If you continue to walk from the boathouse, you’ll end up at Owen Beach proper. If the tide is out and it’s a sunny day, you’ll suddenly find all the people in the park here. The large parking lot is rarely full, but on a sunny weekend, you’ll find half of Tacoma down here, which is why I rarely spend too much time in that spot. Whether I started at the boathouse or just drove down, I keep walking to the left because the further you walk, the better it is and the less people you’ll find.
Unfortunately if the tide is all the way in, you won’t get far, but at times when the tide is out, there are few more interesting beaches to walk on. First off, the sidewalk ends so you’re actually walking on the beach. Here, you’ll actually find more sand than rocks. You’ll also find a lot of clay. One thing to keep in mind is that Commencement Bay gets very deep very fast and has one hell of a current. In other words, the further towards the point you go, the less you want to be in the water. Besides that water is very cold regardless of the time of year. Really the only time you should be in it is as you board a boat.
As we continue our virtual walk on the beach, there are various trails and cliffs. I’ve spent many hours climbing and exploring most of these. The biggest problem with climbing cliffs was that usually my car was back down by the beach, so once I climbed up, I also had to climb down. When I was younger, I climbed cliffs so often that the danger involved didn’t even occur to me. This is why one rainy autumn afternoon (you should never climb cliffs in the rain), right as I was getting to the top, a branch I was holding broke and I began to slide down the cliff. I managed to grab onto a tree that was growing almost sideways out of the ground and climbed onto it. Unfortunately from there, I could see no method of getting off of the tree except sliding/falling the next fifty feet or so down. It took over three hours before the fire department showed up to rescue me. That was my last cliff climbing adventure.
At the point of Point Defiance, there’s a rocky outcropping you can easily climb up and from here you can see the waters of Commencement Bay merge as the current heads towards the Tacoma Narrows. Nine times out of ten, you’re the only one there. Occasionally, you’ll see a fisherman or two. Generally speaking, assuming you’ve left your car back at the boathouse or Owen Beach, this is where you’d turn back. But if you keep going, you can walk all the way to Salmon Beach. Salmon Beach is a small beach community. A series of houses on pylons. Honestly, they don’t really like non-resident visitors, but it’s in this area at night where you can throw rocks into shallow water and create phospheressant sparks. This is one of the reminders of the Asarco Copper Smelter that used to dominate most of Ruston.
Up the hill from Owen Beach is Five Mile Drive. It’s a scenic road that takes you all over Point Defiance. This is also where most of the trails are. Stop at any point on the drive and odds are there’s a trail near you towards the end of the drive is a look out spot with a sign that says ‘Bridge’. As of this writing, they haven’t modified it to reflect that new second Narrows Bridge.
At the end of Five Mile Drive, there’s a fork in the road. The left road is a shortcut to the exit. The right road leads to Fort Nisqually and Never Never Land. Never Never Land used to be a trail heavily influenced by fairy tales. Here you could see the Three Little Pigs House. The entrance was a gigantic stack of books with Humpty Dumpty on top. Now though, it’s a lot creepier. A lot of the stuff is still there and the trails are still there, but it’s all been abandoned. There’s graffiti from the local Nazi Youth. If you’re lucky, you might even find a discarded joint.
Next door to Never Never Land is Fort Nisqually. For a while this too was mostly abandoned. Now though, it’s a ‘Living History Museum’. Fort Nisqually is a rebuilt European Trading Post from the 1800’s. On days when the museum is operating, there are staff and volunteers who stay in character as if you were actually visiting a European Trading Post in the 19th Century. The first time I encountered this was before they were charging admission. It was a foggy autumn day and I wandered into the Blacksmiths Shop, where a blacksmith started talking to me about the Hudson Bay Trading Company. At the time I was very hung over and for a brief moment I was absolutely confused as to what the hell was going on.
Down the hill from Fort Nisqually on a gravel road to the right is Camp Six. Camp Six is a 14 acre Logging Museum, but for kids, it’s the place where they can go on a train ride if the time is right. The train ride takes you on a tour of the various logging artifacts that have been gathered to show Washington State’s Logging Industry in the steam era. But on days when the train isn’t running, it’s a place you can play on train tracks without worrying about a train. It also has a lot of wooded secluded areas which has led more than a couple people to refer to it as ‘Camp Sex’.
After leaving Camp Six, you have the option of going out the back exit or continuing on to past the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium parking lot. I’m not really going to talk about the zoo because I honestly haven’t been there in years so all of my information about it would be from the mid-90s. past the parking lot, is the front entrance and exit of Pt. Defiance.
Point Defiance is a hundred years old and I’ve been going there for most of my life, so I could talk at length about Point Defiance and my adventures there indefinitely, but for now, this ends the tour of Point Defiance.
I have definite memories of climbing those same cliffs, and whereas I stopped before the fire department was called, I do remember a couple of hairy incidents that lead me to cease and desist. It was great fun while it lasted though!!