By the time we leave Vancouver Island we will have traveled the entire main road from northwest to southeast. There is one road that bisects the island like a belt, ending at Pacific Rim National Park on the ocean. This sounded like a place we should go, but as we studied the winding road over and through the mountains we began to hesitate. We saw photos of the park and the beaches lined with driftwood and assaulted by crashing waves looked a lot like the beaches we've been enjoying for the last six weeks as we've worked our way up the coast from California. It seemed like a lot of challenging driving for not that much reward at this point in our journey.
But halfway down the road in Port Alberni is the McClean Mill National Historic Site, a spot friends told us they enjoyed visiting. Cutting down trees and processing lumber has been the lifeblood of this area for hundreds of years. The McClean Mill was operational until the 1960's and the site and many of its buildings have been preserved. Guides demonstrate the various facets of the milling process. It's a living history spot. In the summer you can take a train from Port Alberni to the mill site and our guide book said that the site is open Thursday - Monday. Today was the last day of the three day Memorial Day-ish holiday that the locals have been celebrating. A steady stream of traffic came at us, leaving the national park at the end of the weekend. We wondered how busy the historic site would be and were shocked to turn into the parking lot and find no one there. That was when we learned that the park is only staffed starting in mid-June. We were free to wander around and got our second surprise when we saw what poor condition the buildings were in. During the twenty years between the closure of the mill and the creation of the park, absolutely nothing must have been done to those buildings. We decided to enjoy this place the same way we enjoyed a ghost town in Nevada. Even with all our funding issues I can't imagine a national historic site in the US ever being in such dilapidated condition.
Well, that didn't take too long to visit so we drove to downtown Port Alberni, a strange place because it is a seaport located so far inland at the end of a narrow fjord. Locals were wandering around eating ice cream cones and peering into the windows of the shops. Otherwise the place was pretty dead on this holiday Monday. So we drove back to our campground on the inland passage where the temperature was much warmer and walked along the widest beach we have seen here. A vendor was selling locally caught striped shrimp, a delicious ending to a day that didn't turn out as we expected.