Picture of hurricane_ridge Arriving in Port Angeles just a couple hours before dusk, we hurried up the road to Hurricane Ridge to get an idea of what it looked like before nightfall. The road ascends from sea level (more or less) to an altitude of about 5000 ft (1600m) and a forest road extends farther up in the summer. About halfway to that altitude is this lookout. Unfortunately the cloud cover was rather low so we couldn't take photographs much higher than this. The water is the Juan de Fuca Strait and if it were clearer, the hook shaped sand bar known as Dungeness Spit would be visible on the right side of this photo.
Picture of olympics Farther up it was snowing, windy, and the visibility became markedly worse. This view across a valley to some of the mountain peaks was taken through a partial break in the clouds. There is a visitor center at the top of the road, but due to worsening conditions and a lack of snow tires, we turned back before that point. We spent the night in Port Angeles which is a quiet (at least in April) town where most things close remarkably early and it's recommended that you like seafood. Actually, I had an excellent steak but there were very few menu choices available around town that didn't involve seafood.
Picture of marymere The next morning we began a counter-clockwise progression around Olympic National Park. Most of the interior is not accessible by road, and those that do penetrate the park tend to be long, arduous offshoots that end at a trailhead or a visitor center. One exception to this is the trail to Marymere falls which leaves from just off US 101 in the northwest corner of the park. It's an easy hike to the falls, about 1/2 mile (1 km) each way. The mist from the falls recondenses in the moss and trickles back down to the stream.
Picture of olympic_np The bridge in the center of this picture is part of the trail as seen from the falls looking back. The trees in this section of the park are enormous, although not as impressive as those we'd see later.
Picture of mel_forest These pictures are particularly tall in an attempt to show the size of the foliage along the trail. It's still rather hard to tell but as an example, the ferns in some sections of the forest were nearly as tall as we are.
Picture of elk After Marymere, our next stop was the Hoh Rain Forest. The Olympic Mountains create a rain shadow by 'trapping' precipitation from the Pacific Ocean along their western slopes. As a result the eastern side of the park is dry and tundra-like. The western part especially just above Hoh receives more rainfall than any other location in the continental United States. Whilst hiking near Hoh we came across a pack of grazing elk. They weren't particularly concerned about our existence and shortly went back to grazing.
Picture of elk_forest This part of the park is strewn with a plant called the salmon berry which is a noted delicacy among elk. It was raining on and off while were hiking in the Hoh area but the folaige is so thick that very little of the water falls directly onto the forest floor. Some 12 feet (350 cm) of rain fall annually on this valley.
Picture of tree Mosses and ferns grow everywhere in Olympic. As Melanie noted, moss even grows on the asphalt in little used sections of the parking lot. If you stop to rest while hiking, you might not want to sit in one place too long.
Picture of greenness The result is an incredible variety of shades of green. Even the bark of the trees tends towards green due to the moss and lichens. Many of the trees are truly enormous, some of them topping 230 ft (70 m). The tallest ones are douglas firs, cedars and spruce.
Picture of nurse_log A unique ecosystem exists amongst trees in the rainforest. When older trees fall, the log becomes covered in moisture, moss and mimics a small hothouse environment. This allows seedlings to grow atop the log. Eventually as some of the seedlings mature you end up with a line of trees arched over the original log. That log is known as a nurse log such as the one in this photo. Over time, the nurse log decays and the trees that grew on, and then over and around it are left with an eerie archway through their roots.
Picture of hall_of_mosses This section of trail is known as the Hall of Mosses. The trail makes a cul-de-sac here at this supposedly photogenic moss-covered tree. We obliged and took this photo but we also really think the next picture is more impressive moss-wise.
Picture of hoh_forest There is quite a lot of wildlife in Olympic but our encounters were restricted to birds, elk, and banana slugs. There are at least 5 mammal species endemic to the park - basically anything with 'Olympic' in its name, such as the Olympic Marmot. Along with the Olympic Mountains, the park includes a vast area of offshore wildlife refuge and a narrow strip of land along the shoreline.
Picture of ruby_beach This is Ruby Beach just a bit to the southwest of the Hoh Rain Forest. Deserted (except for the ravens) while we were there it's a spectacularly wind-swept and barren stretch of beach. All along the Olympic Park shoreline are huge piles of bleached drift logs like those in the foreground here.
Picture of stark_beach
Picture of pacific_ocean Near the southernmost visitor center in the park, the beach is relatively flat and featureless, but towards the north there are hundreds of rocky outcrops and islands. This area is once again known for pods of migrating grey whales that pass within a few miles of shore. We probably don't need to mention that we saw none.
Picture of waves
Picture of rock_window That would be Melanie in the hole in the rock. She's sitting there waiting for river otters to show up on the beach. We heard from several other visitors that they're often seen running along the beach but we saw no signs of them.
Picture of melanie_beach Perhaps the biggest difference between these beaches and those on the Atlantic that we are accustomed to, is that there are rivers and creeks flowing across these beaches into the ocean. (There's one ahead of Melanie in this view.) This makes it hard to stroll any distance along the beach. Intrepid explorers that we are, we didn't let this deter us until after we had misjudged the depth of at least two of these crossings. Unfortunately it was too cold to simply wade through the water barefoot. In the end we just waded through the water in hiking boots. There is a fantastic trail along the oceanfront section of Olympic National Park which runs along the beach, and occasionally across rocky headlands where currents are too dangerous and tides too high. Alas, this trail is not a day hike and we didn't have time for it on this trip.
Picture of leap Here is an action shot of David leaping a creek before he later gave up and just started wading through them. Melanie was secretly hoping he would fail miserably and provide a more amusing photo. Oh well. Also notice again the enormous piles of drift logs in the background. These become very dangerous at hide tides when they start floating around and crashing into one another. All of the pictures here were taken within a few hours of low tide.
Picture of olympia We finished our trip in Olympia, the capitol of Washington state. This of course would be that capitol. A suprisingly rural town for being part of the Seattle-Tacoma sprawl, it is yet another town on Puget Sound that claims several distinct local seafoods. Also typical of the area it can claim several fine local microbeweries as well. We feel it necessary to point out that we don't include 'Olympia' among these. The scaffolding on the right side of the dome here is part of renovations to correct damage from the Februray 2001 earthquake which was centered nearby. Allergy sufferers should beware of Olympia in the Spring. While the government buildings are nicely landscaped they don't involve many flowers, but the residential areas surrounding it are utterly awash in them. We were starting to wonder if there might be a town ordinance to that effect. The capitol building was finished in 1928 and claims to be the last of the 'great-domed capitols' in the U.S. For the record, the Oregon Trail of old ended in Olympia. So does this travelogue.

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