Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 4, 2011


One of the reasons one travels — whether near or far — is not merely to have new experiences, see new places and meet new people. One could make an argument that the best aspect of traveling is to be surprised. Sometimes, of course, the surprise is not enjoyable, but the best travelers are aware of the risk and are able to accept both the positive and negative aspects as part of the travel gestalt; learning to spend both halves of that travel coin enrich one to the maximum degree.

I’m just back from a week of traveling around a large portion of the state of Washington. For you readers in other countries, Washington occupies the extreme northwest corner of the contiguous United States (the “lower forty-eight”). Although I generally travel with The Counselor (except on business), this was a father-and-son trip (I’m the son). Our goal was to see as much of the mountain and forest country of the state’s western half as we could. I’ll have several articles in successive posts about what we saw. Today, I have a brief note about one of the big surprises we encountered — a happy one.

On the penultimate night of our trip, we reached Port Angeles on the north shore of the Olympic Peninsula. One could blog without stop about the sights and culture of the peninsula alone, where in just our whirlwind tour we saw portions of Olympic National Park, the spectacular coast; eagles; elk; enormous ancient trees, snow-capped mountains; rivers and waterfalls. I’ll touch on some of those in coming articles. Port Angeles is a busy harbor on the Strait of San Juan de Fuca and, we were told, serves mostly as a ship repair facility, although we saw a large paper mill and timber yard there, too.

Timber loading Brad Nixon 7908 (800x600)

18 miles across the Strait is Vancouver Island and its principal town, Victoria. A large ferry makes the round trip numerous times throughout the day. One surprising fact we learned — not my focus here, although I’m going to HAVE to write about this — is something that any of you who are fans of “Twilight” may already know: portions of the insanely popular series of books take place in Port Angeles, and the city attracts fans who want to see all the places Bella hung out. Not something we set out to see, but you learn all sorts of things out in the world. We also saw the town’s original Carnegie Library building, a museum. [2017 update: The building’s status may have changed since the 2011 visit.]

Port Angeles Carnegie Brad Nixon 7890 (800x600)

Like many towns, Port Angeles has some public art that features the history of the place. One mural in particular fascinated Dad and me, because it was so fanciful and out-there. Its size alone is impressive–72’x25′ — and is painted in a stunning trompe l’oeil fashion, showing a wild, streamline moderne ferry that looks like something out of Buck Rogers.

Kalakala Ferry Mural Panorama Brad Nixon (800x238)

What a far-out piece of public art, I thought. There was no one in the city parking lot at eight in the morning to ask about it, and there was no explanatory info posted by the mural. The ship in the painting did have part of a name visible, as bizarre and tantalizing as the ship itself: “Kalak …” Once I was home, curious to find out about the mural, I searched online for some clue about how the city fathers (and mothers) came to sponsor this unusual work. Then came the second surprise.

It’s a real ship, and it still exists. Its name is Kalakala, and it did service in Puget Sound from 1935 until 1967. It’s billed as the world’s first vessel in the streamline style. According to Wikipedia, it’s pronounced ka-LAK-a-la. The mural was painted by Cory Ench (note that although I took this photo, one should assume that Mr. Ench or the city own the commercial rights to this image). I won’t continue here to just summarize what you can read for yourself online about it. CLICK HERE to read the Wikipedia article. I also encourage you to conduct an online search, and you’ll find scads of photos of the ship. I will say that the Kalakala is languishing now in Tacoma [note: see postscript, below, Kalakala is gone], and efforts to restore it from a rather disastrous last few decades (including being turned into a fish processing plant in Alaska) are not faring well.

To see a Kalakala website, CLICK HERE. There’s lots of additional source material online, as well.

Postscript, Nov. 2015: Kalakala was scrapped in early 2015 and is no more. To read my final blog post on the subject, click here.

To read some more information about the mural on Mr. Ench’s website, CLICK HERE.

Surprising? Travel never lets you down.

This is the first entry in a series of articles about this trip to the national parks and wild places of Washington state. To see the subsequent articles, use the navigation below to move forward to the next article, “What Rough Beast?”

Kalakala mural is the work of Cory Ench. No commercial use of any kind permitted without express permission of the artist.

© Brad Nixon 2011, 2021


  1. Very impressive, akin to Project Habbakuk, except it actually exists!


  2. hope you buckeyes got a ferry trip in. heck, even el-lay has bridges.


  3. “… or for those of you who are home-schooled…”

    I’ve been puzzling over this for a couple of days now, Brad – admittedly I only know a few home-schooled kids, but those few are pretty bright. Am I missing something?

    Also, Vancouver Island is on my list of places to see having tripped around Austria once with a Canadian lumberjack taking a break from felling trees.


  4. I have been volunteering on the kalakala once a week and she has come a long way!!


    • Thanks for your comment. It’s a pleasure to hear from someone who has a first-hand knowledge of the Kalakala. Readers, note, you can read her blog about the Kalakala at There’s even some video of the Kalakala under way, which I’m guessing was shot in the 60s.


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