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Forks, Wash., not your typical tourist spot -- until 'Twilight'

A welcome sign sits on a small hill next to the road entering Forks, Wash. It has become so popular that the city had to add steps up the hill for people who wanted to have their photo taken next it. The sign in front of the high school and the welcome to Forks sign are the only scenes in the movie actually shot in Forks. The first movie was shot in the Columbia River gorge and "New Moon" was shot in Canada. (Tribune photos by Carmen Middleton)1 / 2
The sign in front of the high school and the welcome to Forks sign are the only scenes in the movie actually shot in Forks. The first movie was shot in the Columbia River gorge and "New Moon" was shot in Canada. (Tribune photos by Carmen Middleton)2 / 2

On a cloudy, April evening I found myself in Port Angeles, Wash.

Traveling with one's parents, at any age, has its benefits, including footing the bill for hotel rooms. We were in need of a hotel room, and I thought the town 56 miles down the road would be the perfect place to stay.

I didn't let on until after Port Angeles that I had an ulterior motive. At almost 30, I was like teen girls across the country, and women for that matter -- obsessed with the Twilight Saga and Forks was 56 miles away!

Forks is not a place one would visit on spring break. When Stephanie Meyer wrote the first book, she had never set foot in Forks and no one can fault her for it.

Forks is gloomy and damp (think Minnesota this October). It's located on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula. Meyer did research to find the place with the least amount of sun in America and Forks is what she found.

Now Forks has found fame.

That evening our rental car drove past the "Welcome to Forks" sign, the one that can be seen in the movie. Forks is about the size of Granite Falls. It's in the middle of lumberjack country and the gateway to Olympic National Park.

It has taken to its unexpected fame like a vampire to blood.

We stayed at the Dew Drop Inn. On the second floor of the hotel was "Bella's Room," complete with special decorations. This is the room that Meyer stayed in on her first and only visit to Forks for promotion of the first book.

The town does boast an outdoor sporting goods store, similar to Newton's, where Bella is employed, a main street that has seen better days, a hospital, a high school a few blocks from downtown and a Subway.

To the dismay of some, neither of the movies was filmed in Forks -- except the welcome sign and a sign outside the high school.

There are humorous signs like "Vampires Welcome." Outside the hospital is a parking spot for Dr. Cullen, Edward's father. A store called Dazzled by Twilight has taken up home on main street and offers tours on a black minibus. Inside one can buy T-shirts, jewelry and coffee mugs sporting the Twilight logo.

Sixteen miles west at the end of a lonely forest road is La Push, a fishing village on a tiny bay of the gray Pacific. No town in the lower 48 sits farther west. La Push, which is a key setting in the second book, is the home to the Quileute Tribe and sits at the mouth of the Quillayute River.

There was one sign telling vampires to "stay away." Other than that there was no sign of Twilight in the rustic, somewhat shabby village next to the black-rock beach.

In "New Moon," readers know that Meyer writes about the tribe being descendants of wolves. The tribe does believe this, it appears. Meyer must have done her research beyond finding a cloudy location.

Both Forks and La Push are flanked by one or more of the five different forest types found in Olympic National Park. The rare temperate rainforest displays haughtingly beautiful trees covered in bright green moss year-round. Olympic National Park also boasts rivers, lakes and a coastline.

It is home to Mount Olympus in the Baily Range with its 7,980-foot summit, just 33 miles from sea level.

One might expect that the town was full of teenage girls touring the sights. Let's set the record straight, Meyer may have written "Twilight" for teens, but adults across the country are reading these books.

More to the point, women of all ages are reading these books and spending their lunch breaks talking about vampires, werewolves and teenage love. The day we visited Dazzled by Twilight, the store, was full of women of all ages -- plus a few teenagers.

Forks and La Push are on the way to nowhere. They are remote, like Ely. They are small communities full of hardworking people who are as accustomed to more than 110 inches of rainfall a year -- and a lack of sun, just as Minnesotans are to below-zero weather.

If you happen to be in the Northwest, a trip to Olympic National Park is well worth your time and, if you're curious, don't forget to stop in Forks -- just don't get bitten!

Carmen Middleton of Willmar is a graduate student at St. Cloud State University. She will be seeing "New Moon," the movie, on opening night.