Thursday, July 23, 2009

Olympic National Park

July 19-20

8,000 miles

Our time in Olympic Park National Park is short, less than two full days, but we manage to explore a rainforest, hike to a waterfall in a montane forest, clamber over the rocky ocean shore, and walk a wildflower-covered mountain meadow, as we sample the diverse ecosystems of this spectacular park.

We picnic on a hill at the edge of the rainforest, overlooking a snow-fed lake.

When we hike deeper into the rainforest with a ranger, we learn that the Red Cedars and Sitka Spruce trees which tower over us are hundreds of years old, a few even took root 1,000 years ago. The fallen trees are ancient, too. It takes a long time for them to decay in this cool damp place.

We are in the forest primeval, a mystical place where elves and Paul Bunyan giants would choose to dwell, if they could pick anywhere on earth.

We reach a broad clearing in the rainforest where the Kestner family chose to claim their homestead around the turn of the last century. We can't begin to imagine how they cleared 37 acres of the rainforest, taking down trees 20 feet in diameter, and replacing them with little apple and cherry tree seedlings.

We leave the rain forest, and drive through another section of the park that runs along the Pacific Coast.

We park at the top of a bluff and walk down a zig zag trail to get to Ruby Beach, which is mostly smooth flat rocks, the kind that are great for skipping across the water. Huge logs, bleached white from their time in the sun and sea, are piled like matchsticks along the tide line. We climb over and through them to get to the water. Signs along the beach warn people to stay away from the logs at high tide, because once they start floating and getting moved about by the waves, they can be deadly. No problem today—we are here at dead low tide.

People have made thousands of little piles of flat rocks along the tops of the logs, an intriguing form of collaborative beach art. But the real rock art stands offshore, where massive rock obelisks jut high above the breaking surf. They call them stacks here. They are otherworldly and beautiful to us, treacherous to the boats that have foundered on their shorter brethren lurking just below the surfaces.

After our stroll along the beach, we head for our motel in Forks, a town that has latched onto "Twilight" the way Roswell latched onto aliens. The entrance to the town sports a sign that says "Welcome to the Twilight Zone," and numerous hotels, including ours, advertise "Twilight Rooms." Many shops in town refer to Twilight, and we realize that a significant pop cultural trend has passed us by, once again. Some quick Googling reveals that "Twilight" is the first book of a series of four wildly popular teen vampire romance novels set in Forks, Washington. The book has been translated into 20 languages, and was made into a movie in 2008. Forget about elves and Paul Bunyan, we'll keep our eyes open for vampires around here from now on.

The next morning we head north and east, continuing our drive around the perimeter of Olympia National Park. Unlike the other national parks we have visited, Olympia does not have roads running through it, but rather has roads that penetrate a relatively short way into the park from many perimeter locations, keeping the core of the park wild and undisturbed, accessible only to backpackers with permits.

Mostly, the perimeter road is a two lane ribbon cutting through tall pine forests that come almost right to the shoulder of the road. But, there a patches of the forest that have been recently harvested, and it is clear that the state is trying to help us not feel so bad about the eyesore, and the loss of trees. Here is their Burma Shave style series of signs:






We feel worse about a hillside covered with stumps of trees than we do about a farm field covered with the stubble of a harvested crop, and this bad poetry is not helping.

Now that we are further from the Pacific Ocean, we are no longer in rainforest, but the hemlocks and firs are fragrant and the path is soft with a thick layer of pine needles as we hike to Marymere Falls.
We cross a creek by walking across a bridge made of a single old growth tree log, sliced in half.

We meet a man panting up the hill to the falls with his toy poodle in a kangaroo pack baby carrier. He admits he has the world's most pampered poodle.

When we finally reach Marymere Falls, it is strikingly tall, a long white plume against a stark black rock cliff, surrounded by the soft green mosses and ferns reaching out to take a drink. It reminds us of the falls we saw along the Columbia Gorge, except that here we don't have to jockey with a hundred other people to get the angle we want or get a shot without people in it. It is more peaceful here.

We drive 5,700 feet up the side of a mountain to Hurricane Ridge, where the winter winds can reach 100 miles per hour. Today, we just have a pleasant breeze while we eat our picnic at a table with a view of subalpine meadows and mountains stretching to infinity.

A team of Gray Jays approaches our table and works together to steal our Pringles. One of them diverts Dick's attention by hopping on the table, creating an irresistible photo opportunity. When Dick puts his camera to his eye and starts adjusting it, another one hops on his plate and nabs a chip. When we turn out attention to shooing him away, another swoops in to make a try at my plate. It is very difficult not to feed the wildlife when they insist on helping themselves so boldly.

We hike through a subalpine meadow with a ranger,
and take lots of pictures of the wildflowers in glorious bloom.

Then we are on our way south to Kingston, where we catch a ferry to Edmond, just north of Seattle, where we decide to stop for the night, because it has been a very full day, and we can't bear the thought of fighting traffic and trying to find a hotel in a big city on top of everything else we have done today. Edmond has no other features to recommend it beyond these—it is where the ferry docks at the end of a long day, and it has plenty of reasonably priced hotels.

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