Standing on the edge of Cape Flattery is like standing on the edge of the world. Gazing into the vast expanse of gray clouds and blue, tumultuous seas causes you to feel as though you are staring at uncharted territory. The profound truth about Cape Flattery is that it truly is pristine and wild in a world that seems to grow smaller each day.
My husband and I commence our day in the early morning, departing from the most adorable bed and breakfast, located in Forks. The Miller Tree Inn is such a delightful experience each time we stay there. The innkeepers are fabulous conversationalists, and if you only dare to inquire, they’ll provide you with exceptional information on the town and Olympic Peninsula (and, vampires… obviously). After a filling breakfast of Orange Croissant French Toast (no, I’m not joking. It’s sublime), we pack our belongings and trade the beautiful landscape of Forks for the extensive, wild coastline of the peninsula. The drive offers breathtaking views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and of distant British Columbia, all while winding along some of the most glorious forest in the Pacific Northwest. This is not a small victory, as the Pacific Northwest harbors many beauties. My husband and I look at one another and smile as we reach Neah Bay, needing no words to confirm that we must stop at the Makah Museum.
Past the tribal area, we return to the pristine forests our hearts so adore. After a bit of a drive, we arrive at the trailhead. As is most often the case, we are still in our beloved wilderness, with no flushing toilets, and signs warning of animal encounters with the likes of bears, elk, or cougars. The trail is a simple one, without much effort afforded, especially if you are accustomed to hiking lengthier trails. But, the views are unparalleled. Although there is no method of doing it justice, I will try to paint of picture of what we see. The trees are a very verdant green, and as customary in most of the Peninsula, covered in moss. Not only do they provide beauty, but they also provide a canopy protecting us from the wind and drizzly rain, creating the sense of existing in a secret place. Grass and lush ferns blanket the earth beneath the trees, and they are joined by fallen branches whose destiny, it would seem, is to add to the perception of walking into a fairy tale. Snow White could appear around any corner.
As we find ourselves closer to the cliffs, we begin to feel the gentle, cool breeze blow across our faces and hear as it rustles the trees’ leaves. And, oh so distantly, we hear the monstrous waves crashing upon the ragged bluffs. The tingling of excitement ignites, and we’re off! Arriving at the edge of the cliff, we realize just how high up we are. One wrong step would send one falling into the abyss to be greeted by pounding waves and sharp rocks, fatal to be sure. I think the culmination of such grandeur and such a sobering thought comprise a large part of the pull for adventurers. How could one see such beauty and feel such adrenaline and not be hooked? Ah, a mystery for another day. We trudge along, skipping over puddles and laughing when we unceremoniously land in mud. Suddently, the Northwestern most point of the contiguous United States lies before us. And, there it is: the uncharted territory, the checkmark to place in the box, is before us.
It does not disappoint. The above trees abruptly open to wide-open sky above us, and ocean before us. Walking up the final steps to the deck, I can see the small island used as a military station, and to our right, I see the hazy mountains of British Columbia. The breeze remains a gentle one, and floats with the scent of the salty ocean that lies beyond the cliff. I lose myself in a daze, wondering what the thoughts must have been of those first brave explorers that discovered this area. Undoubtedly, Native Americans were the first explorers to experience this fascinating landscape, followed by the white explorers, anxious to find the end of this vast, new continent they’d “discovered.”
It’s in this moment that my husband excitedly nudges my arm and yells, “LOOK!” Staring into the dark blue waters of the ocean, I see dolphins playfully surfacing through the rough, choppy waves! I thought to myself that our luck could not fare any better than this, and it was during this thought that we first noticed the sea lions. It would seem that we’d arrived right smack in the middle of meal time, and what a glorious sight this turned out to be. The sea lions dip below the water and resurface with large fish in their mouths, only to succinctly flail the fish from side to side, slamming them against the water. This action apparently stuns or kills the fish, allowing the sea lion to simply bite the fish in two. We observe the red innards of the fish for only a brief moment. The sea gulls arrive in packs hoping for a tiny morsel or two of the fresh fishy guts that don’t arrive at their intended final destination in the mouth of the sea lion. We are ecstatic; what a show! After quite the performance by many sea lions, we attack the short trek back to our car. Winding along the trail, we realize we’d arrived at the perfect moment. Many adventurers are hiking along the trail in search of the awe we’d discovered ourselves just a few moments before … with only the sounds of the natural world around us.
As my husband cranks the car, I think silently to myself that we’ve encountered an experience that will be different for following generations. The constant attack from the violent waves continuously chips away at the cliffs’ exterior rock, meaning that we now may stand a little further than our descendants and our ancestors a little further than we. But, I suppose that’s the beauty of time. The exact coordinates might fluctuate, but the feeling of awe and wonder… well, that’s just the same.