Summer fun is easy to find on the Olympic Peninsula

If you haven’t been to Forks lately, you might be surprised to find out what’s going on in this quiet corner of the Olympic Peninsula. The former Logging Capital of the World has become this summer’s must-visit destination for fans of the Twilight series of teen-romance novels.

The four books that make up the Twilight Saga follow a teen-age girl named Bella Swan, whose infatuation with Edward Cullen, a boy at her high school, leads to romance. Edward’s only apparent flaw is the fact that he is a vampire. An Internet search reportedly led the series’ Phoenix-based author, Stephenie Meyer, to choose Forks for the setting, because her vampires need dark, rainy climates to survive. From this perspective, Forks has it all. Teen-age girls seem to be the biggest fans of the series, and this brings an otherwise unlikely demographic group to a town once dominated by burly men with chainsaws and beards. Nevertheless, the community seems to be taking its newfound popularity in stride.

Twilight-themed T-shirts fly off the rack at the downtown Thrifway, and Sully’s Drive-In proudly serves up Bella Burgers for its literary minded visitors. During my half-hour visit to the Forks Visitor Information Center, I counted 20 people stopping in for information on the sights Meyer describes in her books. One family, with three teen-age girls, was visiting from Wisconsin. Later, a mother, father and teen-age daughter from Toronto stopped in to pick up the Twilight welcome packet, which includes a map to area Twilight landmarks and a Twilight trivia quiz, while the son waited in the car.

The Forks Chamber of Commerce even offers three-hour van tours to landmarks matching those described in Meyer’s novels. Stops include the local high school and the police station. The tours take place on a weekly basis, and reservations are required (360-374-2531). Marcia Bingham, executive director of the Forks chamber, is impressed by how well Meyer captured the spirit of Forks, which is particularly remarkable because the author had never even been to the community prior to the 2005 release of Twilight, the first book in the series, though she has reportedly dropped by since then.

Twilight-mania extends to Bella Italia restaurant in Port Angeles, where Edward and Bella go on their first date. On Aug. 10, Twilight and its sequels, New Moon, Eclipse and Breaking Dawn (released Aug. 2), occupied four of the top five positions on the USA Today best-seller list, and Time magazine included Meyer in its list of the world’s most influential people for 2008. With a motion picture based on the series due out in December, Forks residents can expect the visitors to keep coming. Mark your calendars for Sept. 13, when Forks celebrates Stephenie Meyer Day. The date coincides with Bella’s birthday in the novel.

Of course, you don’t have to be a teen-age girl to have fun in and around the northern side of the Olympic Peninsula. Here are few other things to see and do throughout the region:

Olympic Cellars

The producer of the Working Girl and La Dolce Vida wines hosts its “No Labor” Day celebration on Aug. 23. Stop by to sample wines and food, including Texas chili, and listen to live music. Intrepid visitors can also sign up for tandem skydive jumps that take place throughout the day. The fun continues with an evening barn dance featuring the country sounds of Nathan Chance. The winery is located in a restored barn alongside Hwy. 101, just east of Port Angeles.
On Sept. 13, the winery hosts its 6th annual Grape Stomp and Harvest Festival. The afternoon celebration features a contest in which two-person teams attempt to crush the most wine from grapes with their bare feet (à la Lucille Ball). Live music and wine tasting round out the fun.

Peninsula Golf Club

This private, member-owned golf course on the edge of Port Angeles is now open for daily play on afternoons, six days a week (it is reserved for members only on Thursdays). The course measures only 6,334 yards from the championship tees, and its 108 acres of space requires a tight layout. Nevertheless, the course makes up for its lack of size with persistent tests of shot-making abilities. On the sixth hole, for instance, an overly rotund Douglas fir awaits like Jabba the Hut down the right side of the fairway, turning what would otherwise play as a straight approach to the green into a dogleg right. On clear days, the view from the seventh fairway stretches all the way across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Victoria, B.C. The clubhouse and pro shop sit in modest facilities that date back to the club’s opening in 1921, but with $32 greens fees ($22 in fall and winter, not including cart fees), the facility offers great value and a leisurely pace.

Rainforest Paddlers

The Peterson family’s roots in the Hoh River Valley date back to the 19th century, and they have tilled the land and welcomed visitors for four generations. Anna Matsche is part of the Peterson’s new generation of leaders. When she’s not running her café or helping harvest hay from family farmland, the 20-something woman and her team lead kayak and raft tours down the Hoh (Class I/II), Sol Duc (Class III) and Elwha (Class II/III) rivers. As they skillfully navigate the rapids, Matsche and her crew share their insight on the region’s natural and cultural history—and offer great tips on places to eat.

Three Rivers Resort

After hearing Matsche describe the milkshakes at Three Rivers Resort, I simply had to try one for myself.
I was not disappointed.
Three Rivers consists of cabins, RV hookups, a general store and a burger shack off Hwy 110, about halfway between Forks and La Push. There is nothing fancy about the place, but my strawberry milkshake, made with fresh strawberries and rich ice cream, was pure pleasure. Even though the top of the concoction rose above the brim of its 16-ounce cup, it held firm as I relished every sip. Matsche raves about the huckleberry shakes that they serve in the fall, and I have no reason to think that these are anything but sublime.

A rising Storm brightens summer’s sports scene

Thank goodness for the Seattle Storm. While the Mariners continue to flounder and the Supersonics load their moving vans, the local ladies of hoop are dishing out special moments—on and off the court.

Seattle’s lone remaining professional basketball team enters a crucial stretch of games riding a six-game winning streak that has brought it to within one game of the division lead in the WNBA’s seven-team Western Conference. After a lackluster start to the season, the team now seems poised to make a run for a second league championship in just the ninth season of its existence.

This good news is tempered by the fact that the team will have to play its next five games, beginning with a July 18 tilt in Indianapolis, without the services of star forward Lauren Jackson. The two-time league MVP, who hails from Australia, is temporarily leaving the Storm to train with her native country’s national team as it prepares for the Olympics. The rest of the WNBA goes on hiatus for about two weeks when the Olympics begin, but Jackson is leaving a little earlier to spend extra time getting in sync with her teammates Down Under. This means that point guard Sue Bird, who will be playing with the American women in Beijing, and her Storm teammates will have to fill a very large void.

Judging by the action in the Storm’s July 12 home win over the Los Angeles Sparks, any setbacks that the team does suffer during Jackson’s absence won’t come from a lack of heart—among the players or their fans. Spurred on by a sell-out crowd at Key Arena, the Storm overcame an early deficit to run away with a 70-52 victory in a showdown featuring some of the brightest stars in women’s basketball. The Sparks’ side of the court featured rookie sensation Candace Parker, whose ability to dunk is attracting national attention, and basketball legend Lisa Leslie, a three-time league MVP and member of three gold medal–winning Olympic teams. The Storm countered with its own cadre of high-profile players. Alongside perennial all-stars Jackson and Bird, veteran forward Sheryl Swoopes, who joined the Storm before this season, has earned three league MVPs and three Olympic gold medals of her own during an illustrious career.

It would be easy for a new WNBA fan like myself to fixate on the spirit of empowerment that permeates Key Arena during Storm games. Much of this comes from the top. The four women who comprise Force 10 Hoops L.L.C., the investment partnership that acquired the team earlier this year, are each worthy role models for anyone in need of inspiration. In college, Anne Levinson fought for equitable treatment of female athletes. Later, as a judge, she created one of the nation’s first mental health courts. Ginny Gilder runs an investment business that supports non-profit organizations that promote social justice. Lisa Brummel and Dawn Trudeau each made a fortune in the software industry. Both now dedicate much of their time to non-profits that promote health and social welfare.

Furthermore, the contest against the Sparks took place on Women of Inspiration Night. In a halftime ceremony, Dr. Sutapa Basu (executive director of the Women’s Center at the University of Washington), Mimi Gates (the soon-to-be-retiring director of the Seattle Art Museum), Roman Pierson (founder and CEO of SynapticMash) and Colleen Willoughby (founder of the Washington Women’s Foundation) were recognized for their distinguished records of community service.

However, focusing solely on the importance of exposing youngsters, female or male, to such positive influences, as worthy as it may be, only tells a portion of the story about the Seattle Storm experience.

When the clock starts ticking and all attention shifts to the action on the floor, it becomes clear that the terms “fledgling” and “novel” are no longer applicable to the WNBA. Now in its 12th season, the league, primarily through its players, has established itself as a world-class athletic institution. When you see Jackson post up for a basket or Sue Bird pull up to drain a jump shot from the side of the key, you realize that you are watching basketball being played at a very high level. When your team is fighting for the lead, you don’t care about the gender of anyone on the floor. You just want your team to score.

As the team hunkers down for this crucial stretch of the season, I’d recommend a Storm game to any sports fan living in or visiting Seattle. After all, it’s always nice to have something to cheer about.

Summer in Seattle: the arts shine outside

Summer brings myriad opportunities to enjoy the arts and the outdoors in Seattle. Here is our preview of the hottest happenings in the Emerald City’s open-air cultural spaces:

Screen it, and they will come

The summer movie season takes on a unique meaning in Seattle’s Fremont and Lake Union areas, which both host outdoor movie nights.

The Fremont Outdoor Movies series begins June 28 with a showing of the comedy Super Bad and continues on Saturday nights through Sept. 13. Tickets cost $5, and you need to bring your own seats (the wackier the better) to the venue, a paved lot near the corner of N. 35th St. and Phinney Ave. The activities include contests and other entertainment before each movie (screenings begin at dusk). Highlights on the schedule include Ghostbusters (July 19) and Juno (Aug. 30).

Speaking of Juno, the offbeat Academy Award–winner is also among the featured offerings at Cinema on the Lawn, which returns to the grassy area outside of the South Lake Union Discovery Center. This year’s selections are Heathers (July 11), Bring it On (July 25) and the aforementioned Juno (Aug. 8). Admission is free, and picnics, blankets and low-backed chairs are encouraged. The festivities on the lawn and in the beer garden begin at 7 p.m. The projector starts to roll about a half hour after dusk.

All the Park’s a Stage

Seattle theater groups take advantage of the weather to bring productions to area parks. The outdoor theater season begins in earnest with the Seattle Outdoor Theater Festival on July 12 and 13 in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill. The schedule includes Wooden O Theatre Productions’ presentation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theater Schmeater’s The Wind in the Willows and GreenStage’s Hamlet.

Theater Schmeater’s The Wind in the Willows continues on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through Aug. 10 at Volunteer Park. GreenStage presents Hamlet and Twelfth Night in different parks throughout the Puget Sound region through Aug. 16. Check out the company’s performance calendar for details.

Long Live Pop … Sub Pop, that is

It seems like it was only yesterday when a small local label called Sub Pop Records introduced the world to a brash new style of music and bands such as Nirvana and Soundgarden. While the artist names, musical styles and even its ownership structure have changed over the years, Sub Pop continues to forge ahead. The venerable label commemorates its 20th anniversary with a weekend bash in July dubbed SP20. The activities include a comedy show July 11 at The Moore Theatre featuring David Cross and Patton Oswald and outdoor concerts July 12 and 13 at Redmond’s Marymoor Park. Headliners for the latter include Sub Pop legends from the past (including Green River) and the present (such as Fleet Foxes and others).

A good walk unspoiled

When it comes to stunning views, it’s tough to beat the Olympic Sculpture Park along the waterfront near Belltown. As the winding path guides you past works by such artists as Roy McMakin, Alexander Calder and Richard Serra, you can also admire Mother Nature’s handiwork by gazing at the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. Reader Valarie Baker suggests picnicking in nearby Myrtle Edwards Park or stopping in at the Boat Street Cafe or Six Seven (in The Edgewater Hotel) for a bite while you’re there. Thanks for the tips, Val.

Tell us about your favorite outdoor cultural activities, in Seattle or elsewhere (RobBhatt@aaawin.com). Submissions will be posted our Web site. Visit the Journey magazine Events Calendar for information about events throughout the Northwest.

A firmer footing for Paradise

After a two-year renovation that cost more than $20 million, you still can’t get wireless Internet access in the signature lodge at Mount Rainier National Park. For many visitors, that’s just one more reason to call it the Paradise Inn.

“We’ve talked about putting wireless Internet in the rooms, but we’re not there yet,” says David Wilde, general manager for Guest Services Inc., the concessionaire that operates the facility. “We’ve had some requests for it from guests, but we feel there’s just as strong of an advantage to not having it as there would be by having it. It would appease some people, but others like not having it.”

Wilde made the comments during a recent press tour of the 121-room inn, which reopened May 16 after a renovation that strengthened the building’s foundation and improved its wheelchair accessibility.

Despite the time and cost of rehabilitating the dining hall, lobby and the 33 rooms in the East Wing of the original lodge, which was built in 1916 (the 88-room Annex was built in 1920), visitors are unlikely to see much evidence of the work. In this respect, you could say that the project’s engineers, architects and construction crews operated like a team of very good plastic surgeons. Their ability to retain the structure’s rustic grandeur belies the scope of their work, which included about seven years of planning before workers broke ground.

Before they did, the tall Alaskan cedar logs that hold up the building rested on the stone rubble beneath the building. Workers tore out the floor and poured new concrete footings that extend all the day down to bedrock. Crews also disassembled each of the stone fireplaces (two are in the lobby, the third in the dining hall), taking great care to identify the exact location of each rock by numbering them and photographing the fireplaces from several angles. After crews poured concrete to re-enforce the chimney and walls behind the fireplaces, masons placed each stone back in its original location. As they built a new foundation for the East Wing, crews also used steel cables to straighten out wall studs that have been bent by the weight of heavy snow from the past 90-plus winters.

The seven new wheelchair accessible rooms are located on the first floor of the East Wing, and each is equipped with a bathroom that meets the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Overall, 90 of the inn’s 121 rooms contain bathrooms. The rest have shared bathrooms.

Longtime visitors will be pleased to know that the old grandfather clock and piano, both built in 1919 by German carpenter Hans Fraehnke, are back in place. The dining hall is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Across the lobby from the restaurant, the expanded café now offers seating and also serves wine, beer and spirits. The inn will remain open through early-October.

Here are a few other things to know about visiting Mount Rainier as summer approaches:

  • With more than 10 feet of snow on the ground at Paradise (elevation 5,400 feet), park officials anticipate wildflower blooms to reach their peak in late-July or early-August.
  • Construction on a new visitors center throughout the summer will reduce the number of parking spots in the upper and lower lots at Paradise. To partially offset the problem, the park is expanding its shuttle service near the Nisqually Entrance. In addition to shuttle service between Longmire and Paradise, the park offers a new shuttle link between Ashford and Longmire.
  • For official information on road conditions, weather, lodging and activities, visit the National Park Service Web site or contact AAA Travel.

Send your suggestions on cool places to stay and things to do at Mount Rainier to RobBhatt@aaawin.com. Comments will be posted on the Journey magazine Web site.

Feeding season arrives Walla Walla

Friends say Shirley Lamb’s favorite activities included working in her garden and spoiling her grandchildren. When she took ill more than a decade ago, her husband, Tom, noticed that the sight of a hummingbird buzzing around a feeder outside their home in Dixie lifted her spirits. After watching two birds fight over the feeder, Tom put up another feeder, which attracted more birds. So he put up another, and then another, and even a few more after that. Before long, there were more than 30 feeders—and more than 200 birds—outside.

Shirley passed away in 2000. Even though Tom, now 84, needs a cane to get around, he honors his wife’s memory by continuing to put up the feeders each spring. In the process, his home has become such a popular attraction that his guest books contain the signatures of people from as far away as Germany and Japan.

I had an opportunity to meet Lamb during my recent visit to the Walla Walla Valley, and I found many things about him impressive—and inspirational.

His modest home sits on a portion of the land that his grandparents acquired in 1859. His parents grew wheat and hay on the property, and he was only 5 years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. During the Great Depression, kids in the neighborhood picked potatoes for nearby farmers. As payment, they got to keep a few potatoes, which they traded for groceries at the local store. Shortly after graduating from Dixie High School, he and Shirley married, and they raised two daughters. For work, he took to the school system, holding such jobs as a drivers education instructor, bus driver and, later, facilities manager for the Walla Walla School District before retiring many years ago.

He says people can see the greatest number of hummingbirds outside his house in the middle of May, before the males migrate farther north and leave the females behind to tend to the young. On the busiest days, Lamb has counted upwards of 200 birds buzzing about. He encourages people to come by between 4 p.m. and dusk for the best viewing, and he allows visitors, including residents from local senior centers who arrive in buses, to picnic in his backyard.

His daughters and most of his grandchildren live close by and help him set up the feeders and pick up supplies, as do friends and members of the local Audubon Society chapter. He uses a mixture of water, sugar and food coloring to prepare the “nectar” that he places in the feeders. His photo albums contain pictures of people of all ages admiring the birds, and he likes to point out that the natural spectacle outside his home “is for kids, aged two to 99.”

The house is on Biscuit Ridge Road, just off U.S. Highway 12 about a mile-and-a-half east of Dixie High School. Just look for the sign that says Hummingbird Crossing.

Hummingbirds are not the only ones who come to the Walla Walla Valley to feed. Here are my five faves:

  1. Dinner at the Whoopemup Hollow Café: A group of former Seattle restaurant professionals opened this spot in Waitsburg about three years ago. They dish out Southern-style comfort food in a restored century-old building that offers polished, rural charm.
  2. Feast Walla Walla: Formerly known as Taste Walla Walla, the renamed event took place under a tented section of Main Street on April 12 and lived up to its new moniker. In between samples from more than two dozen wineries, visitors nibbled on hors d’ouvres from nearly a dozen restaurants and food purveyors. A portion of smoked elk loin served on a baguette with huckleberry horseradish, prepared by Raphael’s restaurant in Pendleton, Ore., was among the afternoon’s more memorable selections. Guest chef and cookbook author Rick Moonen, who hails from New York and operates RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, presented cooking demonstrations throughout the weekend. He paid homage to his hosts by serving his “Washington State Clam Chowder” at the event. Organizers say Feast will return next year on April 11.
  3. Breakfast at Clarette’s Restaurant: You simply have to try the pumpkin pancakes at this down-home Walla Walla dining landmark near Whitman College.
  4. Monteíllet Fromagerie: From raising and milking goats and sheep to packaging their finished products, Pierre-Louis and Joan Monteíllet (he’s from southern France, she’s from Walla Walla) produce cheese from start to finish on their 31-acre spread in Dayton. They welcome visitors to come by for tastes—or to simply meet the animals.
  5. Miner’s of Yakima: Yakima area residents already know about the burger joint that Ed and Irene Miner founded in 1948, but I only learned about it a few weeks ago from our new colleague at Journey, Yakima-native Stacie Holder. With apologies to my vegetarian friends, a large, juicy Miner Burger with curly fries made for the perfect meal during a stop on the drive back home. Great tip, Stacie.