High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 3

Olympic National Park

Today we visit the high peaks.

The Olympic Mountain Range is a cluster of rugged mountain ridges surrounded by meadows, lakes, and steep forested-slopes. In all directions mountains and valleys radiate from the 7,980 foot summit of Mt. Olympus like spokes on a wheel. (nps.gov)

Hurricane Ridge, at nearly a mile above sea level, is the easiest place to view the mountains. From the entrance to the National Park in Port Angeles, the drive to the Ridge is 17 miles one way.

As we ascend, an overcast day becomes obstructed with clouds. We stop at a few overlooks and see absolutely nothing. It’s almost like we are blinded by snow! We wonder if we will ever see Mt. Olympus, even at the end of Hurricane Ridge Road.

Then, all of a sudden, we burst through to sunny blue skies! The clouds are below us now and there stands Mt. Olympus named for the mythical home of the Greek gods by English sea captain John Meares in 1788.

Abundant snow and cool summers create the ideal conditions for Pacific Northwest glaciers. A healthy glacier receives enough snow in winter to offset its summer melt. But now this sustaining snow more often falls as rain. From the 1970s to 2010 the Olympic Mountain glaciers lost over 30 percent of their surface area. (plaque at Hurricane Ridge)

Life at Hurricane Ridge is shaped by wind and snow. Winds gusting over 75 miles per hour pound the ridge, hence the nickname “Hurricane.” As much as 30-35 feet of snow falls here annually. (nps.gov)

Unfortunately the Hurricane Hill Trail is closed for repairs and mountain goat capture activities. So, we enjoy looping together 3 smaller nature hikes suggested at a trailhead outside the Visitor Center:

The Cirque Rim Trail winds along the ridge. A plaque explains that a cirque is a bowl-shaped amphitheater scooped out of a hillside by a glacier:

During daylight thaw, snow and ice seeped into rock cracks, refroze and expanded at night, and fractured the slope. Gradually the glacier steepened and cut into the rock creating a round open indention.

I try and capture the cirque with my camera, but you will just have to take my word for it, that this is a picture of it.

According to the sign at the trailhead, it’s possible to see views of Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada at this overlook… Not today!

We climb up the steep High Ridge Trail into an alpine setting.

A short spur trail leads up to Sunrise Point.

As we descend from Sunrise Point, notice the trail sloping down to the left. That trail is the Klahhane Ridge Trail. The first 2.8 miles leads to the junction with the Klahhane Switchback Trail. An additional mile on the Switchback Trail climbs 800 feet to Klahhane Ridge. Did I forget to mention that the 3.8 total miles is one way? Oops…

We descend only to ascend again before making our way back down the High Ridge Trail.

We cut through the short Big Meadow Trail that leads us back to the trailhead and Visitor Center.

During summer, wildflowers carpet the subalpine meadows spreading softly before a backdrop of rugged peaks and glaciers. Lucky for us, there are signs along these nature trails that identify most of these.

These clusters of tiny white flowers on dissected leaves are called Partridgefeet. Since this plant thrives on bare ground, it is valuable for revegetating areas damaged by stray footsteps. (But that is no excuse for stepping off the marked trails!)

Broadleaf Lupine are pretty in pink and purple and are relatives of the pea family. Bacteria in their roots convert nitrogen from the air into minerals for the soil. They are a natural fertilizer for themselves and neighboring wildflowers.

Harebell is also called “Bluebells-of-Scotland.” This belle of a bell  is one of the few flowers that decorate these mountain meadows in late summer.

Reminding me of couscous, these tiny Pearly Everlasting flowers are enclosed in a kind of husk, called a bract, that look like petals. They are able to withstand the elements and are unappealing to animals.

Mountain Owl-Clover is a small annual flower that manages to grow in these mountains. Their pink color is a showy bract. The actual flower is an inconspicuous small tube.

Western Wormwood is related to sagebrush. I rubbed the silky leaves between my fingers, and sure enough, they smelled like sage!

I really like this lichen called Ghost Beard Lichen. These wispy, pale green threads fasten to the boughs of firs yet take nothing from the tree. They produce their own food and thrive on the humidity of the trees.

According to wildflowersearch.org, this white daisy-looking wonder is Parry’s Catchfly, also known as Parry’s Silene.

According to my sleuthing skills, this sunny yellow brilliance is a Woolly Sunflower. It contains specially adapted plant hairs or “wool” which protects it from the harsh alpine climate.

This has to be Pearly Everlasting gone to seed… or maybe still blooming?

I think these lavender lovelies are either Alpine Aster or Cascade Aster.

This low growing groundcover is Spreading Phlox.

It’s time for one last pic of Mt. Olympus before we say goodbye and return to Port Angeles and Sequim.

We start our descent into sunshine and beautiful blue skies.

And then, wait for it…

Yep, pull-outs are still smothered in clouds…

At this next pull-out, however, Doe the deer tamely walks up to a visitor who has her hand outstretched.

I mean this woman could pet the deer!

And me? Just look how close I get!

Since there is nothing to view from the overlook, I turn around and look across the road. A plaque explains that what I am looking at is volcanic rock. But how can this be since there are no volcanoes in the Olympic Mountains?

I’m glad you asked that question and I’ll try to make sense of what I am reading…

Eons ago underwater eruptions occurred in the Pacific Ocean and formed pillow-shaped structures of lava from the movement of magma onto the surface of the earth.  The rocks in this valley across the street were formed from sediments blasted onto the ocean floor.

Both kinds of rock were rafted toward North America by ocean floor movement, then uplifted and tilted by powerful  forces.

Traveling down to sea level…

Oh, say can you see Canada and the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains? No…

A little more mist…

And we are below the clouds again…

High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 2

Olympic National Park

The 3 unique environments of Olympic NP—mountains, forest, and coast—can all be accessed off Highway 101.

Today we explore a tiny part of the more than 73 miles of wild coastal beaches that run north to south from Shi Shi Beach to South Beach.

Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach is a public beach in Clallum County in the Olympic Peninsula. It is located near the mouth of the Quillayute River adjacent to Mora Campground in the Olympic National Park.

This beach and coastal forest is noted for its pounding waves, rocky shore, giant drift logs, and sea stacks.

It’s minus tide today and we walk along the beach for 1.5 miles one way toward our destination… a sea-carved arch called Hole in the Wall.

Walk with me and enjoy…

We study the tidal pools and discover sea anemones…

Sea stars…

Limpets in their shell, clinging to the rocks…

More sea anemones…

Seaweed and kelp…


Small mussels…

We arrive at the Hole in the Wall.

After taking pictures and treading the rocks, we start back and retrace our steps for another 1.5 miles.

I love the picture below. This hiker says it all with his pose!

Forest and drift…

The Quileute Reservation

Today these Native Americans live within 1 square mile in La Push. But thousands of winters ago the Quileute and the ghosts of their ancestors flourished in the territory which originally stretched from the Pacific beaches along the rain forest rivers to the glaciers of Mt. Olympus. Their ancient mythic stories recount the days when animals were still people and they challenged kwalla, the mighty whale. Creation legends involve bayak, the trickster raven, who placed the sun in the sky. They believe their peoples were changed from wolves by a wandering Transformer. (quileutenation.org)

Hmmm… I wonder if Stephenie Meyer knew about this when she chose Forks as the setting for the Twilight series…

The Quileute language is still spoken by the elders and children are taught the basics of this complex language at the Tribal School.

I stopped into this general store below and heard the spoken language myself. It is a mix of clicking sounds and epiglottal oral consonant stops. It is 1 of only 5 languages in the world with no nasal sounds, such as m or n.

The Quileute Language is known for its tongue twisting strings of consonants with words that run off the page. For example, kitlayakwokwilkwolasstaxasalas means “Those are the people who think that I am the one who is going to Forks.” (quileutenation.org)

The Quillayute River blocks access from Rialto Beach to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Beaches.

Beach One is part of the Quileute Indian Reservation and was a setting in the movie version of the Twilight series.

Beach Two is part of the Olympic National Park, along with Beach Three.

We stop, pull over, park, and head down the .7 one way trail to the beach.

It’s quite beautiful with the nurse logs sculpting the roots and the various shades and textures of green moss, lichens, and air plants.

The trail dead ends into an obstacle course of drift logs. We scramble through a short ways.

And take a few pics of the beach. Notice the pirate flag near the tent and another sea-carved arch.

We’re ready to return and call it a day.

Did I mention that it’s pretty much uphill all the way back? It’s a good thing that I can stop now and then to take an interesting picture. (What? I never said anything about catching my breath!)

I watch as a woman, holding this slug with chopsticks, gently places it into the shrubs. She tells me she found it on the road…

A few of our treasures from Rialto Beach…

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!