Sunday, November 17, 2013

Weekend Trip: Olympic Peninsula

My Dears, 

A few weekends back we decided to get out of town for a few days and visit the lovely towns of Port Gamble, Sequim, and Port Angeles. 

A quick side note: I once read one of those “You Know You’re From Washington State if You Can...

-Correctly pronounce Sequim, Puyallup, Enumclaw and Issaquah.

Not from around these parts? Here is some help. 

Anyway, the towns at the northern tip of the Peninsula bill themselves as the sunshine-y part of the state, thanks to the olympic rain shadow but our trip was punctuated by fog, drizzle, and generally grey days. Given that it was the same in Seattle, we weren’t too bent out of shape about it. Welcome to the Northwest, Peeps.

On Saturday morning we caught the ferry in Edmonds to Kingston and then wound our way northwest, including a brief jaunt to Port Gamble, before eventually landing in Port Angeles. 

This was a quick trip for us: previously we’d really enjoyed hiking and picnicking at Hurricane Ridge, touring the lavender farms, cutting Christmas Trees, and hiking to the tip of Dungeness Spit. But there was no time for those activities on this trip - besides, several of those are best enjoyed when temps are a bit warmer. 

We spent the night at the Olympic Lodge which was great pit-stop. We’d picked it originally because their outdoor pool is open year-round; we figured the bambino would love a little dip. And although it was packed with kids, it was a tad bit chilly for our little guy. He would have been just fine if he was motoring around under his own steam but it was too cool for tykes going for a casual dip. So much for great ideas. 

We elected to take naps instead (one lucky two year old scored his own queen bed). After dinner we ventured down to the waterfront and toured old Port Angeles, which is really quite lovely. And probably much more lively during the summer months. 

The next morning we were up bright and early for a trip through the Olympic Game Park

I’m going to  pause here and fess up that I need to swallow a big ‘ole dose of humble pie here as I was not super thrilled by this place when we toured in 2012

{I’m still going to stand by my original assessment in regards to the big cats and carnivores: the cages are tiny and look like they’re pulled straight from 1950’s era zoos [bare dirt, concrete, and wire fencing].}

But the kiddo (and his parents) had an absolute hoot driving through the elk, lama, bison, and zebra ranges. It was SO MUCH FUN. Ben danced around the car handing out bread to inquiring beasts or retreated to the big picture windows in back when said beasts got a little pushy. 

Prepare yourself for some animal photo madness.

We'll start with the peahens:

And their buddies, who also like bread:

And then on to the yaks (which are in an area with llamas and zebras). This turned out to be our favorite part of the game park. 

The yaks are big but they’re less aggressive than the llamas, and slow moving.

They poke their head in the car and inquire: Might we please have some bread?

The fallow deer are quite also polite:

We spent a lot of time with the zebras.

Then it was on to the bears.  Each animal stakes out a spot and waits for passing cars to throw out treats. 

Known as the ‘waving bears’, they’ll give you a wave in return for a hunk of bread. Of course, they manage to look supremely bored while begging for bread (and also grossly obese, although I’m no ursine expert).  

Ever wonder how long a bear tongue is? Answer: extremely long. 

After the bears, take a drive through the carnivore area (tigers, lions, wolves, and mountain lions) although I don’t have any photos because they, unlike the herbivores, are behind chain link fences. Then it’s on to the big pastures with elk, bison, deer, and horses.

The elk are pretty pushy so Ben was content to watch from the back, with the windows rolled all the way up. 

This guy was persistent: he galloped alongside the car for a bit before going back to his pile of hay.

We were warned before entering that the bison are in the middle of rutting season and thus are pretty aggressive. The parting words of the gate attendant: "don’t let them box you in"!

Right. Bison. As in: HUGE BISON.

They had quite effective tactics, really. An animal would walk in front of the vehicle, causing the driver to stop, and then they’d nip around to the open windows and place their entire head into the vehicle, which essentially prohibited you from driving on. Giant mouths agape, and tongues extended, it was quite a sight. 

 Pictures simply don’t do justice to the size of these animals. I got to the point where I’d feed the ‘small’ ones (below) and do a quick window roll-up when the giants arrived on the scene. 

A few things to know before you go:

We arrived right at 9am and were the second car through the gates. The animals were very happy to see us as we came bearing the first bread of the day. Also, they must feed the carnivores around the same time as there were lots of active cats and roars/howls reverberating throughout the park. 

You can bring in bread to feed the animals but it must be wheat bread. No white, sourdough, or potato bread. It can be purchased at the front gate or you can pick up a few loaves at the store before arrival. 

There is an area with goats/chickens/fowl/etc which is where the kids can get out of the car but it’s closed during the winter months. All other areas (with the exception of one observation tower) are by car only. 

A quick note: choose your vehicle wisely. Unbeknownst to my parents, we opted to borrow their old minivan while they were away on vacation. [Thanks Padres!!].  And in the end, we were exceptionally grateful to have taken it along for a few reasons:

1) Height. Being up at animal eye level is pretty cool. We did the park once before in an RV and that was also perfect. Also, if in the prius, we might have felt that the bison were completely invading the vehicle, instead of just partially. So go the SUV/minivan/truck route, if at all possible.

2) Old. The caravan has 190,000 miles on it. Its glory days are long gone. By the end of our tour there was bison goo smeared liberally across the side of the van and poo was glommed onto the wheels. Chris also knew someone at work whose hood was nicely dented by an irate bison at the park. So in other words, don’t take your new mercedes though these gates. ‘Cause it won’t look pretty upon exiting. 

Also, I’d fold your side mirrors in so they don’t get caught by a misplaced horn/antler/head. And be quick with the window roll-ups!


Olympic Game Farm

1423 Ward Road, Sequim, WA 98382

Open 7 days a week
9 am to 4 pm

Adults: $12
Kids 6-14: $11
5 and Under: Free