Mountains and Forests and Beaches, Oh My

There were a lot of events going on in Seattle last Saturday: the presentation of the Locus Awards (congrats, winners!). The Seattle Solstice Parade (which I took part in last year). My bi-weekly writing group. Throw in other interesting-sounding events like the Seattle Iranian-American festival and there was simply going to be no way to do everything I wanted to do.

Sometimes, the only way to win is not to play.

So instead of picking between various events in Seattle, I went on a road trip. I hadn’t been a good road trip since September of last year, and besides, I had a long weekend coming thanks to my night-to-day shift change at work. So on Thursday I packed up clothes, hiking gear, and camera, and caught the ferry, heading to Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Peninsula.

The Olympic Peninsula, for those of you unfamiliar with Washington state geography, is the huge chunk of land between Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. It’s surprisingly remote, despite its size and proximity to Seattle. The Olympic Mountains take up the vast majority of the interior, and pretty much prevent travel through the middle of the peninsula– except for forest service roads, all the roads circle the perimeter.

When I set out, I didn’t have a specific plan in mind. There were a couple famous spots I wanted to see, but other than that, my plan was how my travel plans usually go: get there, explore, and see what there is to see.

My plan paid off almost right away, when I happened upon Dungeness, home to a rather stunning spit of land that juts out five and a half miles from the coast, steep oceanside bluffs, and some spectacular ocean views:

I spent the night at a little motel in the town of Port Angeles, and then on Friday headed into the mountains. Deep in the Olympics, almost twenty miles away from the highway turnoff along a winding, uphill road, lies the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center, at 5,242 feet. It’s high enough that my ears popped plenty of times on the way up from sea level, but still well below the tallest mountains, which top out near 8,000 feet and are covered in snow 12 months a year. Even at the Visitor Center, there was still plenty of snow around the parking lot.

Walking along a short path and cresting the ridge, you could look north, all the way across the Salish Sea to Victoria, Canada, and even further, to the San Juan Islands and the British Columbia coast range many miles beyond.

Here’s a panorama of the view south from the Visitors Center (click for much larger):

Afterward, I headed all the back down out of the mountains and continued my loop around the perimeter of the peninsula. The whole area is rainy, especially the west side, which gets 140+ inches of rain a year. But even the dry side of the peninsula is still wet and lush, and all around the base and valleys of the mountains is dense, green rainforest. At the Sol Duc River, I stopped and hiked about a mile in to see Sol Duc Falls.

Afterward, I headed back out of the rainforest and drove all the way out to Cape Flattery, which is the Northwestern tip of the continental United States. Once again, utterly spectacular, albeit in a totally different way.

There’s a lot of Native American history on the peninsula as well, and several reservations, including the Makah Reservation, which consists of about forty square miles around Cape Flattery. The major town on the reservation is Neah Bay, and there’s a really good cultural museum there, although it was too late in the day to pay a visit. But I wish I had. There’s a tremendous amount of history on the peninsula, but unfortunately it’s easily lost in the current day poverty. Neah Bay was one of the most impoverished places I’ve ever seen, and the signs placed every hundred feet along the road saying things like “Meth equals Death” and “Drugs are not the Makah way” suggested that there are a lot of modern-day struggles that threaten to destroy a proud and ancient culture. It did, indeed, make me sad, although it also made me want to come back and learn more.

Here’s a panorama of Cape Flattery, and the view from the far Northwestern corner of the continental U.S:

I spent the night in a little motel along the north shore road, and on Saturday woke to a dreary, misty day. My plan had to do some beach hiking on the Pacific Coast, but the dramatic sea stacks that line the coast were barely visible in the mist, and the wind was fierce. Plus, the water was too high to see any of the area’s famous tidal pools (starfish and other such critters are apparently a common sight, when the tides are right). Alas, because of the weather, I didn’t stay long.

Instead I drove through the town of Forks. The town’s biggest claim to fame these days it that it’s where the Twilight books/movies take place, and it’s exploited that to boost its tourism industry, although it’s really too isolated to take great advantage of it. It’s a five-hour drive from Seattle, and the fact that it’s gained fame through a book series doesn’t change the fact that it’s a rainy, dreary place.

Clearly not all the residents feel the Twilight love, as seen in the window of one particular trailer:

Stopping at Forks just long enough for lunch, I made my way further south to the Hoh Rainforest, which is probably the rainiest place in Washington state (that’s saying a lot) at almost 150 inches of rain a year. It’s in a valley on the western side of the mountains, where all the Pacific weather gets trapped, and the result is a lot of rain, and an incredibly dense forest. There’s not a square inch of ground that doesn’t have something growing on it, and the air is so rich with nutrients and moisture that certain mosses are able to subsist directly off the air. In the second picture below, there are Hemlock trees that have grown so dense that they’ve actually fused together.

After about an hour hiking through the rainforest, I headed back out to the beach to see how things looked at low tide, but still didn’t have much luck. Not surprisingly, the coast was as rainy and windy as ever.

I had been planning to stay on the peninsula one more night and head back, but it was early. Thanks to the poor conditions on the beach, I hadn’t stayed long, so I headed back to Seattle early. I definitely want to come back, though. There’s all sorts of cool day hikes and multi-day hikes out there, and I want to give the beaches another shot later in the summer.

For those interested, here’s the full photo set from the trip.

Now I’m back in Seattle, back at work (on the day shift now, yay!), and shifting gears to focus on the Clarion West Write-a-thon. Life goes on, but pictures remain… and, I hope, hint at more adventures to come.

About these ads

One thought on “Mountains and Forests and Beaches, Oh My

  1. Pingback: Olympic Peninsula Redux | Off the Written Path

Comments are closed.