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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

RV road trip: Windswept northwestern Washington and the Makah Museum

Long before the Europeans arrived in North America, Native American mariners and navigators called the Makah paddled the turbulent seas off the north coast of Washington. From dug-out cedar canoes they hunted whales and seals and fished for salmon and halibut.

They hunted the animals that roamed the forests around them, and gathered berries and plants according to the region’s natural cycles. As was common among indigenous people, they utilized everything that they took from nature’s offerings, long before people used words like sustainable, conservation, and environmental.

In the early 1800s, an estimated 4,000 Makah lived along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca in the state’s northwestern-most corner. Villages consisted of extended families spanning several generations, living together in cedar planked longhouses as large as 30 by 70 feet.

But contact with early European explorers decimated the Makah. Thousands died from diseases from which they had no immunity: whooping cough, smallpox, and influenza. Many of the old cultural ways were lost.

Then in the 1970s, winter storms eroded away a massive mud slide that had buried the former Ozette village in the early 1700s, revealing preserved artifacts that illustrated Makah life from before contact with the white man. These priceless, archeologically important finds--cradle boards, fishing, whaling, and sealing gear, baskets, hats, looms, toys, and tools—over 55,0000 individual items that have been collected, identified, and catalogued–are now part of the Makah Museum, along with a full-size replica longhouse, four cedar dug-out canoes, and recordings of Makah songs and language.

The Museum, on the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, is rated as the finest tribal museum in the country as well as in the top ten of all museums of its size. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays until after Memorial Day. The Museum Shop contains carvings, jewelry, and other creations of local Makah artists.

But even without the Museum, this windswept extreme northwest corner of the country offers many exploring and boondocking opportunities in this lightly populated area, especially in Olympic National Forest on the northwestern side of Olympic National Park.

Continue on up SR113 to SR112 along the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the fishing village of Sekiu along the Strait, where there are several primitive and hook-up campgrounds, and on to the reservation and Cape Flattery. On the reservation you can camp at the Hobock Beach Resort. The road to Cape Flattery was paved a few years ago and is now easily drivable with RVs without the risk of getting stuck in the muddy road.

Check out Bob Difley's Boondocking and Snowbird Guide eBooks at

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