In Hoh Rain Forest National Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, there exists a world completely silent and damp and cool and remote that holds ancient trees and, no doubt, many tales. From its first human occupants, native tribes, through the logging era and to its current-day national park status where everybody camps for a fee, there are stories to be told. Here’s one:

It was the Fourth of July this year and Molly and I had camped properly and proactively each night leading up to this point, using reservations made online weeks in advance. The state park systems of Idaho and Washington each have stellar systems for their state park campgrounds. Idaho’s Henry Lake State Park, right at the cusp of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, was our first night. Wonderful. There are many, many nice private sites, too, such as the Lost Moose Campground near Couer d’Alene.

But try getting a campsite reserved anywhere on Fourth of July. We decided just to wing it. So as we wended our way along the wide and majestic Hoh River in our Dodge Ram with Bigfoot camper, we asked questions of locals. One said, “Try the Hard Rain Café just up the road. They’re between the national forest and the national park, and they have nice campsites, firewood and clean showers.” And so we did.

As our fire crackled and we sipped a little Chardonnay in our cozy spot just before sunset, we noticed a field that separated us from what looked like a few more campsites. “Hmm,” I thought, “Maybe we should have checked that out.” No matter. For our 30 bucks we were all set. Then the first ATV rolled past.

After that, a few side-by-sides hauled down the road from the national forest trails. Soon a whole hive of off-road buggies was swarming down the mountain toward that campground across the field where, as it turns out, more than a hundred campsites for the biggest rigs imaginable lay, obscured only by large trees. Trees without soundproofing.

We reasoned, well, once they get settled in for the night the noise won’t be a factor. That is about the time the announcer came onto their very own public address system to remind everyone to get their dinner cooked and cleaned up before 8. Oh good, we thought, 8 must be lights out. Wrong. Eight was the time the band started.

And promptly at 8 the very talented Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band started cranking out every song that John Fogerty ever sang. For two hours. Then they switched to Bob Seger. For another hour. Fortunately, they were quite talented and it was our kind of music, so we stayed up to listen.

We got curious to see this scene so, hand in hand, we boldly strolled across the field and into the Mad-Max-Beyond-Thunderdome world of ATV lovers and their spawn. There was leather and beer and hammocks and tents and campers and dancing. All the old folks were on their makeshift dance floor, while the youngsters strolled about talking machines, food, phones and issues of the day. We were invisible to them, feeling like Mrs. And Mr. Jane Goodall as we strolled.

We repaired to our campsite and stayed up way later than we had planned, having a lovely evening listening to the music. Right through their Tom Petty set that lasted until 2.

Since I had never even seen an ATV up close, let alone ridden on one, we prevailed upon our friends in Wyoming, Rick Schleuter and Linda Knox, to take us for a ride on their Honda Pioneer 1000. They said it seats five but four of us seemed plenty. The netting all around was to keep bodies inside in the event of a rollover, but Rick’s steady hand and reasonable speed kept us earthbound. He had sprung for the high-end Fox Shocks, which made a world of difference. No matter the boulder or the rut, those shocks took the jolt out of our climb along a neighborhood road that tuned into a national forest trail.

Rick said he would have spent less for the beast had it been Honda’s low-end Civic, putting it into the mid-$20,000 range, but entry-level Pioneers list for about $15,000.

And that’s the story. Honestly, I wouldn’t own one. Our off-road transportation these days involves lots of hay and saddles and equine accoutrements. But I sure enjoyed the energy of that big group, if not the engine noise, and I can see from Rick’s and Linda’s perspective what a nice way to go deep into the forest it can be.


Clifford Fewel’s AutoFewel column appears each week in the Tri-Valley Dispatch, as well as online at

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