An Alaska-Like Place In The Lower 48

by | Jul 9, 2009

We just spent a week in mythical lands with beautiful people. Except they’re all real. Our friends and family and the two places—Mt. Rainier and Hood Canal. These places deserve National Geographic-style write ups, but for our purposes here I’d like to focus on Hood Canal, an area of Washington that I heretofore knew nothing about.

Darby and I motored the two plus hours from Rainier on Sunday afternoon and were thrilled to land at Alderbrook Resort in tiny, unincorporated Union, WA. It’s hard to describe the magnificent setting and the breathtaking scenery at Alderbrook, but I’ll give it a go.

Alderbrook is an historic camp site on Hood Canal, a major, hook-shaped Puget Sound tributary on the Olympic Peninsula southwest of Seattle. The sign says, “Since 1913,” but the experience today is totally updated. The restaurant at Alderbrook served us consistently great meals of wild salmon, organic chicken, halibut, Nebraska rib eye and quail. Capt. Lee Geist, who we met on the dock, took us on an impromptu spin around the canal in his lovingly restored vessel, Jack. Lucy hunted for oyster shells on the beach at low tide, the hot tub and steam room soothed our aching bones and Darby went to the spa for a therapeutic massage.

When we were on the boat with the Captain we learned a bunch. First, he pointed out George Washington’s profile in the towering, jagged peaks to our West. We learned that a pod of killer whales came to the area a few years ago and ate 800 seals, decimating the local population. We also learned that the compound next to Alderbrook is owned by Bill Gates and that Alderbrook’s multi-million dollar renovation and exceptional hospitality is the work of Jeff Raikes, a longtime Microsoft Corp. executive and part owner of the Mariners. Further inquiry also turned up the Nordstrom family’s connection to this place, which despite some of its rich summer residents still manages to emit a humble, real and easy vibe.

On Monday and again on Tuesday we drove around the south end of the Canal and up the other side to Hoodsport and beyond. At the entrance to the town of Eldon we stopped to snap a pic. My grandfather was named Eldon and he would have loved Eldon, WA. The Hamma Hamma River comes pouring out of the Olympic range in to the sea at Eldon. It’s a sportman’s paradise and my grandfather was the ultimate sportsman–a quail, duck, deer and elk hunter and patient, often rewarded fisherman. We saw an Elk standing near the mouth of the river and further upstream I jumped in to a lucid pool where trout and salmon live. Along the banks of the Hamma Hamma, I felt as if we were living in another time. Romantic as it is, I felt like maybe this is our Big Two-Hearted River.

Of course, it’s not the 1920s and I’m not Hemingway. My initial research shows that the Hood Canal ecosystem is in fact fighting for its life.

Hood Canal is suffering a thousand cuts. Old, failing septic systems pollute its waters. The flood-prone Skokomish River carries agricultural runoff — including pesticides and fertilizers — into the south end of the canal. Dead chum salmon, dumped by Skokomish Indians, used to pollute the canal — until Dicks found a market for the carcasses.

To sum up, Hood Canal is a special place in every way. Old money (and new) from Seattle loves it. Boaters love it. Fisherman love it. Hunters love it. Hikers and backpackers love it. Wilderness lovers love it. Writers and environmentalists from Portland love it. Eagles and whales and seals love it. But like all places beloved it needs T.L.C.

Here’s one group working to preserve the natural beauty of this area.

For an online map and more information about Hood Canal see