From the Rain Forest to the sea: Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park, located on the western edge of Washington state, showcases three distinct ecosystems: a rainforest, a wild flower meadow and a rugged Pacific shoreline. The exotic terrain and beauty of these systems are all showcased in the 1,441 square miles of this park located on the Olympic Peninsula. When visiting there, it’s a bit perplexing to understand the “boundaries” of the park because the terrain is so varied and part of the park follows the coastline of the Pacific ocean with a seemingly endless horizon.
The trees, almost all sitka spruce and hemlock, in this park are wondrous and their sheer size takes your breath away. Walking among these trees gives a mere human a sense of the grandeur of all creation and at the same time the fragility of our beautiful planet. Some of the trees are hundreds of years old and can reach a height of 250 feet, with some having a circumference of 30 to 60 feet. Going on a walk in these woods helps to give perspective on the connectivity of life, all life. John Muir, the naturalist who was one of the men instrumental in helping to create the National Park Service said simply: “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” (John Muir, 1938) It’s amazing that this is one of the few rain forests in the lower 48 states. A key feature that allows this rain forest to thrive is the abundant rain. Precipitation in the Olympic’s rain forest ranges from 140 to 167 inches per year. Luckily, we happen to time our trip there on a sunny, warm day.
A portion of the Park borders the Pacific and boasts two beautiful beaches that stretch along the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach. Rialto Beach is further north and Ruby beach is south near the Hoh Indian Reservation. These are not the kind of beaches you park yourself on a beach blanket with a margarita in hand; they are very rocky, rugged with a ferocious surf. Nevertheless they are wonderfully scenic and you can spend hours beach combing to see amazing shells, driftwood and view the iconic “sea stacks” by the shore. Sea stacks are steep columns of rocks formed by wave erosion. Along this particular beach, the sea stacks create quite an interesting and diverse view along the shoreline.
With the strength of the pounding surf, the driftwood that decorates the beach more closely resemble art sculptures in a variety of shapes. Art inherent in nature. This close up of one of the huge logs shows the detail and the resulting effects of wind and water. Everywhere you look, from every angle…there’s something new to discover, and to photograph!
Entering the park is probably easiest from Hwy 101 by Port Angeles. The main Visitors Center is located at this entrance and the untamed beaches on the Pacific side may also be accessed from Hwy 101. Also by 101, situated at the northernmost area of the Park, is the amazing Lake Crescent. The glacial formed lake waters reflect a beautiful azure color, have very limited algae growth and are crystal clear. Some days you can see 60 feet down into the lake that has been measured in places at 624 feet deep. The lake is the perfect environment to support several different types of trout. When we visited the lake, we didn’t have the opportunity to go fishing, however we were able to have a peaceful picnic lakeside. Also on the lake is the historic lodge: Lake Crescent Lodge. It was built in 1915 and each of the rooms has a view of the lake. This is one of three historic Lodges found in the Park.
Olympic National Park is a gem in the Pacific northwest that definitely warrants a visit when in the area. I have only been once, but would love to visit again someday. Put your traveling shoes on. JES