I used to think that Cape Blanco on the southern coast of Oregon was the most westerly point of the contiguous United States. But when I started doing tours for the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, I discovered that Cape Flattery in Washington actually deserves this distinction. To verify this fact I went to lat-long.com and compared the longitudinal degrees of both capes. Cape Blanco measures 124.564 degrees west and Cape Flattery measures 124.714 degrees west… just a few feet difference.
Today we set out on a scenic road trip that will take us to the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States. And it just happens to be on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, not far from where we are staying.
Our first stop is Clallam Bay, the farthest north we can travel before heading west. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
No such luck today…
The Clallam River empties into the Bay where it then makes it way into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
On the western end of the Bay sits another seafront town, Sekiu. A plaque at the overlook explains the importance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca as both a shipping lane and a passageway for marine animals. Orcas swim through and some gray whales take a detour through the Strait as they migrate along the coast. A small resident population of humpback whales remain near shore year round. At any rate, both the fishing population and the whale population enjoy the abundance of chinook salmon during spawning season. (plaque at overlook)
In it’s past, Sekiu has been the site of a salmon cannery, a factory that extracted leather tanning solution from hemlock tree bark, a commercial fishing port, a residential center for timber workers, and a port for shipping timber to regional mills.
In the 1930s fishing regulations restricted commercial fishing to areas that were more than 3 miles away from the mouth of rivers. Seiku’s commercial fishery eventually was replaced with recreational fishing. (plaque at overlook)
The next stop on our way to Cape Flattery is Neah Bay, a census designated area of 2.4 square miles on the Makah Reservation. The name “Neah” refers to the Makah Chief Dee-ah, pronounced Neah in a now extinct language once spoken by the Klallam peoples. Archaeological research suggests that Makah people have inhabited Neah Bay for more than 3,800 years.(en.m.wikipedia.org)
According to makah.com, the name Makah was attributed to the Tribe by neighboring tribes. It means “people generous with food” in the Salish language.
The indigenous Makah held a vast territory of inland and coastal territory bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Until historic times, 5 permanent villages existed along the shore of the most northwesterly point of what is now the Olympic Peninsula. The villages were composed of large cedar plank longhouses where many members of an extended family lived. Cultural practices, called tupat, varied from family to family. Thus, even today, Makah families, and not the tribe as a whole, “own” their varied songs, dances, stories, land/ocean resources, and cultural information. (makah.com)
In 1970 tidal erosion exposed a group of 500-year-old homes in Ozette, 15 miles south of Neah Bay, that had been perfectly preserved in an ancient mudslide. Over 55,000 artifacts were discovered. The Makah share this rich legacy at a museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. (museum brochures)
Since Cape Flattery is on the Tribal Reservation, a $10 annual recreational permit issued by the Makah is required.
The 3/4 mile trail (one way) leads through a lush forest.
Three observation decks offer views of the Pacific Ocean, The Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island (on a clear day).
I spy with my little eye mussels, barnacles, a sea star, and purple flowers growing out of the right side of the cavern rock.
The trail ends at the third observation deck which has to be accessed by climbing several steep rungs on a wooden ladder.
We are now standing on a 60- foot high cliff at the farthest northwesterly point in the lower 48 states. Tattoosh Island and Lighthouse are just across from us.
The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a deep and wide passage from the open Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound at Point Wilson. Tatoosh Island is an important center for intertidal studies, including climate change and ocean acidification research. (Olympic Peninsula Visitors Guide, Summer 2019) (We all know how that’s going these days… Don’t get me started!)
I walk under the observation deck to take this next picture. It’s a sheer drop into the ocean. Just one misstep is all it would take.
It’s time to head back. And time for a few more pics.
What a wonderful day! The only regret I have is that we did not spend time at the Makah Museum.