Drip, Drip, Drip

Thursday - Friday, Aug 9-10, 2007
Olympic National Park, Washington

Denise has long desired to visit Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. The peninsula is home to the Olympic Mountain Range and the only temperate rain forest in the United States. A beautiful, remote and brooding land, the peninsula sits across from Seattle and Tacoma, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. The strait is the mouth of Puget Sound – although Seattle is a ‘waterfront’ town, it sits well inland from the Pacific Ocean, separated by the Olympic Peninsula.

While the Peninsula is only a few miles from Seattle via water, it was largely unexplored until 1889. The so called ‘Press Expedition’, chartered by one of Seattle’s newspapers, made the first documented crossing of the Olympic Mountains. The expedition, which was more an extended party than a mission of discovery, took several months to make a trip that today can easily be backpacked in 3 days.

We camped for the first part of our visit to the Peninsula in Forks, which claims to be the ‘Wettest town in the United States’. Forks receives around 150 inches of rain a year - some of the higher elevations in the park get over 200 inches annually! Forks is a gritty ‘resource’ town, its fortunes rising and falling with the vagaries of the lumber industry. While the town itself is in a pretty area, it is surrounded by miles of clear-cut forests, nothing left but stumps and ugly tangles of downed limbs and brush – an example of the complete rape of the land that lumber companies are unfortunately famous for.

Olympic National Park was established largely to preserve a portion of the Olympic Peninsula from the same fate. The portions that have been preserved are unbelievably beautiful. The massive amounts of precipitation that the park receives results in mountains that are snow capped year-round, and lush, vibrant green vegetation that appears to be part of a fairy land. Combined with a dramatic Pacific coastline, the area is indeed an outdoor paradise, although a very wet one.

The park is diverse, and our stay in Forks illustrated this. We visited a Rainforest, coastal tidepools, giant stands of driftwood on a beach, hot springs, waterfalls and a dramatic cape in the middle of an Indian Reservation.

Hoh Rainforest

Those of you who are Star Trek fans will know of the Hoh Rainforest, if indirectly. At the end of the second Star Trek movie (The “Revenge of Khan”) when Spock dies, his coffin comes to rest in a newly generated forest, courtesy of the terraforming ‘Genesis Device’. This scene was filmed in the Hoh Rainforest, part of Olympic National Park.

You approach the rainforest alongside the Hoh River. The Hoh is lined with downed driftwood, an indication of the river’s power during periods of high waterflow (which is often, given the 200 inches of yearly rainfall the watershed can get). The water is a milky blue color, courtesy of the ‘glacier flour’ suspended in the water. The ‘flour’ is created by the grinding of glaciers high in the Olympic mtns, which grind and polish rock underneath them. The runoff collects the rock dust, which gives the creeks and rivers the distinctive aquamarine color.

The rainforest itself is incredibly lush and green. Almost everything is covered in moss, including the roof of the visitor center. We joined a ranger led walk along the ‘Hall of Mosses’ trail. At one section, the moss covered trees and branches come together an almost cathedral like setting, leading to the name ‘Hall of Mosses’. We learned about the different trees that grow in the rainforest, including the Douglas Fir and the Western Red Cedar. The Douglas fir is called the ‘money tree’, for its huge size (exceeding 200 feet) and incredible straightness. The Red Cedar was called the ‘Tree of Life’ by the local tribes, who used the cedar in a wide variety of ways, from making canoes to making rope. The ground is covered in vegetation, including a large number of ferns. It is a beautiful and inspiring area, a literal blanket of bright green.

After our walk, Vance hooked up with another ranger who started to ‘feed the fish’. Catching bugs with a net, he then dropped flies and insects into the water, which were instantly gobbled up by the small Coho Salmon fry. The salmon spawn in the creek beds in the rainforest, and we could see lots of the little guys from a small bridge. Vance and several other young boys got a huge kick watching this, and started hunting for bugs and spiders on the plants to feed the salmon. Afterwards, Vance finished up his Jr. Ranger requirements for the park, and had a good discussion with the ranger about his answers.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

About once a month, the dust of the trail seems thick upon us and the weariness of the many miles on the road settles deep into our joints. When this happens, we start looking around for a set of hot springs to relax and rejuvenate in, and right on queue we find ourselves in the neighborhood of Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, in the heart of Olympic National Park.

Calling Sol Duc a resort is a bit of a stretch – it’s more in the line of a small lodge, the pool complex and a lot of small and basic cabins. The location is pretty, as well as the drive up. Located in a valley just a couple of drainages away from the Hoh Rainforest, Sol Duc is also an extremely lush area.

We started our day with a short hike above the resort, reaching lovely Soleduck Falls. The falls are rather unique, in that there are 3 side by side cascades into a small canyon that runs perpendicular to the falls. Even in August, there is still a lot of water flowing over the falls – it’s hard to imagine how the narrow little gorge could contain the water levels from the spring melt.

Afterwards, we ‘took the waters’ at the hot springs. It made for a relaxing afternoon. At first I was a little grossed out by what seemed to be an inordinate amount of dead skin floating in the water! However, we soon saw a sign that said the particles were actually a type of harmless algae that grew in the mineral rich springs. Reassured, we settled back in for a series of long soaks. The complex wasn’t as nice as the hot springs we visited in Ouray, Colorado, but it was still a welcome respite.

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