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Rural Rides Through an Olympic Peninsula Valley

<i> Thompson is a free-lance writer living in Tacoma, Wash</i>

The fertile farmlands of Sequim-Dungeness Valley lie tucked away along the top of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, about 70 miles from Seattle’s glitter.

Life in the valley moves at a pace in step with the dairy cows that wander slowly toward the barns at milking time.

Averaging only 16 inches of rain a year--far less than the peninsula’s rain-drenched Pacific coast, the valley makes an appealing day-trip from Seattle.

The road north from Sequim meanders seven miles to Dungeness through low marsh farmlands, scattered with weathered barns and hay bales.

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Forgotten rusted tractor wheels lean against gray fences, and weeping willow trees dip into winding streams. In the background rise the snow-clad Olympic Mountains.

The general store, Dungeness Tavern and scattered relics of vacant and dilapidated buildings suggest what was once a bustling town in the early part of this century.

State Historic Site

Many houses built at that time have been restored or are in the process of being revitalized. West of the Dungeness River stands the cream-colored, red-roofed Old Dungeness Schoolhouse, a state historic site dating from 1892 and now a social center.

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Still farther west is Cline Spit where the first settlers landed. A bronze plaque marks the place and gives important dates in Dungeness history.

West of the school, on a grassy knoll overlooking the bluff at Dungeness, looms the brooding two-storied McAlmond House. Elisha McAlmond was among the first settlers who sailed from Boston around Cape Horn to Dungeness in 1851.

Designated a state historic landmark, the house is the oldest in Clallam County and the first to be built of sawed lumber. It is wrapped in an air of mystery and loneliness, and appears to have risen from the pages of a Gothic novel.

If you take U.S. 101 to Kitchen Road and pass through the Dungeness Recreation Area, you’ll come to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, 573 acres of forested upland, a large sand spit and adjoining tidelands.

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The seven-mile Dungeness Spit is one of the longest in the nation, and it grows 10 feet a year as sand sweeps onto it from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A foot trail leads a quarter mile through a moss and fern-draped forest, emerging at a spectacular viewpoint overlooking the curving Spit and Victoria, B.C., 12 miles north across the strait.

The screech of gulls and haunting moans of a foghorn lure thousands of visitors each year down to the spit. It’s a world of 10-foot-high heaps of jumbled driftwood, scooting sandpipers, eelgrass and a beach scattered with agates.

Bird-watchers have sighted 275 species in the refuge, and it’s not surprising that Audubon groups gather frequently to see the rare black brant in the winter and spring. All year long, shore birds and waterfowl feed and nest along the beaches, and seals play in the surf.

An Old Beacon

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At the tip of the spit stands New Dungeness Lighthouse, the oldest beacon north of the Columbia River. It has guarded the harbor for more than 125 years. Ambitious hikers pack lunches and drinking water and tramp to the lighthouse and back in a day.

In the 200-acre Dungeness Recreation Area adjoining the refuge are bridle paths, campsites, picnic areas and heated showers. To contact the recreation area, call (206) 683-5847.

Another site for wildlife is the 93-acre Olympic Game Farm, home to 56 species of animal. Owner Lloyd Beebe has entertained and educated people for 30 years by producing more than 80 movies, including “Charlie the Lonesome Cougar,” “Incredible Journey,” “Never Cry Wolf” and the “Grizzly Adams” TV series.

Walt Disney Studios owned most of the animals and operated the farm for 20 of those years. Now, endangered wildlife is bred there, and driving or guided walking tours are offered. Visitors can photograph Siberian tigers, Tibetan yaks, jaguars, bison, wolves, zebras, lions, bears and Ricky, a 4,400-pound African white rhino.

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The farm is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The walking and driving tours are each $4, or $6 for both. Senior citizens and children up to 12 pay $3 for one tour or $4 for both. Children under 5 are admitted free.

About 3,300 people live within the three square miles that comprise the city of Sequim, and another 15,000 live in the surrounding area.

Along the tidy streets of the town the first indication of friendly welcome is the absence of parking meters. Motorists do, however, contend with three traffic lights, and during summer the town gets an endless parade of vacationers, maneuvering RVs, campers and boat trailers.

The town has antique shops, art galleries, a movie theater and any number of restaurants--37 at last count. The area also has two golf courses.

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Main Mastodon Site

You might have heard of Sequim because of the Manis Mastodon Site. It put the town in the news in 1977 when Clare and Emanuel Manis dug up a mastodon tusk in a boggy area on their Happy Valley Farm.

The discovery was the earliest evidence of human existence in the Pacific Northwest, dating back 12,000 years to a time when men hunted the mastodon for food.

For several years each summer, archeologists from Washington State University conducted digs in Happy Valley, uncovering increasing numbers of bones.

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The mastodon fossils and other artifacts are displayed at the Sequim-Dungeness Museum at 175 W. Cedar St. Exhibits range from Ice Age man and the early Klallam Indians to the 1792 voyage of George Vancouver in his ship Discovery.

From May to October the museum is open from noon to 4 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. October and November, it’s noon to 4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

You’ll find a festive scene every Saturday, April through September, at the Farmers Market from 7 a.m. until about noon in the parking lot at South Sequim Avenue and Maple Street. Merchandise includes plants, produce, livestock and crafts--all sold from trucks, tables and station wagon tailgates.

Another point of interest is the Neuharth Winery on Still Road east of Sequim. Owners Eugene and Maria Neuharth brought grapevines to Sequim from California’s San Joaquin Valley, and converted a 1933 dairy barn and milking shed into a wine making and bottling facility and tasting room.

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Thirty varieties of experimental grapes border the drive leading to the winery, which produces Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Dungeness red and white. The Neuharth Winery is open to the public daily from May 15 to Sept. 30, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call (206) 683-9652 or (206) 683-3706.

Bedroom Wine

The Lost Mountain Winery, a smaller operation, is run by Romeo Conca, a retired chemist who began his own wine making from his son’s bedroom after his son left home.

The winery on the 40-acre Lost Mountain property is open to the public on a drop-in basis from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. the last week in June and the first week in July. The rest of the year, Conca prefers visits by arrangement; otherwise it’s by chance. Arrangements can be made by calling (206) 683-5229.

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Sequim has five boat-launching facilities, the largest being the new John Wayne Marina on West Sequim Bay, with permanent moorage for 200 boats.

About 26 miles away looms Olympic National Park’s 922,000 acres of unspoiled wilderness, rugged snowy mountains, wildlife, glaciers, lakes, streams and rain forest.

In its peaceful valley setting, the Sequim-Dungeness area offers a varied mixture of historic and archeological attractions, as well as year-round outdoor pleasures: hiking, fishing, boating, clamming, crabbing and beachcombing. It’s a relaxing side trip for travelers exploring the Olympic Peninsula.

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To reach Sequim from Olympia, follow U.S. 101 north. The road passes right through Sequim. If you are driving from Seattle you will need to take one of two ferries: one leaves from Seattle and goes to Winslow, about 60 miles from Sequim; the other from Edmonds (just north of Seattle), landing at Kingston about 50 miles from Sequim.

From Winslow to Sequim, take Washington 305 to Washington 3, then cross the Hood Canal floating bridge and follow Washington 104, then U.S . 101.

For ferry schedules and costs, contact Washington State Ferries, Seattle Ferry Terminal, Pier 52, Seattle, Wash. 98104, (206) 464-6400. The nearest major city to Sequim is Port Angeles, 15 miles away.

Dungeness has waterfront motels and cottages and Sequim has several motels and a B&B;, all offering summer and winter rates. The new Sundowner Motel, 364 Washington, (206) 683-5532, costs $45 double a night, is close to restaurants and shopping and offers kitchen units.

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The Red Ranch Inn, 830 Washington, (206) 683-4194, doubles $56, offers a pleasant country atmosphere.

Juan de Fuca Cottages, 561 Marine Drive, (206) 683-4433, doubles $61 and $71, is scenic and quiet, with fully-equipped kitchen cottages.

Dungeness Bay Motel, 569 Marine Drive, (206) 683-3013, doubles $55, has completely furnished kitchen units and is on Dungeness Bay.

Cracked Crab Dinner

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Excellent seafood from the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca is the pride of most restaurants in Sequim-Dungeness--clams, salmon, oysters, halibut, sole, geoduck and snapper, and always Dungeness crab.

Try the Three Crabs, 101 Three Crabs Road, where a cracked crab dinner is about $14. It opens at 11:30 a.m. daily; reservations recommended.

The Old Sequim Depot Restaurant & Lounge, a 76-year-old railroad station, features seafood and steak. Address: 710 S. Sequim Ave. at the railroad tracks.

The Oak Table Cafe serves breakfasts and lunches of crepes, pancakes, omelets, waffles, salads and sandwiches--all freshly made with locally-produced ingredients. Address: 292 W. Bell St. Open Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday breakfast only, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Casoni’s features international cuisine and an excellent wine list. Dinners are about $10 to $14. U.S. 101 at Carlsborg Road. Open daily, 4 to 11 p.m.

C’est Si Bon is a fine French restaurant offering fish, poultry, meat, special desserts and a good wine list. It’s 12 miles from Sequim in Port Angeles, 2300 U.S. 101 East. Open 3 to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

For more information on travel to Sequim-Dungeness, contact the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber, Box 907, 1192 E. Washington, Sequim, Wash. 98382, (206) 683-6197. The Visitors Information Center on U.S. 101 in town is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily throughout the year.


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