Moving on to Montesano WA

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

We left Astoria Sunday morning around 9:40 am taking a little time to hitch up the Subaru. We headed towards town and crossed the long Astoria-Megler Bridge and causeway that took us to the State of Washington. The bridge’s main span is 1232 feet, the longest continuous truss in the nation. Total distance across the mouth of the Columbia River by road is 4.1 miles with the highest point 197 feet above the water line.

We passed Cape Disappointment, named by Captain John Meares in 1788 which reflected his feeling for not finding the inland passage. The cape is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and features Fort Canby built in 1852, The North Head Lighthouse and Cape Disappointment State Park.

The first town we came to was Ilwaco (936 souls), a small settlement that lies just inside the mouth of the Columbia River. The river has one of the most treacherous river bars in the world. Over the course of 200 years the hazardous conditions of the Columbia bar and those along the nearby coast have claimed hundreds of vessels earning area waters the name “Graveyard of the Pacific”.

Cape Disappointment Coast Guard Station and Lighthouse is the home of one of the largest search and rescue bases in the state. It also houses the Coast Guards only heavy weather Motor Lifeboat School. Ilwaco is a sport fishing port where charter operators specialize in guided fishing trips for salmon, tuna, bottom fish and sturgeon.

We pass the 14,000 acre Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Long Island has a stand of 1000 year old red cedars, supports deer, bear, elk, coyotes and beaver and 180 species of migratory birds.

We follow US 101 northward along the coast, often enjoying views of beautiful sloughs and small bays. The road is windy as it follows the water line with little elevation change.

We come to South Bend (1637 souls). The development of rich timberland established South Bend as the key point in water and stagecoach transportation in Washington Territory in the late 1800’s.

After the arrival of the railroad in 1893, the town became an important shipping point for oysters to Eastern markets. Oyster processing has become and important local industry since the 1930’s. The opulent Pacific County Courthouse with its lit, stained glass 35 foot rotunda lies 2 blocks off of US 101.

The city of Raymond (2862 souls) is in close proximity of South Bend. It was founded in 1904 at the head of navigation on the Willapa River. With two railroads serving the area the logging industry boomed. Although that industry has diminished a sawmill still exists.

Approaching Raymond is the Wildlife Heritage Sculpture Corridor featuring iron representations of the local wildlife. In town is the Northwest Carriage Museum with features 43 restored horse drawn carriages.

US Highway 101……….. hmmm. Who maintains this stinkin’ road anyhow? The stretch between Raymond and the turnoff towards Montesano goes on our list of all time crappy roads. It’s full of phantom no-see-um dips, tips and rough patches, even the repaired sections are bad. US 101 is heavily traveled as it is the O thoroughfare that runs north and south along the coast from the Mexican Boarder all the way to Tumwater, WA. But this section of the highway is beat to crap. A couple of miles south of Aberdeen we zing off on a state road that was smooth as glass. Hummmmph! We pulled into Friends Landing and all our clothes had bounced off of the clothes rack in the back of the coach. Wasn’t expecting that to happen yet that stretch of US 101 was really rough!

Our Campsite at Friends Landing

We arrive at Friends Landing RV Park located outside of Montesano Washington. The park was the brainstorm of David Hamilton, a Trout Unlimited board member, who wanted to help a close friend who was having a difficult time accepting life in a wheelchair. Hamilton made plans for a recreational facility that people with disabilities could enjoy; where they could access aqua-culture and fish enhancement projects in the beauty of northwest Washington State. He made his dream happen, complete with a campground wedged between a river and a lake for the disabled community.

The Friend family donated 152 acres, previously an old gravel pit with one mile of Chahalis River frontage to Trout Unlimited in 1988. Dredging for gravel had created the 32 acre Quigg Lake. Hamilton had planted the seed and got the wheels turning. Trout Unlimited along with Columbia RC&D and Gray’s Habor County funded the project and provided volunteers. The community build a boat launch, two fishing shelters, a picnic shelter, a parking lot and quarters for a caretaker. They built a paved path south of the lake along with viewing docks and piers. In 1999 they completed a paved path around the lake, restrooms with showers, RV and tent-camping facilities and accessible playground equipment. 

Friends Landing, once a dream is now a reality. This is our second visit to Friends Landing. A little, no, a lot off the beaten path yet offers a lot of enjoyment not only for fishermen but those who love nature. The Port of Gray’s Harbor has taken over long term management and preservation of Friends Landing. I found it interesting that here in the Pacific Northwest, known for its prolific rainfall, that every RV park and state campground we’ve been to the turf has been brown and dormant. None are irrigated relying on rainfall which has been scarce this summer.

We’ve become a little road weary and the decision is made not to travel to inland Washington’s summer playground, Westport. We’ve been to many beachy resort places and used to live within a couple of miles of the coast so we’ll just go into Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Montesano for a look see.

This is the #1 place to visit according to Aberdeen website. This is as far as you go as the port is off limits!

Aberdeen (17,013 souls) is the economic center of Gray’s Harbor County, its economy originally based on the timber industry. The city is occasionally referred to as the “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula”. This place is situated at the mouth of the Chehalis and Wishkah Rivers.

By 1900 it had become home to many saloons, brothels and gambling establishments; it was nicknamed “The Hellhole of the Pacific” as well as “The Port of Missing Men” due to its high murder rate.

Speaking of missing men, singer/songwriter/guitarist and lead vocalist of the rock band Nirvana, Kurt Cobain was born in Aberdeen. As he grew up he became somewhat of a renegade, especially after his parents divorced. He lived in Montesano as a teenager.

We visited Kurt Cobain Memorial Park- a tiny sliver of unkempt land lying next to a bridge. Cobain claimed that during periods of homelessness he lived under a bridge over the Wishkah River, claim that was refuted by a neighbor lady we met who lived next to Cobain Park her entire life.

Signage in front of lady’s home who is fed up with Cobain seekers

The park was the brainstorm and labor of love of a neighbor who knew Kurt. The responsibility was handed to the city of Aberdeen which has never done a good job of maintaining it. Cobain died at the tender age of 27.

Aberdeen and the rest of Grays Harbor remain dependent on timber, fishing and tourism. The Port of Grays Harbor is the largest coastal shipping port north of California, exporting logs as well as having become one of the largest centers for the shipment of autos and grains to China and Korea.

We found downtown Aberdeen depressed and uninteresting so we drove up the road to Hoquiam (8776 souls). The name comes from a Native-American word meaning “hungry for wood” as there is a great amount of driftwood at the mouth of the Hoquiam River. It shares a common economic history with Aberdeen. In 1936 the wood pulp mill began manufacturing a certain kind of wood pulp used by its customers to produce rayon.

Hoquiam is home of the Logger’s Playday, celebrated with a parade and logging competition every September in which loggers from around the world come to participate. The local Bowerman Airport is coastal Washington’s only jet-capable airport.

The Old Train Depot has been repurposed as the Dept. of Motor Vehicles

We found the commercial district in Hoquiam more alive than that of Aberdeen. And seemed more clean. We drove through some residential neighborhoods which were very well maintained.

Hoquiam Mansion

Driving up a steep hill we find Hoquiam’s Castle, also known as the Robert Lytle Mansion. Built in 1897, the castle is a five story wood frame structure with a hand-fitted sandstone foundation. The house is 10,000 square feet of opulance featuring 20 rooms. The third floor has a ballroom with a 20 by 60 foot bandstand. The mansion was the first home in Hoquiam to have electric lights.

The Polson Museum, Hoquiam WA

Robert Lytle had this mansion built and shortly after its completion gave it to his niece as a wedding gift. After the niece died in the 1950’s the house was unoccupied until 1968. The Watson family restored the castle in the early 1970’s. It was opererated for a while as Hoquiam’s Castle Bed and Breakfast before being sold in 2004. The new owner allowed it to be set up as a “haunted house” to raise money for children’s activities.

On Tuesday we drove the few miles into Montesano (4,138 souls). The number of souls I state here may be incorrect. As we passed the Welcome to Montesano sign, a painter was changing number for the towns population. The city is the seat of Gray’s Harbor County.

The town was incorporated in 1883. The name Montesano was used to refer to the homestead of Isaiah Scammon and his wife Lorinda. They filed a 640 acre claim on the Chehalis River. The Scammon home was often referred to as Scammon’s Landing or Scammon’s Hotel because it was an important stopping point along the Chehalis for early pioneers, and the farthest up river mooring point and railroad junction for seagoing ships.

A prominent feature of town is the 1911 Gray’s Harbor County Courthouse. The interior features murals of local history. And don’t miss the dent in the front door which was made by a sheriff’s bullet as he fired at a fleeing felon. The motto “come on vacation and leave on probation” was coined for Montesano. Lake Sylvia State Park is just north of town and the Wynooche Valley road north from Montesano is the access to the southern Olympic Mountains and the southern quarter of Olympic National Park.

The town of Montesano is known as the origin of commercial forestry’s tree farm industry. Weyerhaeuser established the Clemons Tree Farm in 1941; today the farm sprawls over 200,000 acres. Lake Sylvia State Park located one mile north of town.

We were impressed with Montesano. The downtown area was very clean and it appeared all the stores had functioning businesses. There are blocks and blocks of well kept homes and there are quite of few very large ones. All in all, Montesano is a keeper. As a side, during WWII the citizens of Montesano purchased war bonds to pay for a B-24 bomber named The Spirit of Montesano.

We went up the road to Lake Sylvia State Park. The draw of the developed portion of the park is, of course, the lake. The lake is not large yet along with the thick forest that rims its shores, is very picturesque. This is the sight of the first sawmill in this county. We didn’t see any evidence of a sawmill, only a very nice day area with a big swimming beach, the campground and a few other very nice day use areas along the shore of Lake Sylvia.

Tomorrow we’ll be heading up the coast towards Olympic National Park. WiFi is spotty at Forks, our next camping location so I’ll get back to you when possible with more blog entries. Until then, via con Dios!

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