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Shi-Shi Beach

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Shi-Shi Beach

For the best experience, follow the rules

The boardwalk was mossy green planks, slick in places but they kept us out of the muck below. The canopy of the old growth rainforest allowed minimal sun to dry the ground, so the alder, spruce, and cedars were gnarled and twisted, sometimes around themselves, sometimes around another tree, as they reached for light. 

We were on the trail to Shi Shi Beach through the Makah Indian Reservation. Nearly the entire trail is in the Reservation but the beach, our destination, is part of the Olympic National Park. 

We walked on, in the damp, late afternoon dim of the woods.

Earlier, at the visitor center, purchasing park permits, we met the ranger.

“There are rules. You may not like them or even think they are right, but there are rules,” he told us. 

Most of the rules were typical of wilderness or national park hiking but there were a few additions

 “You can build fires on the beach but not one big enough to be seen from another solar system.

 “All food, garbage, or any scented items must be stored in bear canisters. This is because of raccoons not bears, food hanging in bags will be torn open and eaten.

 “Finally, drive to the trailhead and drop your pack, then drive back along the road where you passed some houses with several cars in their yards and a cardboard sign saying ‘park here.’ Pay their price—whatever it is—and leave you car there. If you leave your car at the trailhead it will be gone.”

“Do you mean towed?”

“No, gone. You are going into another country; this is Ecuador in the 1970s. Pay their price to park in their yard, it will be fine there.” 

The trailhead parking lot sign said, “For overnight parking use secure lots.”

So we dropped and drove back, where we found a steel box to put our money. There was a sign above it: ten dollars for the day you arrive, no matter how late. Ten dollars for each day your car is here, and ten dollars for the day you leave, no matter how early. That price was paid—after we found some journal paper to wrap our money in. 

The ranger had said, “They do not invest your money on signage, striping or envelopes.” He seemed to be right. 

Appreciative and entertained by the presentation, we followed all the rules to the letter. Although we did notice the only thing secure in the secure parking area was the steel box where we left our money. 

We had done some research before the trip, so we knew the boardwalk would end before the mud bog did and we were ready for a slog. It wasn’t as soggy as expected. Our boots got covered and our pant legs dirty, but it was not nearly as bad as we understand it can be.

Just before entering the park there are some openings in the forest. A hundred or so feet below each one lay the Pacific Ocean, with scattered rocky outcroppings. Small to huge free-form ,sculptured islands dotted the sand and the surf. White foam slammed against them so hard you would think they would move but the wave was broken instead. 

A steep trail down the cliff had to be negotiated before reaching the beach. We had heard it was very treacherous and a rope was provided for the descent. On our day it was not as slippery as expected but still, many countless roots made the dirt track a challenge; not at all insurmountable, but challenging just the same.

At the bottom the trail headed toward the beach past a privy with a single “modesty” panel that could be seen over and around—better then digging a hole. 

Shi Shi Beach is a long, sandy, rock-strewn coastline. At the north is a rocky headland and the two-mile-long shoreline runs south to another: the Point of Arches.

We set up camp at the demarcation where the rain forest spills down the cliff to join the light brown sand. 

A hike to the north headland allowed close inspection of the rocks. 

Conglomerate rocks are sediment with sandstone working like a mortar for larger stones and boulders of different kinds. They have been pressed into a hard sarsen, looking a little like a large aggregate and concrete mix. 

For millenniums, the surf has hammered these rocks into a tortured, distressed look—eerie, weird shapes looking structurally unsound but standing strong against the ocean’s power. 

Around and between them are motes and wonder-filled, small tide pools, teaming with diversity of life and color. Bright orange to burgundy to purple to neon violet starfish wait to catch a ride on the next tide.

At one point we kept hearing a recurring boom. A search led us to a small cave where the waves trapped and compressed air until the power of nature blasted, blowing vapor back out the opening. 

Early the first morning I experienced a karmic moment. On the horizon we saw the spray of whales. The spray was all we could see at first, yet I felt elation in the occasion. Then I remembered a few weeks earlier in Yellowstone Park. I had become cranky when tourists clogged the road looking at bears several hundred yards away. It was not a bear sighting, only a “couple of black dots” sighting. Now I was acting the same as those people each time I saw a spout in the distance. I got it: we can all get excited about witnessing something we are not used to seeing. 

Finally, one of the giant mammals seemed to lie at the surface for a while. As I watched with binoculars it dove, giving a great show of flukes high out of the water followed by a massive splash. During that day we saw otters and seals cavorting near the shore while eagles glided over us into the trees. 

The days were spent hiking the beach, sometimes barefoot, connecting to the ocean as an ever-changing constant. It is a force that may appear destructive yet, it is the reason for the wonderful, erratic rocks and beach where we camped.

On the forth day we walked the trail back through the Reservation to the lot where we had left the cars. Just as before there were no lines, no permanent signs, and no one—and the cars were not gone. 

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

The Hawks Nest, Shi Shi Beach, Makah Indian Reservation, Olympic National Park

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