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Olympic National Park

Wednesday, 15 October 2003
written by Teresa

Images of wagons rolling across the prairie come to mind at the mention of caravans but our first experience of traveling in convoy was somewhat different. Sterling’s family flew into Seattle, rented a twenty-nine foot class C and joined us for a week on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

This is the first time we’ve traveled with anyone since living in the camper and as Sterling and I have observed it was a very different experience than our normal day-to-day life. The usual freedoms of leaving when we’re ready, stopping where we want were tempered by the considerations of six people rather than two and were a little frustrating at times. Whidbey Ferry On the other hand, the social aspect of traveling with others more than compensated for this and was a pleasant change for us.

On the way to meet our fellow sojourners we took the ferry from Whidbey Island over to Port Townsend. This was the camper’s first journey of any length on a boat and while there has been much interest of late in the notion of an amphibious vehicle this is probably as near as we’ll get to it. There are those amongst us who still believe such things may be possible in the foreseeable future, but I have my doubts that Lance are planning to develop in this particular direction.

Scenic Beach The travelers arrived tired but excited at Scenic Beach State Park after long journeys from Wisconsin and Florida. While the campground itself was nothing special, the views from the waters edge, across the sound towards the mountains of the peninsula were worth the detour. The pebbles on the beach were covered with thin algae giving a greenish hue to the shore and the stretch was scattered with empty oyster shells prompting strains of The Walrus and The Carpenter to drift through my head.

Our entry into the Park took us up to Hurricane Ridge where a small wild fire was unfortunately generating sufficient smoke to obscure any view towards the peaks and glaciers. The rest of our trip was to be on the coast and in the rain forests and so the mountains will have to wait for a return visit.

White Mushroom Sol Duc campground is an ideal place for an initial taste of the old growth forests, festooned with mosses, rich in rotting wood and an astonishing variety of fungi, very reminiscent of Rainier but somewhat more burdened by drapery. The true highlight of this stop was however the hot springs attached to the Lodge. They comprise a number of pools, two of which are on the warm side at over one hundred degrees but the largest of which was enough to take the breath away with it’s icy waters barely reaching seventy eight degrees. Sterling employed the quick plunge method of immersion whilst I favoured the inching forward into the deeper end gasping at each step and grimacing the whole time. Maybe this pool would be a different experience on a hot summers day or not immediately after the warmer waters but there was something perversely pleasurable about the excruciating experience of braving the chill.

A small section of the Park stretches in a narrow finger along the Pacific shore and Rialto Beach is everything the Washington coast promises. Rialto Beach Sea mist envelops the land, drifting and swirling in its passage over the sands and into the backdrop of pines. Whole tree trunks, carelessly tossed up by the might of the waves, lie scoured and bleached by the elements, haphazardly arranged over and across each other creating considerable barriers in places. The power of the water is clearly evident and although relatively calm during our visit was still audible from Mora campground, two miles away.

A short walk down the beach there is an impressive arch called, a little unimaginatively, Hole-in-the-Wall. On both sides, the sand gives way to an area of rock pools revealed at low tide and home to the most beautifully coloured starfish. Eelgrass These are not the flat fellows we saw on the Applecross Peninsula but rather podgy little chaps in stunning reds, purples and oranges, mesmerizing patterns dotting their backs. Solitary individuals could be seen at regular intervals on outlying rocks, clearly indicating the high tide mark whilst other more gregarious members of the species, huddle tightly together in crevices, creating splashes of unexpected colour. Pale green sea anemones rest against pink algae, clashing with the fierce orange of our five legged friends. Shiny, dark green eelgrass left resting across the rocks by the receding tide, each strand beautifully aligned, provides an amazing backdrop for a deep purple starfish.

On the walk back from the arch, Jeanette spotted a lone sea lion kipping on the beach. The rest of us had mistaken him for a roll of old carpet but the biologist in our midst wasn’t so easily fooled. Sea otters feeding just off shore and the undulating lines of brown pelicans in flight were more easily recognizable.

Hoh Rainforest was our final destination in the Park itself and whilst impressive, it lacked the saturated, sodden, soggy, dripping appearance that I had been hoping for. Given we arrived at the end of the dry season, I suppose this is hardly surprising but of course is another reason to return here during the spring. Its not often that we wish for rain whilst out on a trail but this was an exception. Mossy Maple Wolf Moss hangs in huge drapes on every available tree limb and the heaviness and luxury of this covering is what gives the forest its particular character, epitomized in the Hall of Mosses where the trees almost groan with the additional weight. Mosses and air plants can weigh as much as four times more than the trees own foliage and needless to say, limbs sometimes shear off under the burden. Although it seems hard to believe, the Park Service claims that the Olympic Rainforests are home to the greatest level of bio-density on earth, greater even than their equatorial counterparts.

Bugling elk are a sign of the autumn here in the west and having heard them off in the distance the evening before, a group graced the campground on the banks of the Hoh River the following morning. A bull sporting impressive antlers nibbled his way through the ferny undergrowth of the forest whilst his harem wandered more brazenly into the open spaces of individual pitches and out onto the stony islands in the river bed.

Our holiday had come to an end and we parted company with our visitors at Ocean City State Park the following day, they to head back to the lives they had left to join us, we to continue on our travels.

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