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Flying the Edge of America:

Cape Flattery, Washington

The next morning, at Fort Stevens State Park in Oregon, Julia and David planned to take-off and land at a visual flight rules (VFR) airport in Sekiu, Washington. This airport was very close to the bed and breakfast they had planned to stay at. However, the weather was still bad so they had to change their plans a bit, and land at William R Fairchild International Airport in Port Angeles instead. This airport would allow them to make an instrument approach if they had to, and the airport at Sekiu would not.

They arrived at the Astoria Airport early and took off into cloudy skies. The cloud ceiling was high so David felt confident that their trip would be less dramatic than the previous flight. As they crossed the mighty Columbia River, and flew upwards towards the gray sky above, David realized his expectations for an easy flight would not be achieved. He could see they were in for a very rough flight instead. They climbed higher above the clouds and were eventually greeted by broken blue skies above them. The wonderful coastline of Oregon and Washington revealed itself to them occasionally. But the further north they flew, the more the cloud increased, until they were completely encased by them. The clouds were not the thin marine layers David was used to, they were high, thick, and billowy. They contained lots of energy and turbulence. Their flight soon became horrible, bumping them about in complete whiteout 6,000 feet above the ground. It was not a pleasant experience, and it certainly made Julia very unhappy.

They were pleased to reach the first corner of their trip and turn east towards Port Angeles. Being at this milestone of their flight was encouraging, even if they were in a complete whiteout and could not see anything of Cape Flattery. When they arrived at Port Angeles they picked up the landing beams, and descended below all of the bumpy clouds to clear air and a simple landing at the airport. Once on the ground they picked up their rental car and drove to the bed and breakfast in Clallam Bay. The scenery was magnificent and helped Julia recover from the horror of their encounter with the clouds. It was a great way to spend the fourth of July 2008.

See the video of this flight

Julia was not sure if it was because of the weather, the grey cloudy sky, the fog, and the dreary color of the Pacific Ocean, but Port Angeles looked like a place where it would be hard to get a decent paying job, and where life would be fairly tough. According to the 2000 census, 13.2% of the population was under the poverty line. This is within the average range for the USA. Perhaps life is not worse there than anywhere else. Whatever else may be bad, at least the people in Port Angeles have access to the wilderness of the Olympic National Park. The park contains old-growth forests, some of which is temperate rain forest. It also has beaches and wild coastline, mountains, and rivers. It was no surprise to find it was raining for most of their time there, as it rains a lot in the Northeast.

They visited Cape Flattery, the most northwestern part of the contiguous USA, located in an Indian reservation. The Makah Nation appeared very proud of their cultural heritage and they have a museum in Neah Bay, the main town on the reservation. For hundreds of years before the arrival of Europeans the Makah depended on the ocean for food, and they hunted whales in order to survive. The Makah gave up most of their lands to the US government in 1855 (not sure what happened, but I can imagine). In the treaty the Makah kept the right to continue to hunt whales. However, due to commercial whaling in subsequent years, and the decimation of whale populations as a result, they did not hunt for most of the twentieth century. In 1999, after a 70 year gap, the tribe once again killed a North Pacific grey whale. According to the Nation's website, they are waiting for a waiver to hunt again from the government. Whales became endangered because of commercial hunting on a scale far bigger than the Makah's hunting. And the Makah Nation feels that hunting the whales is a crucially important part of their culture and traditional identity.

Julia and David paid a small fee to enter the reservation. Then drove through woods to the end of a road and found a footpath out to Cape Flattery. There was only one other car parked in the lot, and as they got out it started to rain. It was a short walk out to the ocean. The path was well constructed with boards over muddy areas. At the end of the trail they climbed up to a platform in torrential rain. A Makah woman park ranger was there to help visitors and answer questions. It was quite surprising to find her standing in waterproofs from head to toe in the rain. She was eager to answer their questions about where to see whales from the beach. Despite the rain and getting soaked, even wearing waterproof jackets, they enjoyed the damp walk and a sense of accomplishment at reaching the first corner of their flight around the edges of America.

Cape Flattery Video

Continue the adventure, in my next excerpt from Flying the Edge of America.


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