Published: February 19th 2009September 30th 2008
Ferns Covered with Morning Dew
Yes, those are dew drops, not rain drops. The morning fog carries lots of moisture.
From the driest area in the state to the wettest in a little over two hours, we rounded the east side of the Olympic Peninsula heading towards the Hoh rain forest. I must say, for being one of the few temperate rain forests worldwide, it was remarkably dry on the days we were there. Not that I am complaining, it's just that you don't expect an area that receives over 12 ft (3.6 m) of rain a year to be so....well, sunny. Had I done my research I would have learned that unlike tropical rain forests, temperate rain forests receive most of their water over the winter and spring, and the summer is characterized with mild, foggy days - a nice surprise from what I was expecting.
There was definitely was a change in climate as we drove away from Forks. The familiar roadside conifers and evergreens gradually became larger, the shade a little heavier, and the moss increasingly thicker the closer to the mountains we went. It was nearing noon by the time we pulled into the Hoh campground, and arriving on a weekday meant we had our pick of the spots to settle in. We chose a large
Harsh shafts of sunlight cut across the forest floor. Hoh National Rain Forest.
corner site nestled beneath the old grown forest which faced out along the river and set up our tent mere inches away from the bank, making sure we left enough space for midnight stumblings if necessary. A deep breath of air betrayed our location even if the weather wouldn't - somewhat heavy with moisture, but cool, smelling of dirt and earth and leaves.
Having spent a good portion of the day just getting here, we quickly set up tent and hit the trails. Looking for that quintessential mossy forest view, we started with the aptly titled Hall of Mosses Trail. It was a short, paved nature trail popular with strollers and just about everyone visiting the park today but did offer some spectacular views of moss draped maples and and spruces. The harsh overhead sunlight actually made the area appear very unlike most photos I've seen - it didn't have the mysterious, shrouded jungle feel I anticipated, and likely would have received on a cloudy day, the one where you almost expect a dinosaur to crash through the canopy. Today the harsh shadows gave the forest a very peculiar attitude, one where the emerald streaks of light would cut
Washington State Ferry
Our ferry from Edmonds to Kingston pulls away from the dock.
through the ferns almost putting the whole forest floor on display, blinding us as our eyes constantly tried to adjust between the bright shafts of light and the dark shadows that pot-marked the trail.
Using the paved trial as our introduction to the woods, we set off along the Hoh River Trail to get away from the crowds and trek deeper into the forest. If we walked this trail to completion we would have eventually reached the glaciers of Mt. Olympus but since we were just looking for a day hike we walked a few miles in before turning around. The dirt path skirted back and forth between the sparkling blue glacial waters of the Hoh and the mossy overgrowth of the park interior. The leaves were beginning to change color along the riverbanks but the vast majority of our surroundings were the green and browns of evergreens.
That night we camped under one the clearest darkest skies I've ever seen. Given that the Olympic Peninsula is largely unpopulated, the light pollution was at an all-time low. I fell asleep quickly but Andras woke me up in the middle of the night to come outside and look around.
Sea stacks in the Pacific Ocean at Second Beach.
Countless pinpoints of light sparkled in the pitch black sky - so many that it was impossible to make out any constellations - with the misty white of the Milky Way painting a swath across the sky. The temperature had dropped noticeably and already I could feel the moisture hanging heavy in the air.
That next morning we awoke to find the entire river bed shrouded in a thick, impenetrable mist. Where yesterday we could see distant hilltops, today we could barely make out the opposite bank only 20 yards away. It made sense that so much precipitation would accumulate overnight as the coastal clouds made their way inward. Afterall, how else would this area stay so green?
As we were packing up to head to the coast, Andras told me about the elk he heard bugling last night. After his encounter with the buffalo roaming through the campsite in South Dakota while I slept soundly away, I had made him promise to wake me up in the future if anything interesting was happening outside the tent, so I was a little bit upset that I had once again
slept through a close encounter of the natural kind.
Seagull Takes Flight
Near the Ferry terminal in Kingston
So imagine our surprise as we're driving out of the campsite, round a corner and see a huge male elk just grazing by the side of the road near the restrooms. Magical!
In the next few minutes over campers began to wake and word soon spread and several individuals were treading precariously close trying to get a photo on their cell-phones. I had plenty of time to get the zoom lens on the camera but the light was too low without a tripod. Then as we were heading out along a deserted rural road the car suddenly jerked to a halt - Andras had spotted another elk walking along the riverbank. Early morning is definitely the best time to see wildlife in this area.
Pacific Ocean - Second Beach
The amazing reality of the Olympic National Park is that it contains mountains, forest and ocean environments. From the rainforest we headed back north through the relatively unmentionable town of Forks, before heading west towards La Push. Forks has been doing remarkably decent tourism ever since the hit book series and movie Twilight
became popular with the teen crowd. Since neither of us are much into teenage-chick-lit we
Moss Covered Tree
Along the Trail of Mosses in Olympic National Park
have no idea what the fuss is about, and to us, the town of Forks is like all other rural logging towns - some rundown motels, wood carvings, and a place to get refueled and a bite to eat.
After driving what seemed like forever through various stages of replanted forests we entered into the Quileute Indian Reservation and continued to the trail head to Second Beach. Even though the hike is only about 0.5 miles it limits the crowds to only those willing to hike down (and up) a rather steep hill to the shore. When we arrived we were the only car parked and had the entire beach to ourselves.
Naturally, when we wanted shade yesterday we got blinding sunlight and when we wanted sunlight today we got the thick, grey maritime layer we were hoping to avoid. Oh well. The beach itself is large and sandy, broken up with piles of driftwood and barnacle covered rocks that have been beaten smooth with the pounding waves. North Pacific beaches are more rocky than they are full of shells, although we did find an interesting piece of sponge and a few dead crabs washed up by the
Cascade Mountains and Washington Ferry
Taken from the ferry as we sailed across the Puget Sound
water. It's possible to walk a considerable distance along the shore, and even camp on the beach, we but didn't have a tide chart and the last thing we wanted was to get trapped between the cliffs and the sea-stacks so we turned back after a while.
As we were walking back there through the woods we encountered some strange rustling in the underbrush, and moments later a whole herd of female elk dashed past us deeper into the trees. We must have startled them as we approached, but better us sneak up on them then they startle us! By the time we departed we were just starting to see others make their way down the trail - perfect timing!
Our weekend getaway ended with a long drive back to the ferry terminal. It was only after we made it back to civilization that we were welcomed with the news that the economy has taken a serious turn for the worse. I suppose the one benefit of being not having many investments is that you don't have many to lose.
It was short outing, yes, but so full of new sights and encounters. Not sure when we'll
Eating grass in the Hoh Campgrounds. Olympic National Park.
make it back this way as the weather has already started to turn crisp, but with so much left to explore, I'm certain a repeat visit is warranted.
There are more photos below