8. The Enchanted Valley

Published on 18 August 2022 at 10:58

© 2022 Robert Sickles

Far into the Olympic National Forest, in the mossy rainforest, a hiking trail follows the Quinault River about 13 miles to a place where the dark old-growth firs, hemlocks and spruces open up to a broad, level area, a sunny valley formed by glacial deposit and stream erosion, filled with with grassy meadows and groves of birch, alders and aspens. How could I not want to see this place named The Enchanted Valley!

In early September of 1970, I joined a group of about ten hikers, including my Seattle roommates and several other male and female friends. We shopped at REI, the original Seattle store, and came prepared for a long stay, packing in tents, clothes, food, cooking utensils, and big blue tarps to make a covered area for protection from the heavy morning dew and the midday sun. Spread out over a choice grassy campsite in the Valley, we took up residence for a week, our camp being a cluttered village of tents, clotheslines, hanging bags of food, and a very comfortable lounging area around a fire pit.  There were lots of other campers and day hikers nearby, plus a chalet-style ranger station and rustic hostel standing on the other side of the valley.

To continue farther on the Quinault River trail, you would come to the ascent for Anderson Pass, from which views of Anderson Glacier, the Olympic Mountains and much of western Washington opens before you. If you climb higher, you can see the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, Vancouver Island, the Cascades, San Juan Islands, Mounts Baker, Rainer, Adams, St. Helens and Hood, and of course the planets and galaxies. Unfortunately, we never made it that far, having run out of enthusiasm for elevation gain.

But our group did make a memorable day-hike halfway up the pass to the sweetest mountain meadow, all in bloom with foxglove, chocolate lily, Indian paintbrush, thistle, lupine, columbine, avalanche lily. Mountain goats and marmots permitted us to enter. Gray jays lived up to their reputation as thieves trying to snatch pieces of our picnic. We stretched out in the sun, snacking, reading, knitting, whittling. We were silent with each other so we could enjoy the trickling of glacier run-off, rush of a breeze, a hawk’s call, and below us and in the distance, the engine of a small plane.

Next day, back in Enchanted Valley, one of our friends found a shady glen loaded with ripe huckleberries, the red variety found west of the Cascade Mountains. We grabbed bowls and picked about two gallons of them. Under our blue tarp awning, we had just started to wash and sort the berries, when a young park ranger approached with a stern expression. “Good afternoon, folks. I noticed that y’all found huckleberries today. I wonder, did anyone consider that the native animal species here will be deprived of their Fall food supply? He opened a small booklet and read “National Parks Rule 13.1222: harvesting fruit and vegetation in camping areas is strictly prohibited.” And, what’s that smell, are y’all burning rope or somethin’?”

We sat stunned, fingers and lips dripping of berry juice. Patty muttered, “Uh-oh, we’re busted! The Mayberry deputy has arrived.” We all tried so hard not to break out in laughter, even though the Ranger’s tone meant it could actually be time to pack up and move out.

But then the ranger cracked a big grin. After a comical guffaw, he said “Gotcha! I wish I had a picture of those faces of yours just now! Aw, guys, it’s OK, there’s tons of berries and other food for the bears all around here… and there is no rule against campers pickin’ berries. I was just givin' y’all a hard time and fakin' it with that rule book. Say, I have a cook stove and groceries at my place over there in the chalet… please, do come over later with your berries, we could bake some pies. And do bring that baggie of whatcha-smokin’ with you. By and by I’ll get all y’all’s names straight, mine’s Rick. By the way, just be sure not to leave any berry juice around to attract critters to your camp.” And he tipped his ranger hat and strode off to look in on the other campers.

We glanced around at each other, our giggling becoming uncontrolled tearful belly-laughs, all of us enjoying the joke of the day: Ranger Rick, with the personality of Barney Fife!

But a sense of higher purpose—that is, munchie-hunger—overcame us, and we made ready to deploy for our next mission: huckleberry pies!  Patty and Hank went back to find more berries. Looking at the mess we made of berry juice, I stayed with the others to clean up. In late afternoon we were ready to go see if Ranger Rick was done working for the day.

[Sound effect: Fast-paced clomping of ten campers’ boots following the dry creek bed that formed a path to the ranger’s chalet.]

“Well, there y’all are!” chirped Ranger Rick from his back door. “I have the stove ready to light, and there’s sacks of sugar and flour, some cookin' oil and salt. It’s a might snug in here, and it’s gonna heat up when that stove gets fired up, so most o’ you might like to relax on my ‘veranda,’” as he gestured toward a number of boulders and tree trunk stools circling a large fire pit. Margie and Pete went to work mixing ingredients and rolling dough.

That evening, the cool air of the Enchanted Valley was filled with the aroma of berry pies baking!  We had brought over enough berries to make at least four large and a couple of small pies, baked in as assortment of pans and bowls. The old wood-fired oven worked beautifully and the pies turned out perfectly delicious. Ranger Rick asked if we’d like vanilla ice cream on the side, waited for a second, then quickly added “Ha! There’s no refrigeration out here… Gotcha!” But he did pour us each a mug of amazing cowboy coffee. Around his campfire into the night, we enjoyed his stories of his Southern hometown and his college studies, and about his summer jobs as a park ranger, trail worker and fire fighter in Washington and Oregon. In just that one summer when we met him, he had experienced everything from hilarious to mind-blowing to tragic. Sure enough, he brought out a small travel guitar and played some songs we all knew to cap off the night.  Kumbaya, man!

I regret that I eventually lost contact with my friends from that wonderful time—all of them scattered to the four corners, probably. Wherever they are now, Ranger Rick included, I hope they all recall and savor their versions of those days. I’m glad I can remember all of us leaning back around Rick’s fire at the chalet in the Enchanted Valley, eating fresh huckleberry pie, singing "Scarborough Fair" and enjoying each other’s company!

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2 years ago

Great story, Robert. Oh, those days and is that you there with the fuzz on your face?

2 years ago

Keep them coming, Bob! I thoroughly enjoy the memoirs

2 years ago

That's my boy!

2 years ago

Great story. The Enchanted Valley just that. Enchanted.

Rebecca Porter
2 years ago

Lovely story, Robert! Just about time for blackberry pie around these parts... Better get picking!

Your Adopted Sister
2 years ago

Thanks for this wholesome imagery of such a peaceful love-filled youthful time in beauty. Blessed are we : )
My eyes were bothering me from headache, so I turned on the narrator function and got to hear a robotic voice read your story. Ha! Was wishing I could hear your voice reading it instead. ; )

Kathy M
2 years ago

Ahh...such a fun filled time of life. Ranger Rick must have made some very good friends while working that job. Yummy huckleberry pies...reminds me of another time...

Carol christiansen
2 years ago

Wonderful story! So visual, Robert.

Mary Margaret
2 years ago

This is a wonderful story of your special experience of the beauty Pacific Northwest and friendship in earlier simpler times! The photo of you reminds me of a woodland character from Lord of the Rings! 😊

a year ago

This is your best story so far! I sure wish I had been there in your posse, eating huckleberry pie and listening to Ranger Rick.