Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

I love the name Nisqually; it’s so much fun to say. There are varying theories as to where the name originated; the one that makes most sense to me is that native peoples who settled in the Pacific Northwest gave the name ‘squa-squally’ to the low-lying prairie grasses – it actually means ‘prairie grass waving in the wind’. They called themselves Squally-absch, which translates as ‘people of the grassland; people of the river’ and Nisqually is simply an anglicized version. You can’t spend much time in Seattle before hearing the name; the Nisqually Tribe, Nisqually Glacier, Nisqually River, Fort Nisqually and the town of Nisqually. On February 28th 2001 I was standing in the Queen Anne neighbourhood clinging onto my dog, watching the Space Needle sway from side to side as Seattle was rocked by one of the largest recorded earthquakes in Washington State’s history – the Nisqually earthquake.

Nisqually is also the name of a national wildlife reserve just a short drive from Seattle and when my road trip pal Sylvia and I decided to escape the city for a few hours, we headed south and promptly got lost. We always do; it’s our modus operandi. Every time we take a wrong turn we complain about how poorly places are signposted, only to discover that we drove straight past a giant sign just a few miles back. We had already got off to a late start (another trademark of our travels together) so we stopped for a picnic lunch by a misty barn on the wrong road.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

After eating our fill, we drove back the way we came and found the sign we had haplessly driven past earlier and soon we were on the satisfyingly well-signposted road to the reserve. It was a gloriously foggy, blustery day so we wrapped up and started to explore. Close to the information centre there was a short boardwalk past glittering ponds that reflected the early green of springtime.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

We followed the trail to the end where we found a sign warning visitors of the aggressive squirrels that frequent the area.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Keeping a sharp eye out for any ninja squirrels lurking in the undergrowth or on the branches overhead, we wandered across a dusty path that we guessed might be a trail, so we followed it through fields of corn-coloured grasses with strange, wind-torn trees standing out in sharp relief.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

nisqually national wildlife refuge, seattle, travel, travelogue, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Soon we were in the heart of the Nisqually river estuary and the grasses gave way to water and reeds and thick patches of mud. Clouds scudded across the sky and tinged the water icy blue.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Geese dallied by the water’s edge and ducks squelched and squabbled and left tiny trails of webbed prints in the burnt sienna mud which glowed with an almost metallic lustre.

canadian geese, nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney, goose

ducks, nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Up ahead we spied a wooden boardwalk leading out across the estuary.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

The further along the boardwalk we ventured, the stranger the surroundings became until it resembled something closer to a lunar landscape than scenery I would expect to find in the Pacific Northwest. Russet and green gave way to grey and black and bare stumps replaced trees and grasses.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

Just as we got to the point where all trace of colour seemed to have drained from the landscape, a rainbow streaked across the sky. Sylvia noticed it first and her eyes grew wide. She turned to me with a grin, remembering the last time we had chased rainbows. [For indeed, it was Sylvia (aka Jill) who had travelled through Utah with me. I used a pen name for her at the time, thinking she might prefer anonymity, but I was wrong, as I so often am, and she made me promise to use her real name from here on out.]

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

At the end of the boardwalk there was a little lookout with a panoramic view of the estuary. Off in the distance we spotted a house with an equally amazing view.

nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

A bald eagle drifted by and perched on a branch just long enough to get a quick photo but not long enough to zoom in for a closeup.

bald eagle, nisqually national wildlife reserve, olympia, seattle, washington, travel, photography, ailsa prideaux-mooney

As we wound our way back along the boardwalk and back to our truck, a flock of birds swooped overhead as if to bid us farewell. It was the perfect escape from city life.

Here’s a short video of our trip.

Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve is 8 miles northeast of Olympia, about an hour’s drive from Seattle along I-5 South, unless you take the wrong turn like we did. Take exit 114 and turn right to reach the reserve. Turn left to get lost and eat sandwiches in front of a foggy barn.

xxx Ailsa

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About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - wheresmybackpack.com - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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31 Responses to Nisqually National Wildlife Reserve

  1. aj vosse says:

    Some squirrels!! Some MUD!! I hope you had your fill of puddle jumping!! 😉

    • ailsapm says:

      That sign reminded me of the Killer Bunny from Monty Python’s Holy Grail 🙂

      • aj vosse says:

        I’m an illiterate sod… when it comes to movies… well, movies, tv, soaps… games… romance… those kinds of things… so, you’ve got me on the violent rabbit bit! Anyway, I was sort of expecting a weekly challenge along the lines of the sign… I may just throw in a post next week featuring a sign popular here in the old country… you know the one, clean up after your dog!! 😉

  2. Trish says:

    I found lots of squ words in your post: Nisqually, Squa-squally, squirrels, squelched and squabbled. I enjoyed reading them, but I’m glad it wasn’t me squishing through the mud.

    • ailsapm says:

      Ooh, well spotted, Trish, my subconscious was sneakily playing with squ! I may have to go back at some point and add in a squeak or a squirm. 🙂

  3. ledrakenoir says:

    Amazing photos, excellent captured – and very well written… 😉

  4. Anne Hayes says:

    I loved this one and the pictures.

  5. Pamela says:

    I squealed with delight at this new post and had visions of yourself and Sylvia squawking at squid squirming under your feet. (Thanks Trish for the party game you’ve devized!)
    Seriously Ailsa, you ‘discover’ the most remarkable places and I thank you for showing them to me with your lovely pictures…..love your descriptive and humorous writing.

  6. Tina Schell says:

    Lovely post Ailsa! But where are the photos of the ninja squirrels?!?!

  7. Great post, as always. Tell Jill, I mean Sylvia I am sorry but I am so used to her being Jill I am not sure I can call her Sylvia.

    • ailsapm says:

      Hee hee, I shall let her know! When I was starting to chronicle our journey I sent her an email asking if she minded me using her real name, but she didn’t get back to me for ages – I seem to remember she was out of town – so I went ahead and gave her a pseudonym. Once I’d started calling her Jill, I just kept on going. 🙂

  8. This is a beautiful place Alisa, I’m happy to see your pictures today! The Squirrel warning cracks me up though… I should post one in my yard!

  9. Amy says:

    Amazing shots of this special place! Thank you for the beautiful post, Ailsa!

    • ailsapm says:

      Glad you enjoyed it, Amy. It’s absolutely gorgeous; right off the freeway but you would never guess it. We didn’t hear even a suggestion of traffic the entire time we were exploring the reserve.

  10. gorgeous photos of a wonderfully atmospheric walk

  11. writecrites says:

    Next time I’m in Seattle I must go here to find the ninja squirrels. Good thing the ducks weren’t ninja ducks 🙂

  12. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Absolutely stunning images!

  13. hipmamamedia says:

    These photos are absoutely beautiful! Thank you for sharing and bringing beauty into my day! 🙂

  14. Pat says:

    Oh Ailsa, these are beautiful photographs with an equally beautiful written story. Your writing style matched the quiet slowness of the place you were describing. Well done, friend.

  15. Great barn shot. What a great place to stop and dine. 😉
    The bridge crossing in the video was a little scary. How lucky to have Jill/Sylvia to share in the adventures. Really nice shots of the road trip. 🙂

  16. You find such interesting and photogenic places to tell us about. It is good to be back in the WP community and catching up with all the good posts after a 2 week break

  17. mhdriver says:

    I enjoyed your story and the way you laced your photos in amongst the story line. I have a request. I would like permission to use your squirrel sign in an up and coming post.. .

  18. I have a similar writing style, so OF COURSE I enjoyed reading your entry! Good tempo and visuals to bring it to life!

  19. Pingback: Travel theme: Wild | Where's my backpack?

  20. Johnoffanwood says:

    Ailsa, your nature photography continues to amaze and delight! Many thanks!

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