are extensive, and the collaboration between the archaeologists and Makah was clearly beneficial. I could feel the pride of the people through the exploration of their past.
Source: The Makah Cultural and Research Center
After our visit, we made our way east across the northernmost part of the Olympic Peninsula on our way back to Port Angeles. Our day had started very early, but there was still a lot to see, and we needed to get to the ferry for our 9:30 voyage to Vancouver Island and Victoria. In places the forest was so thick that it formed a canopy over the highway, but at other times road hugged the coastal cliffs, offering beautiful views of the water and Vancouver Island in the distance.
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
We saw a few Bald Eagles in the distance, but I couldn't resist including the pair we saw the previous week on the beach. They may be kind of commonplace for the folks that live in the area, but I've only seen two or three of them in our region over the years. They are regal looking birds, even if they are troublemakers at times.
The California coast near where I live is rugged and beautiful, but has very few natural harbors. Glaciation and local geological conditions have produced many harbors in the Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca. We passed tiny Sekiu. From the hill above the bay we could see Vancouver Island in the distance. The road turned inland back into Olympic National Park.
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
We passed along the shore of Lake Crescent, a most beautiful lake with a strange geological history. It is glacial in origin, filling a hollow where the ice scooped out softer rock. It is officially listed as having a depth of 624 feet, but that was because it was the deepest their equipment could measure. It is thought to actually be more than a thousand feet deep, but no one really knows for sure. The lake once drained to the east into Indian Creek, but a gigantic landslide about 8,000 years ago split the lake (Lake Sutherland is the other part). As Lake Crescent filled deeper and deeper, the water spilled over into a different drainage, the Lyre River, which flows northwest. Isolation of lake by Lyre Falls has resulted in the evolution of two subspecies of fish, the Beardslee Trout, and the Crescenti Cutthroat Trout.
Photo by Mrs. Geotripper
Another lake along the highway was notable for not being there. The Elwha river was dammed (damned?) a hundred years ago, destroying one of the richest salmon streams on the Olympic Peninsula. A century later, it was decided that the silted-in dams were essentially useless, and their removal was begun in 2011. The lakes have been drained, and it is hoped that salmon runs can be reestablished soon.
We arrived in Port Angeles, parked in the ferry loading area and wandered into town for dinner. The promised storm had not yet arrived, and the Olympic Mountains provided a dramatic backdrop for the quiet downtown area.
The ferry left at 9:30PM meaning we got a fine view of the sun setting over the Juan de Fuca Strait.
The water was calm as we started the 90 minute, 22 mile journey across the Strait.
Most of the passengers were commuters and had obviously been on the ferry many times. They hung out in the lounges and snack bars. But not our crew. It was all "King of the World" off the bow of the ship. Luckily there were no icebergs that night.
The lights of Victoria came into view and soon afterward we dock in the beautiful harbor. We passed through immigration/customs quickly (I think it was their bedtime), drove the two miles to our hotel, checked in, and finally got to sleep. We'd made it to Canada!

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