High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 1

Olympic National Park

Precipitation, elevation, and diversity are the hallmarks of Olympic National Park. Encompassing nearly a million acres, the park protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. (nps.gov)

Today we explore a lush forest.

Hoh Rain Forest

This Part of Olympic National Park is located on the western side of the park, thirteen miles south of Forks and then seventeen miles east.

Driving into the NP, we follow the Hoh River.

A canopy of spruces, firs, and hemlocks salute us.

There are 3 trails…

The Mosses and Spruce trails are short loops and combined equal about 2 miles. The River trail is 17 miles plus, one way and is very popular with backpackers.

Unlike a tropical rain forest, the Hoh Rain Forest is coniferous. (plaque on trail)

Hall of Mosses Loop

Enter a world of sparkling sprinkled sun, giant trees dripping with beards, trunks shaggy with clubmoss and licorice ferns, moldering logs supporting new growth, and lettuce lichen lying under your feet.

The “Holy Mosses Trail”, my nickname for the Hall of Mosses, ascends a bank to a higher river terrace and an older part of the rain forest. (plaque on trail)

The upper reach of these conifers may well be over 200 feet.

Here’s how to identify these giant trees according to a plaque on the trail:

Now, let me translate. The needles on a Sitka spruce grow all around the branch. Western hemlocks have drooping tops. The Douglas-fir has a thick, red-brown, deeply furrowed bark. (And you are correct, the diagram of the pine cones on the plaque is not very helpful unless you are looking at the branches…)

I can’t believe my eyes sometimes! All these roots tangled in knots and branches draped in green moss amaze me.

Here’s a great picture of dappled sunlight piercing the forest.

Moss-covered trees contort into forest monsters.

This root looks like a serpent to me.

Heavy beards of clubmoss attach to boughs but feed only on air and light. The rain forest atmosphere provides enough moisture and wind-borne nutrients.

Some trees, such as big leaf maples, support denser clusters of lichens and hanging air plants or mosses, called epiphytes. (plaque on trail)

When a large tree falls, it provides the environment to support new growth. Hemlock and spruce seedlings, for example, cannot survive on the tangled forest floor. Decaying tree trunks, called nurselogs, provide warmth and protection and allow the seedlings to absorb the minerals and moisture needed to grow and mature. (plaque on trail)

Even after their young roots reach the soil, the new trees look like they are standing on stilts as the nurselog molders away.

This spruce looks ghostly with its hairy limbs and burls. The burls are actually bumpy growths due to insect damage or a tree virus.

Mother Nature has a talent for decorating and landscaping the forest…

And some visitors add their whimsical touches as well…

I notice a woman hunched over this indentation of trees and a nursed root. Wondering what she finds so interesting that she needs to take a picture, I walk up to her and then break out in a smile. She has placed Barbie’s boyfriend, a Ken doll, into this little cavern. Apparently she takes Ken with her on her adventures and makes him pose for pictures, just like some people use gnomes or flat Stanleys or candy peeps 🐥. I ask her permission to take this picture.

This fallen spruce tree trunk is 190 feet long! Sitka spruces grow an average of 220 feet tall. (plaque on trail)

Spruce Trail Loop

This trail stands on top of a former riverbank and represents a younger forest with more open areas. Douglas-firs cannot reproduce in deep shade. Here they have enough light to grow old. (plaque on trail)

A banana slug slithers across our path and into the ferns, herbs, mosses, and shrubs.

Shelf fungus fruits on a dying spruce trunk. Shhh… I’m not sure the tree knows it’s dying yet…

Do you recognize the effect of nurselogs here?

This Sitka spruce bark is unique. According to Jeff, Sitka spruce wood makes great guitars…. especially the soundboard for acoustic guitars.

The tree branches bogged down with moss still look like haunted creatures on this trail too.

This is Taft Creek. In the late fall and winter Coho salmon spawn in the stream gravels. The fry emerge in spring and feed in the river for a year before swimming to the sea. Surviving salmon return as 3-year-olds to spawn and die.

Over 130 wildlife species thrive off salmon. Their carcasses decompose and nourish the forest.

Salmon are just one example of how the mountains, forests, and seas are united. (plaque on trail)

Back on the Spruce Trail…

The western hemlock below is actually composed of several individuals. Originally many seedlings took root on a rotting stump, or nurselog. The seedlings near the edge grew roots down the sides of the stump and reached ground first. Eventually the soil-rooted hemlocks crowded out the others and joined together, giving the appearance of a single tree. (plaque on trail)

This colonnade of Sitka spruce and western hemlock used to straddle the remains of its nurselog. Their buttressed roots now support standing trees. (plaque on trail)

A tiny brook trickles across the trail.

And we complete the Spruce Trail Loop…

Hoh River Trail

As we head back to the Visitor Center, we decide to take the Hoh River Trail for a short out-and-back.

A hairy monster with burls…

As Jeff and I return from the Hoh River Trail, I hear an unusual sound and stop in my tracks. Jeff notices the source of the sound, and to my amazement, a pileated woodpecker pecks away on my immediate left. I have never been so close to a woodpecker before!

As we leave the Hoh Rain Forest and head back to Highway 101, we notice a pile-up of cars parked along the Hoh River. I spot a brown animal in the water and tell Jeff to stop and pull over. That’s when we both realize why all the other cars are stopped here… elk.

What a great day!

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