Olympic National Park: Where the Forest Meets the Sea (2/2)!

“Eastward I go only by force, but Westward I go free”

Henry David Thoreau

State 19: Washington - October 26, 2017

Nate

We woke up at the Mora Campground within a magnificent old growth forest on the Pacific Shore of Olympic National Park. What a refreshing change from the typical scenery of the Walmart asphalt parking lot we wake up to daily. The air was fresh, the skies were clear, and it was time to continue our exploration of Rialto Beach. If you are looking for a warm sandy beach to erect an umbrella, sip a pina colada and cool off with a refreshing ocean swim, Rialto is NOT the beach for you. However, if you want to witness the pure power of nature then you have certainly come to the right place. There was no sand to be seen as smooth silver dollar sized stones blanketed the beach as far as the eye could see. Drift trees lay scattered along the shore resting wherever the tide had decided to deposit them for the day. Massive sea stack rocks jutted out from the depths of the oceans floor and towered into the atmosphere. The ocean featured powerful waves and strong undertow, and many have been crushed and killed by floating drift logs! The best time to visit Rialto is during low tide, to see the tide pools chock full of starfish and other sea critters, but we had unfortunately visited during high tide again. I guess that just gives us an excuse to return one day. Please enjoy the pictures below off Rialto Beach.

After departing Rialto Beach, we drove 46 miles East to the Hoh Rain Forest. The Hoh Rain Forest has the distinction of being one of only 30 World Heritage Sites within the US, which is a landmark of collective interest to humanity legally protected by international law. The Hoh is the finest remaining example of a subtropical rain forest in the United States, and is the most preserved in the northern hemisphere! Receiving between 140 to 170 inches of precipitation each year, the Hoh is the wettest area in the continental United States. Surprisingly, a mere 40 miles’ northeast is the Olympic Rain Shadow where annual precipitation averages only 16 inches, and 20 miles East are the glaciers of Mount Olympus. The regions uniquely contrasting ecosystem has remained unchanged for thousands of years!

Upon arriving at the Hoh Rain Forest, we first headed over to the visitor center, and were sad to see it was closed. Nearby, we discovered a trail head with a variety of hiking options, and chose to hike the Hall of Mosses trail.

The Hall of Mosses Trail is a 0.8 mile loop meandering throughout the Hoh. Upon setting off on the trail, I was immediately surrounded by towering Sitka Spruce Trees 300-feett-tall and over 7 feet in diameter appearing as old as the earth! The result was a lush green canopy, which was like walking through a living green cathedral. Beneath the canopy, ferns and mosses dripped down from extended branches, and the trunks of the trees were coated with a dramatic drapery of shaggy brown and green moss. Interestingly enough, the moss does not damage the trees. The greatest threat to these gentle giants are wind storms, which topple them due to their superficial roots systems and the saturated earth in which they stand. Evidence of such destruction blanketed the forest floor. The most memorable example was a 280 foot spruce tree 6 feet in diameter, which fell across the trail. The trail was diverted by building an adjacent staircase, and the trunk was cut just wide enough to allow passage. Please see the pictures below.

The trail offered an optional diversion to a 200-foot path leading to a grove of old growth maple trees. We were about to enter the Hall of Mosses! As the sunlight pierced the canopy, the moss on these maples illuminated the forest with the most brilliantly bright yellows and greens, which were impossible to capture on camera. Without a doubt, the Hoh Rainforest is one on of the most uniquely beautiful places on Earth, and I will never look at moss in the same manner ever again! Please see the breathtaking pictures below.

Below are additional pictures of our visit to the Hoh Rain Forest.

After leaving the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, we drove 32 miles East to Ruby Beach. The beach is named after the ruby-like crystals in the sand, but don’t let the alluring name fool you! Ruby Beach is not your “fun in the sun and work on your tan” type of beach. Similar to Rialto, Ruby beach is a wild and wondrous place where nature make the rules and takes you along for the ride. That is of course, if you are ready for the adventure!

The parking lot of Ruby Beach is situated on a 100-foot cliff overlooking the shoreline, and the beach is accessed by a descending series of hills and stairs. Once reaching the shore, Ruby Beach throws her first obstacle at her unsuspecting visitors! The entire shoreline is covered in a chaotic array of enormous driftwood precariously placed wherever the tide deposited it the night prior! You can literally visit Ruby Beach each day see a different landscape! It was as if we stumbled upon the place where Mother Nature plays pickup sticks! Clearly, you can’t go around the massive mountain of tangled logs, and only a fool would venture beneath them. If climbing over a tree graveyard was the price of admission Ruby Beach demanded, I was more than willing to oblige her! On the other hand, Lori wasn’t feeling quite as adventurous, and decided to stay behind. With my camera in my pocket and my Merrill Moab Ventilators on my feet (the best hiking shoes on the world), I began my ascent across the dramatic driftwood obstacle which lay before me in the direction toward Ruby’s shore! I have hiked in a wide variety of locations, and each possess its own unique challenges. However, this was my first experience scrambling over a seashore of peculiarly stacked with fallen trees each hundreds of feet in length! Before each step, I had to make sure the log bearing my weight was on solid footing. One wrong step, and I risked being crushed beneath a shifting log! This constant realization made for an invigorating yet painstakingly slow climb. Once halfway across the barren wasteland, I took a moment to stop and observe my surroundings. To my left were the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing onto Ruby’s rocky shore. To my right was the leading edge of the Olympic forest towering above me, and beneath my feet lay hundreds of massive white ashen dead trees. It was the most unique environment I have experienced on my cross country trip. Please see pictures below.

After finally arriving safely off the shores, I took a few moments to absorb the sensation of the sunny skies and brisk ocean breeze. I was pleased to discover I had arrived at low tide, and was surrounded by tide pools chalked full of starfish, anemones, crabs, snails and other live little critters splashing about. However, the most dominate scenic beauty lay just off the coast! Towering rocky sea-stack formations stood like giants in the oceans surf. Over millions of years, the relentlessly brutal wind and waves carved theses sea stacks eroding away the soil until all that remained was the rugged stone beneath. Most surprisingly, many of the seas stacks had trees growing on top proving life always finds a means to thrive even in the harshest of environments. After taking dozens of pictures, and exploring as much as time would permit, I made my way back across the fallen trees, to reunite with Lori and Rosie. Ruby Beach was absolutely spectacular!!! Please enjoy the pictures below!

From its ancient mountain capped glaciers, to its rugged beaches, and old growth subtropical rain forests, Olympic National Park features a unique and diverse natural beauty combined with an unusual topography situated within a small geographical area. I am sure the parks other 3.3 million annual visitors would agree! It is a travesty Sequim, WA did not pan out as an option for our potential new home, because I would have absolutely loved spending a lifetime of exploring Olympic National Park! It was truly a place like none other I have ever seen!

Lori

After departing Ruby Beach, we drove 129 miles Southeast to a Walmart in Lacey, WA. Upon entering the Walmart and picking up a few essentials, we made a very unusual discovery when checking out. There were no plastic bags! Although it is a common cost cutting measure for stores to eliminate the use of plastic bags at check out, what makes the lack of plastic bags most interesting is they are Illegal! Thurston County, Washington passed a county wide ordinance banning the use of check out plastic bags! This was the first place we have visited on our trip with such a law, and it was extremely welcoming to see. Plastic shopping bags do not decompose in landfills, and our sea life ingests and gets tangled in plastic bags. A better alternative are reusable canvas shopping bags! The Cross Country Couple likes places that are good stewards of their environment! Good job Thurston County, WA! We hope more municipalities follow in your footsteps! After returning to Rosie, we found a dark corner of the parking lot to spend the night.

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