Westward Wanderlust Day 10
Heart ‘o the Hills Campground, Olympic National Park, WA
July 19th, 2012
As we searched for sleep last night in the back of the car, the hush of the late hours was broken by the shrill cries of a screech owl. Windows cracked in an attempt to cut the humidity created by four lungs’ worth of deep breathing, we balanced on the edge of slumber. The high-pitched squawks penetrated the darkness, accented by a guttural snoring emanating from our neighbor’s campsite. The sounds intertwined, knitting a ragged blanket of white noise that tucked itself around us, swaddling our tired bodies in sleep. We awoke early and headed out to explore Olympic. There was little movement in the campground, it seemed we had the morning all to ourselves. We followed he Hurricane Ridge Road and soon found ourselves above the cloud line.
Though there were very few people on the road, we were not the only ones who where up and about.
We continued to climb higher up the ridge, savoring our first glimpses of the Olympic Mountains.
The Hurricane Ridge Road crests at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center at an elevation of 5,242 feet. However, the Visitor Center did not open for another hour, so we had the entire view to ourselves.
The fields were scattered with an array of beautiful subalpine flowers including Purple Lupine and White American Bistort. The morning was incredibly clear and bright, allowing us a spectacular view these glacier-carved mountains. We stood quietly at the edge of the stone wall that wrapped around the Visitor Center, allowing all of our senses to absorb our surroundings. Above the tree line, the wind blew between the pines, to the ridge, and through the wildflowers, carrying their sweet scent on the cool mountain breeze. It was as if the hearing and feeling the wind was combined with the scent of the flowers, all three becoming one simultaneous sensory experience. You could not separate one from the other – it was a singular sensation of skin, scent, and sound.
The educational signage depicted the changes in the glaciers over time. The surface area of Olympic Mountain glaciers had decreased 30% from the 1970s to 2010.
It was amazing to see the difference that occurred in such a relatively short period of time. Among other messages that can be inferred from these facts, I think this exhibits more than ever how important it is for everyone to experience the National Park system. There is obvious merit in visiting these wonderful places just for the sake of travel, but also the fact that if you visit the same place twice, it will never be exactly as it was when you saw it last, and what you see now will never be exactly the same again. All of these places are changing. It is the nature of the wild world to adapt and change in order to survive, but change is initiated by other factors as well. The fact that these places are protected and available for anyone to see at any time is amazing to me. It is our privilege as well as our responsibility to become acquainted with these places, to form a relationship with our wildness in the hope that it will help us all to better understand our world and ourselves.
Similar to some areas of the Cascades, the oddest thing about Olympic is that you have to leave the park to visit it. Hwy 101 circles the park, running us through congested coastal towns. It’s a bit jarring moving from the dense woods and mountain curves to the straight, commerce-covered arteries of towns like Port Angeles.
We followed Hwy 101 to Lake Crescent. It was 11:00 am and 61 degrees when we reached Lake Crescent, located at the northernmost tip of the Olympic National Park boundary.
Then, it was back on Hwy 101 heading east through the Sol Duc Valley and Olympic National Forest. We were heading for the ocean, toward our first beach experience of the trip.
Our musical landscape became The Beatles as we coasted down the highway. As we approached South Forks, of Twilight fame, we were bombarded by signs informing us of the perils of our location including “No Vampires Beyond This Point – Treaty Line” and “Vampires Welcome”. A few father-daughter pairs walked down the sidewalk; each daughter snapping pictures with her cell phone of vampire attractions, each father trailing behind, unsure of how the family camping trip turned in to a scavenger hunt for fictional landmarks. We turned on to Hwy 110 and headed straight for the coast. As we came closer to the beach, we re-entered the Olympic Wilderness through Quilleute.
The apt named First Beach was choked with massive sun-bleach logs – piles of mammoth driftwood obstructing the path to the water.
Islands arched their rocky, tree-lined spines up from the salty water creating a shape like a sea monster’s silhouette. We hiked down the beach and enjoyed the warmth of the sun and steady splash of wave over wave.
We continued northeast toward Mora, to Rialto Beach.
John Lennon sang his plea to Prudence and we turned west on Mora road; “The sun is up, the sky is blue. It’s beautiful, and so are you”.
Rialto Beach looked like an elephant graveyard. Gigantic grey tree trunks bent and bowed beneath the sun and salt, drift lines carved by the relentless exchange of tides.
The day tried on a sheer haze as we walked the beach, talking about how happy we were to have reached the west coast. It was a nice time and place to reflect on how far we had gone, and where we still hoped to go.
Eagar to try the Mason Jar salads I had made the day we left Glacier, Rialto Beach was also a great place to eat lunch.
And the verdict? Success! My lettuce, radish, onion, mushroom, tomato, feta (and Ranch) salad was crispy and delicious. Storing the pre-made salad in the Mason Jar sealed in the freshness and extended the often short and mushy life of produce in coolers. AND the salad was ice cold, which I made it even better! After lunch, we were back on Hwy 101.
Our next destination in the park was the Hoh Rain Forest – where moss covers just about everything.
After a look around the Visitor Center, we were ready to hike through the first rainforest of the trip via the Spruce Nature Trail, Hoh River Trail, and the Hall of Mosses.
Moss draped from every branch and vine and covered every root and trunk. The branches hung low, weighted down by the swaths of green and brown.
The sun shining through the canopy illuminated the leaves to a bright, almost neon green. The glow of the sun on the dangling moss made the moss look soft and fuzzy, like downy stalactites hanging above us.
Even the water was covered in moss!
Well, technically I suppose it’s algae, but either way, it was beautiful. The blurry green ropes undulated with the current creating the illusion of a swaying emerald carpet, or the swaggering back of a lethargic lizard.
Tiny minnows wriggled inside the safety of the oscillating camouflage, , their bodies mimicking the reflections and shadows cast by the leaves and vines.
We continued to the Hall of Mosses. The moss here is so thick, it seems to absorb much of the sunshine that struggles its way to the forest floor. Though the ferns, some reaching my waistline and higher, seem no worse for this lack of direct light.
Moss holds a particular soft spot in my heart. I love it almost as much as I love mushrooms. I was thrilled to be exactly where we were.
As we said goodbye to the mossy trails, we happened to encounter a male Roosevelt Elk and his harem gathered at the banks of a marsh.
As you may have noticed, I have a love of the very small details in nature; moss, mushrooms, insects, lichen, etc. This no doubt contributes to my excitement in relation to tide pools. I told D that I really wouldn’t feel like I had had a true Pacific beach experience until I had explore some tide pools in search of tiny creatures. Tolerant as ever to my photographic whims, we headed for Ruby Beach. As we followed the trail to the water, I found another small resident that Olympic is famous for, the Banana Slug.
The temperature had dropped from 74 degrees when we left the Hoh Rainforest to 57 degrees at Ruby Beach. It was 5:45 pm and the grey of the evening had settled over the ocean.
While D assisted in building a bridge over the tide channels, I headed off to search for tiny sea creatures.
The water was cold and the wind had picked up. I suddenly realized that the cold water that had pooled around my feet had gotten a bit deeper. The tide was coming in. I balanced myself against the colossal rock that was hosting so much life and took a few more shots. The water was moving in swiftly; it was time to leave.
We headed back down the trail and I checked to see if our slimy yellow friend was still around…not like he could have gone anywhere fast…
Tonight we had decided to have a nice dinner at the Kalaloch Lodge. We shared an order of the Destruction Dip, a hot shrimp, herb, and cheese dip served with lavender crostini, which was delightfully rich and cheesy. D ordered the fish and chips and I had the Pan Seared Salmon with Vegetable Ratatouli, which was absolutely delectable. We also very much enjoyed a pint or two of Fishtail Organic IPA.
After a satisfying dinner, we headed south toward Queets to look for a place to camp in the Olympic National Forest. We turned off Hwy 101 and began to meander down roads with no names and no signs. D grew up driving the dirt roads and fire lanes of northern Wisconsin to wherever they would take him. He has an excellent sense of direction and is always willing to go “just a little further down the road” to see what we might find. We barreled down the bumpy roads. Tall moss-laden trees stood on both sides of us, reaching up and over creating thick curtains to the sides and an arched canopy above. The road sliced through the dense forest, curving and turning, then stretching straight. Without warning, two large Roosevelt Elk emerged from the trees and dashed down the road, right in front of us. We followed them as they nimbly leapt down the road for a few moments before they hurtled the ferns and shrubs lining the road and disappeared into the forest.
We turned right and followed a road that ended in a large dirt cul-de-sac. As good a place as any to get some shut eye. We decided to stop for the night and rearranged the car for sleeping. Tomorrow, we would head away from the coast toward Mount Rainier.
Westward Wanderlust Soundtrack, Day 10:
The Beatles – Abby Road, The White Album
South Forks – “Let it Be” Rialto Beach – “Dear Prudence”
Heading toward Queets – “Free Bird” Lynyrd Skynyrd
Following the fire lane – Jurassic Five – Quality Control