Theodore Roosevelt and the Skokomish Wilderness

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-1

On the Southeast corner of the Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington (USA), lies an area unmatched in its beauty and sense of freedom.  A fierce wilderness, just tame enough to charm a simple tenderfoot like myself, but sharp enough to ensure that it will never come under the control of any man.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-2 The Skokomish Wilderness emerges from the shores of Hood Canal as a key to unlock the spirit that hides within the hearts of everyone seeking the bliss nature has to offer:

  • Pure blue skies, crystal clear water and pine-scented air
  • Elk, bear, deer and all wildlife living without fear of man
  • The sounds of the night heard centuries ago

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest Roosevelt Elk -3

This relatively unknown land is not just an untamed wilderness but it holds a history that defines America and her natural lands.  Throughout the 1800s, the lands of the USA were being destroyed by corporate greed aptly described by John Muir:

“The great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun…
and everything destructible in them is being destroyed.” 

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-4 In the early 1900s, timber companies had their axes aimed on the last stands of virgin rainforest in the USA…the Skokomish and Olympic Wilderness.  The local Forest Service, serving as patsies to large timber companies, invited President Theodore Roosevelt out to the Pacific Northwest for a visit: a visit designed to secure his signature opening up the land for logging.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-5 However, the plans of the timber companies crashed as Roosevelt viewed the wilderness and then a clear-cut section of forest and told his guide “I hope the son-of-a-bitch who is responsible for this is roasting in hell” not knowing at the time that the very person responsible was standing next to him.

North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest-6

Roosevelt had found in this area a place where any man, woman or child could not help but fall deep into the wilderness and a return to nature.  A place that even in the late 1890s had already begun to disappeared around most of America.  A place to find that lost sense of greatness and freedom; a spirit we spend too much of our lives searching for.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-7During Roosevelt’s stay, he visited Lake Cushman and the elegant Antlers Hotel, built for adventurers at the doorstep of a wilderness, and he fell in love with the land.  He is quoted as saying: “There may be some place in the world equal to Puget Sound, but I do not know where it is…” and the impression the land made can be clearly understood today.

Sunset on the Olympic National Forest Range -8 It was this visit to the Skokomish wilderness area that triggered Roosevelt to use the Antiquities Act to set aside the land as the Mt. Olympus National Monument (eventually with much of it becoming part of the Olympic National Forest).  Preserving a part of life and land where the greed and manipulation of lesser men would be unable to invade and take root.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-9

Is there not a better feeling than getting lost in the simple scenes of nature?

To listen to the incredible wisdom of a babbling brook, watching it grow in size to a gurgling creek and then stand proudly as it matures into an intense roaring river, unabashed with excitement during spring rains.

It is so simple.  It is so beautiful.

North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest -10

There is nothing quite like a visit to the Skokomish Wilderness to invigorate the soul and lift off the chaotic gloom of winter.  To see a land, while changed, still holding onto its primal instincts.

I often dream of writing about this area; the transformation from a home to the Native Americans, to a target of the timber industry and then its intriguing flirtation as an upscale tourist destination for the very wealthy of the world.

Staircase Trail Olympic National Forest -11

This flirtation began as timber interests dwindled and young adventurers known as “Remittance Men” (receiving allowances from their wealthy families on the East Coast) highlighted a run of upscale investments, with the goal of creating a great wilderness playground for the wealthy elite.

Crisscrossing the globe to get to Seattle, a berth on a steam ferry to Union City, a stagecoach to reach Hoodsport, and from there a horseback ride to bring them to the doorstep of the upscale, yet isolated, Antlers Hotel.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-12

For those able to afford such a trip, they would be rewarded with a slice of heaven.  Guests stayed on average for at least a month: to taste a life that had only been heard in stories, unsure whether the stories were actually true or merely tales of fantasy…

Mt. Rose Trail Olympic National Forest -13

As fate would have it, the allure of this fantasy faded quickly as war and unfortunate timing stopped the flow of investment, and just like that, the Skokomish Wilderness faded from the minds of wealthy adventurers.

This amazing time period between 1880 and 1930 fascinates me.  On several occasions, I have dreamt about staying at the Antlers Hotel.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-14

The year is 1903, and my vivid imagination and memory has me waking up prior to dawn, with black coffee in hand I walk down to the shores of the lake.

I look up, and just make out the silhouette of Mt. Ellinor peering down on the lake and hotel, her peaks inviting me up for a climb and adventure.  I can feel a smile forming on my face as I exhale at the beauty of all that is around me.  Then this peaceful solitude is shattered…

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-15

A gruff voice with a twinge of admiration and respect breaks through my thoughts, and I hear the words as clearly today as I did a 100 years ago:  “You have not truly lived, if you dare not go where dreams are created…”

And as I turn, President Roosevelt’s eyes flash a smile of a promise to protect these lands, and without another sound he continues his hike along the banks of the lake, fishing rod in hand…

Roosevelt Elk North Fork Skokomish River Olympic National Forest -16

I watch, and as if to show a sign of great respect, a Roosevelt elk walks along side him.  An elk who bears his name in tribute and recognition of his efforts in protecting his kind and this land so many years ago.


We all need a place to find freedom for our spirit; to appreciate the beauty around us so we can take the responsibility and dare to dream for a tomorrow better than today.

For a few, such a place is the Skokomish Wilderness.

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-17

Skokomish Wilderness Olympic National Forest-18

167 Comments on “Theodore Roosevelt and the Skokomish Wilderness

  1. Gorgeous fotos. Interesting narrative. I love this part of the country. I got stranded on a island in Olympic National Park with my kids photographing bald eagles. What an adventure getting back to shore.

    • Thanks Cindy, there is so much to see there…and I have yet to go on a bald eagle photo-shoot, a definite must. I have had a few ‘lost’ adventures however 🙂

  2. STUNNING images!! I went camping/hiking in the Mt. Rainier National Park~ unparalleled beauty! …. well I liked the Grand Tetons too 😀 Beautiful post!

    • Thank you and agree, Mt. Rainier is incredible…most anyone in Seattle will agree and say it is hands-down the best hike in Washington. Cheers!

  3. I love the way you go about telling a story. I never, not once, became sidetracked in thought as I was reading. Now this is huge, Randall. I admit to sometimes staring hard at posts trying to get through them, because I really want to understand and finish so I can comment. The way you write captivates your reader completely.

    I was thrilled to open my email tonight and see a post from you waiting. I’ve never traveled to this part of the US. It looks beautiful. I believe I could easily get lost inside Antlers Hotel, as well. The photos of that place are very well done. Like I could touch the elk from my screen.

    I’m a huge fan of the mountains having spent my childhood roaming the Rockies. Mt. Ellinor pulled me right in and her beauty is staggering. The fantasies and dreams told in this piece are intriguing. Your mind works in mysterious ways. Thanks for sharing part of you.

    Yay! A new post from the photographer philosopher extraordinaire! 😉 Have a great day.
    ~ Audrey
    PS: Photos 11, 12, and 13 are my favorites. Like a fantasy setting I’ve had in my mind for years. Gorgeous!! (Loved all of the pics…but those stood out for me.)

    • Thanks Audrey, so very nice to hear. You would melt with happiness in this area, a rugged and silent beauty, so unique. The Antlers Hotel was destroyed (intentionally) in 1925, as Lake Cushman was dammed up and water line rose submerging the hotel. It dropped down to pre-dam levels about a decade ago and it was great. The dam is actually pretty amazing and it is tucked away.

      I have dreamt of this history and the old life here since I was just a kid…it is such a cool place. I like your choice of photos, #12 is my favorite 🙂 Cheers.

  4. Dalo, as you know I am a man who measures his words carefully. However I cannot help but use superlatives when it comes to the quality of your pictures and the content of your narrative. This post reminds me of my favorite quote from John Stuart Mill:

    “A population may be too crowded, though all be amply provided with food and raiment. It is not good for man to be kept perforce at all times in the presence of his species. A world from which solitude is extirpated, is a very poor ideal. Solitude, in the sense of being often alone, is essential to any depth of meditation or of character; and solitude in the presence of natural beauty and grandeur, is the cradle of thoughts and aspirations which are not only good for the individual, but which society could do ill without. Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature; with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste or natural pasture plowed up, all quadrupeds or birds which are not domesticated for man’s use exterminated as his rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture.”

    • Thank you Malcolm for your nice comments. This post made me a bit homesick ~ but also made me feel nostalgic about growing up in this area and reflecting on this. Great quote my J.S. Mill (one of my favorite philosophers by the way), puts a lot of what felt in the post into an important context. The world is what we make out of it ~ but it is pretty close to perfect right now so let’s be a bit careful. Cheers.

  5. The photos are awesome–and I really liked how you used them to tell a story about another era. It’s really interesting to read about the conservation efforts of Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and others.

    • Thank you Sheryl, I think it was a story I have in my head since I was a little kid…and finally when looking at these photos I took in April ~ it finally came out 🙂

  6. Dalo, I was anticipating a wonderful poetic post with excellent photos but its connection with history and portraits of men (including yourself) are very, very good! I’ll come to the post again and again.

    • Thanks Jeffrey, this part of the USA is such a poetic yet rugged place…a history that made this post flow pretty well in my mind. Your quest for a quote made it much easier, thank you.

      • Be careful, I can start thinking about more challenges! 😉

  7. Incredible photography! Stunning.

    TR has long been one of my favorite presidents, and I’ve read many a bio of his life. You did a terrific job with this piece. John Muir… I’ve been to Muir Woods near San Francisco, named in his honor. A wonderful experience – those lovely majestic trees.

    I enjoyed this piece tremendously!

    • Agree, Roosevelt is what the nation needs today ~ a true leader. One day I will visit the Muir Woods ~ have friends from Seattle who have hiked his trails. Thank you Kate.

    • Yes, and heading back again in August (brief sojourn down to Moab prior). Incredible place ~ thank you!

  8. I don’t know what is more beautiful – the photos or the write-up, but you know that this made me very happy. Your words convey the peace and calm of the Skokomish Wilderness which is more than I can ask, really.
    “It is so simple. It is so beautiful.” 🙂

    • Isn’t it?!? Thank you Meghna. Years ago I was up there with my brother-in-law, and he turned and said ‘this is the only place I really forget about work/stress and just relax…” Such places exist (may be a balcony, may be a rugged wilderness ~ but still the same feeling!).

  9. Hi Randy, your post has just left me breathless! And all that lost space with stumps of logs where trees would be is heartbreaking. How close did you get to the elks? When I lived in the UK deer would come into my garden. You couldn’t get anywhere near them though because they were frightful and always ran away when you realised your presence. Everything looks like a scene from a beautiful movie. You’ll have to stay at the Antlers Hotel. Cheers!

    • Hi Sofia, thank you very much. The elk were about 20 meters away, which for me is pretty close (I have some bowhunting friends that could have gotten even closer). They were so relaxed…aware that I was there, but not too bothered. I think that is why I like the history so much, it is like a movie in my mind.

      The Antlers Hotel was destroyed in 1925, because a dam was built and the lake rose 100m+, so it really is this incredible myth in my mind 🙂 Cheers!

      • Oh I see (re the Antlers). Maybe you have been reincarnated, its the sensation I got reading your post. I also wanted to say you’ve also inspired me to read later on more about Roosevelt.
        Wow only 20 meters away! I would have been so happy and excited to be so close to the elks if that was me, that I’d be afraid they would sense my “agitation” and run off.
        My brother does archery too but don’t think he’s ever hunted anything, they do go out to the wild and set up their targets though.

      • I do believe in parallel universes, so there may be something to the reincarnation idea. Also, have a pretty vivid imagination, so that may be it too 🙂

        20m was so close, and I kept thinking they would take off and run, but they were so cool about it. Archers have a ‘soft step’ so they blend it so much better into nature…people loved hunting with me as I do not have such a soft step, instead it is “crunch, crunch” and I would scare the animals into them. But they are such majestic animals, truly beautiful. You will enjoy reading about Roosevelt, a great leader ~ great 20th century man.

      • I’m sure I’m more crunch crunch, I’m one of these people that the more dainty I try to be, the clumsier the result 🙂
        I like the idea of parallel universes and often think that some of my hardships in life are due to a punishment for something I’ve done in a previous life. Maybe its also a vivid imagination.

      • Why not both 🙂 Flexibility is always nice…
        The Buddhists often talk about this karma, not sure if I believe it, but just in case I will treat people the best I can in this life (ha, ha…there is that flexibility again).

  10. Wow!
    Too bad for the weathy of back then, the poor messengers lived, whie the so-called rich existed in an illusiuvon of bliss.
    God bless the man Roosevelt, his passion enables us such a magnificent heritage.
    As for you Randy, did you say dream? No dear, you have exceeded that friend. Your eyes capture the essence and spirit of Skokomish and might I add,the Antlers hotel 🙂
    I just visited, and I’m still in awe. Thank you for amazing photography and beautiful narrative.

    • Thank you Dotta, and isn’t it something else. Roosevelt was truly someone who saw what was right and needed to be done, and did it (ignoring petty politics that may not agree). I think I will be dreaming about the Antlers yet again tonight…a place I can always revisit no matter where I am. Thank you again and wish you well.

  11. I am completely in awe of your vision and words, Randall. And of course, these extravagantly beautiful places. Magnificent!
    A story that matters.

    • Thank you Karen, it seems I have had a vision about this area and story forever, so it is almost a relief to put out in print (if that makes sense). Enjoyed the process, and it is wonderful that you see what matters.

  12. Beautiful story and pictures. It took a brave leadership to protect nature of his land, it took love for the nature to fight for what he believes in. I am touched. I wish some world and local leaders would follow the courage of Theodore Roosevelt in protecting the nature of their homeland. It is humans greed that lead us to the feeling that there would never be enough woods, gold, iron, or diamonds..just like Gandhi once stated, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s needs, but not every man’s greed.”

    • Hi Indah, Teddy Roosevelt was truly a man ahead of his time…a true leader of a country. Just not sure there are such political leaders anymore… Gandhi may be the one man/leader that impresses me as much as Roosevelt, and those words he said never have rung truer than they do today. Beautifully stated. Thanks Indah.

  13. I’ve been there and you’re absolutely right. You write with an enviable directness and precision. Nice.

    • Thanks Mark, it is an oasis for me…feel a bit guilty having such a place to explore & dream. Every season, a different and new story. Cheers!

  14. I’ve never heard of the Skokomish Wilderness before, thanks so much for sharing it. Not only is this place so beautiful to the eye, it has a complex but rich history too. I reckon if I were to walk through the depths of the lush jungles, something would call out to me to read up on its history – through your photos the place looks magical. “It is so simple. It is so beautiful.” What a great phrase to sum the place all up. The Wilderness also looks like a place where you can roam anywhere you want…I can’t see a path anywhere but I guess if we want to get lost, we have to listen to our heart and let ourselves roam free.

    Love how you told this story. I didn’t find it a boring history lesson, but rather your words came across as a story that needed to be heard. i don’t need to tell you that your photos are stunning. They always are 😀

    • There is something for everyone, and many wonderful trails. Some of the most beautiful scenery is on very basic trails…really is a gem. I wondered about sounding like a history teaching in writing it up, but I just couldn’t help it ~ I love the history of the place 🙂 Thank you Mabel, and one day perhaps you will see what a great place it is.

      • Yes, some of the most beautiful things are always the most simplest things, right in front of our eyes if we slow down and stop to see. Together with history, I think we gain a newfound appreciation for what we have and see around us. So good on you for taking us through a bit of American history, I wasn’t turned off at all 🙂

  15. R.
    Stated in a comment above: “A place that matters.”
    As usual your [own] commentary captures the wilderness that remains not only in this magnificent part of the Pacific Northwest but in those of us who continue to cherish the reason of dreams past, present and…tomorrow.
    As usual your images speak an unspoken truth.

    • Thank you Raye, places like these seem to be tucked away throughout the PNW, so many people who cherish what is there and wish to see it there tomorrow as well. Cheers!

  16. Randy – Stunning, thanks again for sharing. Hope to see you again soon. I would enjoy learning more of your skill and passion with this medium. You have a true gift for it.

    • Thanks Kevin, really appreciate it ~ I will be back in the area (Seattle/Pendleton) in August and would be great to catch up again. Cheers!

  17. This is one of the most beautiful post that I have ever seen… took my breath away! Thank you for sharing the information. Thank you so much for taking us back to the history of the land, Dalo! A great tribute to President Roosevelt!

    • Thank you Amy ~ one of the nicest comments to receive, and so happy it touched you the way it did. It is such beautiful land ~ and like land everywhere, such great beauty and history behind it all.

      • Not many people would take time to write and provide the background information like you did! Thank you so, so much, Dalo! Love all the photos.

  18. More and more convinced that your blog is a love letter the pleasure of authentic living, more and more convinced you are a truly wonderful person, Dalo. And you have such a strong trademark style! We would say “inconfondibile!” I can not help but use superlatives as Malcolm did, for each one of your pictures or written narrative.

    • Luana, what a beautiful comment ~ perfect, but that doesn’t surprise me coming from you. There is something about being able to look at all the art & beauty around, and just getting lost in it…and if a camera is in my hand, then I can begin finding my way around 🙂 Cheers and take care!

  19. No better feeling than being lost in the scenes of nature, which you have so eloquently captured through these beautiful images. I love your use of long exposure with or without an ND filter in the water images. Really, really gorgeous!

    • Thank you Robyn, couldn’t agree more…getting lost in the scenes around you is a gift to enjoy as long as possible. I used several ND filters, 6 and 8 I think achieving the best results.

  20. Beautiful place, fabulous photos ! I see it as a dream… exquisite! I admire your photography techniques! I hope people still want to maintain ecosystem balance. @Dalo2013… Chapeau! Thanks, regards @Della

    • Love that you see it as a dream, for every time I leave the place I only can remember as if like a dream in my memory. Thank you very much Della.

  21. OMG you are a time traveler too! Always delighted to discover more of your hidden talents 🙂
    Your photography is as colorful, alive and inspiring as ever. And the story… just flows and Im right there with you. With the elks. And Roosevelt haha (btw, its nice of you to make me believe that politicians may have hearts…)
    I never want your posts to end and am always always looking forward to more!!! xox

    • 🙂 Nothing like taking a little stroll to places long ago forgotten… It is funny, as much as I love the leader Roosevelt was ~ I can’t get over the fact that he was a politician, and thus containing some traits that are not so wonderful. Thank you and wish you the best.

  22. Simply breathtaking. There is so much natural beauty in the States, and I humbly think you do it so much justice with your photos 🙂 And I love the story too.

    • Thank you Takami, sometimes being in such an area I forget how easy it is to take nice photos…and it is a breathtaking beauty that surrounds.

  23. Very well written and interesting history, but your photos are the real storyteller here, once again an amazing collection!
    Thanks for the great read and viewing.
    Greetings, Ron.

    • Thank you Ron, appreciate the kind words ~ for places like this it is hard not to walk away with a few good shots and a smile.

  24. As always Randall, you’ve woven a lovely story with some outstanding photography. I loved your imagination on this one, mixed with the history. I’ve done some hiking and exploring in the area and agree with you on all of your points. It also reminded me of my feelings as I visited the site of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, where you can truly see not only the impact of logging, but also the incredible impact of a violent natural phenomenon beside dense, rich, unaffected forest lands – and then the effects of reforestation as well. Your post brought all of that back to me as well. Beautifully done.

    • Thank you Tina. It is great to hear that you have explored the area a bit, agree that is is something that is great to come back to (either via photos or another visit). Mt. St. Helens I have yet to visit and really should (it is so close).

    • Thank you Emerald, and I would love to visit Poland again (I was in Gdansk years ago…). There is a chance I may visit again soon, so I will definitely let you know.

  25. Great essay Randall. Both words and pictures. Pristine wilderness but, as always, with evidence of the hand of man trying to rape and profit from nature. Your imagining life at the Antler Hotel during its heyday makes me smile. I have done that dozens of times while at centuries old palaces and forts in India. Great job as always.

    • Thanks Ron, I often wonder what it would be like to hikes these lands back in the 1800s (seen the Columbia River roaring through the Gorge)…must have been something else.

  26. Incredible shots as always. Nice of you to give us tidbits of history there. Makes it even more appreciative of nature. How awful looking those cut-off trees are. I always feel saddened whenever I here there is a forest fire here in California. But human destruction, I’m just shaking my head all over. We have those who care. Those who make us aware, like you. Those who preserve nature. The John Muir and Theodore Roosevelts of today to thank for.
    By the way, can you please let me know whenever you post some thing? 😀 I really love your blog. Words and images.

    • Thanks Rommel, so many great things to see/experience on this Earth…gotta make sure some of them stick around for awhile 🙂 The National Parks system is truly an amazing piece of the States. Cheers!

  27. It amazes me how you are able to produce such eloquent images no matter what you photograph, be it the street or nature like here. Those image are simply gorgeous. You have your very specific and strong vision and it shines through in every single picture. On a different note, I have hardly been out on the Olympic peninsula, but your photos makes it very clear I ought to go there soon – maybe this summer even. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos.

    • Thanks Otto. Summertime in this area is incredible, on your next sojourn out this way see if you can find the time. Great place to shoot and relax.

  28. Thanks man i never thought you would visit my simple blog.i was so much thrilled when you put comment under the driver post.i always loved to write simple things whether it is story or poem.i always wanted to hide a good message,but most people won’t bother to dive deep and pick did it brilliantly.i hope this blog serves as a bridge to travel for both of carry camera everywhere.i took pictures using my cousine’s camera.sadly for me when he went back to dubai with that camera.i was taking pictures for the first time.i don’t know cameras has something special(m not talking about videos only photos) may be it can capture life 😆

  29. Wow…these pictures all are absolutely fantastic…

  30. Absolutely stunning! A few years ago, I watched Ken Burn’s documentary on the National Parks and was so intrigued with John Muir’s life story – your writing is as beautiful as your pics! 🙂

    • I am going to have to check that documentary out, Muir is one of those amazing figures of history. Thanks Tamrah.

      • It’s been awhile since I watched it – it also covered the story around the Antlers Hotel 🙂

      • Will definitely have to check it out…the Antlers Hotel is such a good story. Thanks again.

  31. As one who knows and shares your affinity with the PNW, this post warms and inspires. Thanks, Randall, for a pictorial lesson that invokes the immensity of Muir, Roosevelt, Mt. Ellinor and Puget Sound. So vividly conjured is a ghostly image of you and your black coffee at Antlers. What you might give for a time machine! While you may not realize it, you continue to set the beauty bar ever higher. Much appreciated, sir.

    • Thank you Eric, wouldn’t it be something to see these lands as they were centuries ago… Keeps the mind young. Cheers!

  32. Breathtaking photographs…
    Thank you for sharing a magickal world….
    Take Care…You Matter…

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