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Into the ‘Twilight Zone’ with vampire Ed Cullen

Somehow the Twilight phenomena had passed me by. Easy, I suppose when you’re not a Goth, don’t have teenage daughters or a penchant for chick flicks, romantic fantasy or otherwise. I had never heard of Forks or vampire Edward Cullen.

Forks first entered my consciousness as I searched the map for a convenient and affordable stopover on a planned tour of Washington’s sparsely-populated Olympic Peninsula. This west-coast state has breath-taking raw beauty; ancient forests, wild coastlines and soaring mountains. In contrast, Forks is a forgettable urban strip; a flailing lumber town in decline… or was.

I commenced my search for a reasonably priced motel. First up The Pacific Inn, advertising in red (stopping short of dripping blood),”Step into the world of Twilight. We are providing an experience, not just a place to stay”. Then a warning from Edward Cullen himself: “Warning to all Twilighters visiting Forks – I am not the only dangerous thing out there”. I continued to check out Forks accommodation, much of which offers Gothic-styled rooms in red and black.

When young adult fantasy writer, Stephenie Meyer, conceived the idea for her series of Twilight books, legend has it she googled ‘wettest and darkest place in the US’. Google gave her Forks. A series of highly popular teenage books followed; then the films – the rest is history.

So here I was in Forks several months later with my husband and teenage sons (not remotely interested in the Twilight hype). It wasn’t wet, and it wasn’t dark. In fact, it was blisteringly hot without a cloud in the sky.

“I thought Forks was supposed to be the wettest place in the US,” I joked with the receptionist as we checked into our motel.

“It usually is,” she replied sullenly. Behind her was a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Edward Cullen.

“I guess the Twilight films have helped the town’s tourist industry,” I continued.

“The films weren’t even made in Forks,” the receptionist replied, her voice edged with resentment.

It seemed that the rest of the town had also reluctantly embraced the Twilight invasion; the revenue from the tourists is badly needed, but the locals employed in the industry seemed at best half-hearted in the service they provided us. Something I had rarely experienced in the US.

Yet the town has taken advantage of the Twilight phenomena and pushed it to its limit in the way America does so well. You can do a Twilight tour of the town. Bella’s car is sitting outside the Information Centre, window screen replete with bullet holes. You can see the ‘reserved parking space’ for Dr Carlisle Cullen (Edward’s adoptive father) outside the hospital, or you can pay homage to Edward’s love interest, Bella, at ‘her home and school’.

We decided to give the tour a miss and get out of town. Early in the morning, we arrived at Lake Quinault. The lake is glacier-fed and surrounded by old-growth rainforest. Named the ‘Valley of the Giants’, it includes the largest Sitka Spruce tree in the world. We sat outside Quinault Lodge with our coffees, drinking in the vivid blue and green of lake and forest. Warming my face in the sun, I felt utterly at peace in this ancient woodland. It was not far from Forks, yet it seemed another world.

Between Quinault and Forks lies Ruby Beach, where Spruce trees line the shoreline, jagged sea stacks rise dramatically from the surf, and a wide stream meanders down to the sea. One stack has a weathered hole that frames the ocean beyond. As I went beachcombing, the children whiled away the afternoon in the stream, using a couple of giant logs as boats and smaller pieces of driftwood as paddles.

The next day, we stopped at Crescent Lake in the peninsula’s north. The lake’s colour lies somewhere between emerald and sapphire. Hiring canoes, we paddled out into the second deepest lake in Washington; a perfect Sunday morning.

Further northeast in the Olympic National Park, the road twists and turns through sheer-sided valleys until it reaches the sky. At the top, we continued up Hurricane Hill on foot until the world lay at our feet. On one side the mountains stretched out as far as the eye could see, each range echoing the other until the last was just a faded-blue smudge on the horizon. Far below, the Pacific Ocean extended to Vancouver Island and beyond.

Forks: a little word on a map wedged between forest green and ocean blue. But in choosing it, I had stumbled on the dichotomy that is the United States – self-conscious theme town and raw primeval nature. To experience the real America, you must encounter both. Although I must admit, I still haven’t seen a Twilight film – or read the books.

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