Rainforest vampires

 

The town of Forks, in the US state of Washington, sits on the edge of the northern hemisphere's only temperate rainforest. If that's not enough reason to visit, it is also home to a vampire blockbuster, writes Aisling Maguire

A SIGN FOR the Olympic Suites hotel in Forks carries the note "Edward Cullen didn't sleep here". This might seem like perverse advertising, but the non-guest in question is the vampire hero of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series of novels, now a blockbuster film starring Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.

Forks, a town of about 3,000 people, is on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, the northwesternmost corner of the contiguous US and home to a million acres of temperate rainforest.

The town is named for its proximity to forks in the Quillayute, Bogachiel, Calawah and Sol Duc rivers, names that testify to the Native American occupants of the area.

It once boasted of being the logging capital of the world, but almost the only vestiges of that claim nowadays are a logging museum, forestry school and research centre. On the main street stands a cross-section of a spruce trunk "already 259 years old when the Declaration of Independence was signed".

The decline of the lumber industry robbed the town of its chief employer, which is why the local chamber of commerce regards the Twilight novels as a gift.

According to the proprietor of a new grocery store, the books have brought a "nice type of tourist" to the town, "families who want to treat their kids", such as a family whose children chose to holiday in Forks rather than Hawaii.

The town has always had its share of tourists coming to visit the rainforest and to fish in nearby rivers, but a recent report noted that "Twilighters" have boosted bed occupancy by 48 per cent in the past year.

Seizing on this sudden interest, the chamber of commerce has devised a tour of the town, designating some of its older houses as homes of the characters.

It has also named September 13th, the birthday of the story's heroine, Bella, Stephenie Meyer Day, and a handwritten note from the author in the chamber's office thanks the town for making her vampires so welcome.

Meyer, who lives in Arizona, did not visit the town until after she had published the first of the books. She chose it as a location by Googling "a dark and rainy place".

To the disappointment of locals, especially high-school students who hoped for bit parts, the film was not made here, either. But that won't stop tourists coming to see the real setting for the stories and ordering Bellaburgers or Bellasagne in local diners, or shopping at the new Dazzled by Twilight store.

This excitement contrasts with the poignant atmosphere in the town, generated not only by the boarded-up buildings on the short main street but also by the yellow ribbons on every lamp post.

Shop windows carry notices bearing the names of the 16 local men and women fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the In Place restaurant a wall of photographs and an obituary recall the short life of Jason Hanson, killed at the age of 21 in Anbar province.

On the back of that wall hang a saw and several circular blades painted with impressions of the nearby rainforest. Given an annual average rainfall of almost four metres, it's hardly surprising that the area is lush, but the temperate rainforest here is a rare primeval habitat, the only one of its kind in the northern hemisphere.

Stretching along the fog belt between the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, it has been preserved as Olympic National Park since 1938. The pillars of this forest are Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and western hemlock that soar to almost 80m and are several hundred years old. Broad-leafed maples, their leaves flaring bright yellow in autumn, play off the stern deportment of the looming evergreens and light up the forest floor as they drop.

Here everything is soft and yielding. Moss veils branches and coats fallen logs, while plump fungi and ferns cling to the tree trunks. Lichens with evocative names, such as fairy barf and lettuce leaf, abound, the latter providing a tasty snack for the resident Roosevelt elk, two of which lounged on a grassy island in the car park when we visited. Small brown squirrels live here, too, and eagles careen over the many lakes and rivers running through the forest.

The National Park Service has marked trails of varying lengths, from short strolls to long hikes, punctuated by discreet notices identifying plants or examples of symbiosis and the forest's capacity to regenerate itself. Chief among the latter are the nurse logs - fallen trees on which seedlings take root and, as they grow, straddle the decomposing trunk to reach the soil, eventually forming stilts to support themselves.

Many other dead logs wash up on the beaches that form the western edge of the rainforest. Flung ashore by pounding Pacific rollers, the old trees make surreal furniture around which people clamber, play or sit to watch the drama of the sun setting in a broad red disc behind stumpy sea stacks.

First Beach, at the nearby Native American village of La Push, is popular with surfers, kayakers and whale watchers. And, yes, there are also Second and Third Beaches. East of here is the 20km stretch of Lake Crescent. Formed by an ancient glacier, it is flanked by wooded hills whose reflected colours play over its cobalt waters. Like the beaches, it is protected from shoreline development and provides opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing and hiking to nearby waterfalls.

You don't have to be a Twilighter or vampire lover to visit the Olympic Peninsula, which combines the contemplative silence of ancient forest with the restless energy of an oceanic coastline.

www.nps.gov/olym

Where to stay, eat and go in Forks

Where to stay

Olympic National Park (00-1-360-5653130, www.nps. gov/olym) has many campsites. Fees are usually between $12 and $14 (€9 and €11). The park's website gives locations.

The park also has lodges. Lake Crescent Lodge (00-1-360-9283211, www.lake crescentlodge.com), outside Port Angeles, on the lakeshore near Sol Duc hot springs, has accommodation that ranges from double rooms to cottages for up to six people. Rooms $68-€99 (€53-€76); cottages $169-$231 (€130-€178).

Kalaloch Lodge (00-1-360- 9622271, www.visitkalaloch. com), on the coast about 50km from Forks, has a range of accommodation, from bedrooms and suites to cabins. Rooms $149 (€115), cabins $297 (€229). It also has a two-night Twilight package, from $349 (€267), that includes a map of the novels' settings, dinner for two and other extras.

Quinault Lodge (00-1-360- 2882900, www.visitlake quinault.com), at the south end of the park, is 65km inland but on the shore of Lake Quinault. It also has an indoor swimming pool. $111-$176 (€86-€136).

Manitou Lodge (00-1-360- 3746295 www.manitoulodge. com), in the forest near Rialto beach, has five bedrooms, individually decorated with driftwood features, in the main house and two in a separate cottage. Breakfast is left in a basket in the room, which has a small fridge, microwave, toaster and coffee maker. Rooms $99-$179 (€76-€138).

Miller Tree Inn (00-1-360- 3746806, www.millertreeinn. com) is an old house set amid fields on the edge of Forks. Eight bedrooms. Hot breakfast. Rooms $90-$185 (€69-€143).

Dewdrop Inn (00-1-360- 3744055, www.dewdropinn motel.com) is a modern motel on Forks's main street. Rooms $66.90-€74.20 (€52-€57), Bella suite $149.

Forks Motel (00-1-360- 3746243, www.forksmotel. com) has a range of rooms, including suites with two bedrooms and kitchens. Located in the centre of Forks. Small swimming pool. Rooms $57-$150 (€44-€116).

All rates are based on two people sharing. The state of Washington will add an 8.5 per cent sales tax to your bill.

Where to eat

The only restaurants in the park are in the lodges, and they are somewhat overpriced. If you have a cabin with a kitchen, you can bring your own food.

Forks has several inexpensive diners. The In Place serves "home-style" food. The town also has two Chinese restaurants, a Mexican restaurant and several pizzerias. Just outside town is the Smoke House, specialising in smoked meat and fish.

Where to go

Fans of Twilight are swarming into Forks and checking out themed tours, hotel packages and even food. About 400 fans descended on the town after the film's premiere, says Mike Gurling of Forks's visitor centre. Tours of the town's high school, police station and other Twilight sites are booked up through January, so Gurling may add more. Look for details at www.forkswa.com, which has a section on the novel series, including a photo gallery and a map of key sites.

The View Point Inn in Corbett, Oregon, where the movie's ending and prom scenes were filmed, offers Twilight-themed slumber parties at $175 (€135) per person, tours of film locations in and around Portland, starting at $99 (€76) per person, and dinners with Twilight-inspired dishes, such as Bella Ravioli for $22 (€17).

Beyond Boundaries Travel, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, offers Twilight- themed tours and events through its Fan Trips division. Among them are a six-night Vampire Baseball Adventure in Oregon and Washington, starting at $1,599 (€1,230) per person, quad occupancy.

There is a $15 (€11.50) fee per vehicle to enter the national park. The ticket is valid for seven days. (The fee is $5/€3.80 if you are on foot or bicycle.) The best time to visit the rainforest is between May and October.

Go there

Aer Lingus (www.aerlingus. com) flies from Dublin to Seattle via Boston and New York. The Olympic Peninsula is about three and a half hours' drive from Seattle, including a 30-minute ferry crossing to Bainbridge Island.