After our visit to Seattle and the Klondike, we headed further west to the Olympic Peninsula for a visit to Olympic National Park. We set up base camp outside the little town of Sequim (pronounced “Sqwim”). The day after we got there, we drove to the main visitor center in Port Angeles. But first, we stopped at a small local restaurant called Nourish! for lunch. What a great lunch. Best we have had in quite awhile. It is an organic, local, dedicated gluten-free restaurant that is part of a historic farm. You walk through part of their garden from the parking lot to the restaurant. Bev had Dungeness Crab & Cheddar Cheese Melt with spinach, mushrooms, lemon verbena leek and parmesan cream over a Brazilian Cheese Bread slice. I ordered the Spaghetti and House Smoked Wild Salmon Pasta with spinach, peas, red peppers, tarragon, lemon, leek cream sauce and parmesan. The flavors were superb. When we told the waitress we planned to eat half of our entrees and then swap, she had the kitchen split the orders and serve us each our own half portions. Sweet. For a drink, we decided to try the Pear Cider from the Finn Cidery. It was light and just a hint of sweetness. Really refreshing. Desert was a gluten free carrot cake for Bev and a chocolate tort with raspberry sauce for me.
At the visitor center we picked up the usual pamphlets and maps and I got my Passport book stamped. Back home, we went through the information and found that the park was so big, there were several different types of eco systems represented. There are temperate rain forests, mountain forests, mountains, and beaches. No roads cut through the park, so you have to drive all the way around to get from one side to the other. We decided to visit the Hoh Rain Forest for the temperate rain forest, Crescent Lake, a glacier-carved lake surrounded by alpine forests, Hurricane Ridge, for the million dollar view of the Olympic Range mountains, and 2nd Beach at Mora Ranger Station for the wilderness beach coastal area.
Hoh Rain Forest
Our first stop was the Hoh Rain Forest in the southwest section of the park. We wanted to hike the Hoh River Trail for about 5 miles. Ha, what a fantasy. It was a two hour drive to the Hoh trail. That left little time for a 5 mile hike, one way. When we got there, it was Grand Central Station. There was barely any parking available at the visitor center. We started the hike, but since Bev was taking photographs, it took a long time to just get in one mile. There was so much to see. The trees are draped in moss that can weigh as much as the tree itself, yet it does not hurt the tree. Ferns were everywhere. And it was certainly beautiful. But the people! I bet we saw over 100 people on the trail with us. It was unbelievable.
The rain forest gets a lot of rain. A. Lot. Of. Rain. About 140-170 inches a year. That is 12-14 feet of rain! Not snow. In comparison, Seattle gets about 36 inches of rain a year. Luckily, we were there in the dry season. Yay. Needless to say, all that rain makes for a very lush, green forest. The forest is a mixture of huge, in both diameter and height, deciduous and coniferous trees. For instance, the Sitka Spruce can grow to 300 feet tall and it is common to see trees over four to five feet in diameter. Moss grows on everything from trees to rocks, on poles, electric lines, and signs.
We ended up only hiking 1.7 miles on the Hoh River Trail because we kept stopping every 50 feet or so to get some pictures (Bev is not a point-n-shoot photographer. She has to use a tripod, all sorts of lenses and compose the shot. Let’s say, photography is a passionate hobby for her). Then we had to get back to the dogs (dogs are not allowed on trails in National Park so they were left at home).
The wildfire smoke moved in the day we went to Hoh and was pretty thick during the week, so we put off the Hurricane Ridge trip and just dropped the Crescent Lake hike. We didn’t want to expose our lungs (or the dogs) to the toxicity in the smoke.
Kalaloch Ranger Station
After some side trips and other parks, and a little rain to help clear the air, we took the opportunity to head to the beach. Olympic NP has numerous beach areas and we had planned to visit 2nd Beach. But, the night before we left, we double-checked and found the dogs were not allowed on 2nd. We quickly decided on Beach 4 near the Kalaloch Ranger Station. We were so glad we made the change. Our reason for wanting to go to the beach were the tide pools. Bev looked up the tide schedule and we knew we had to be at the beach around 7:15 am for low tide. The beach was 2 hours and 20 minutes away, so guess what time we had to get up and leave? Zero-dark-thirty. Ugh. But it was worth it. We parked and hiked (with the dogs) down the .75 mile trail to the beach. There was a large boulder we had to scramble down, which was not easy with leashed dogs in-tow, and voila! There we were. We started walking south, and soon came upon several tide pools. Tide pools are small areas where ocean water gets trapped around rocks as the water recedes during low tide. There were hundreds of green sea anemones, mussels, barnacles, and Ocre Star starfish. We even found an anemone that had the rangers stumped. Most anemones are either green or pinkish/white in color. But we ran across a few white ones. When we later showed photos of them to the rangers they were surprised and wanted to know the area in which we saw them. I bet the rangers went out at the next low tide to look for them.
A definite plus was we finally had some peace to discover things. Not very many people were there. Yes, you can still have parks to yourself if you are willing to get there at daybreak.
After our jaunt on Beach 4, we drove over to Ruby Beach to take in the Sea Stacks which are eroded parts of the continent that have become islands.
The last day before we left, we finally made it to Hurricane Ridge. The mountains here aren’t really that high (not like Colorado) but because they get so much moisture from the ocean air, they receive tons of snow. Like around 30-35 feet every year. Since all the snow does not melt in the summer there are glaciers on the peaks. Some were blue in color. But it is hard to see in the pictures because of all the smoke from the wildfires. Though we have to admit the smoke was lighter than it had been all week. The glaciers have retreated here just like glaciers all over the world due to climate change. Several are 1/3rd to 2/3rds smaller. Hope the day doesn’t come when they are all gone.
The ridge gets its name from the strong winds prevalent here. It is not uncommon to have wind gusts of 75 miles an hour. It wasn’t that windy the day we were here. But as one ranger said, you do feel like breaking out into song. “The hills are alive with the sound of music.” It looks like that opening scene in The Sound of Music with the meadows and trees. But the movie did not have smoke in that scene…
The Olympic mountains were not created by volcanic activity. The mountains were created from plate tectonics and subduction. The Pacific plate is being pushed under the continent and pushing up the Olympics. There are no volcanoes here, but a little further east there are. The basalt and igneous rocks found here are from magma cores pushing up through the ocean floor before being carried to the continent.
Other than having to continually re-jigger our schedule to try to get to see some of the sights without too much wildfire smoke, we had a grand time in the Olympic Peninsula. It was certainly worth the visit.