Friday, October 16, 2009

Olympic National Park

Traveling around the Olympic Peninsula, we followed Highway 101 north, then west along the Strait of Juan De Fuca to the small coastal town of Port Angeles. This is a working town, not a destination resort. Dominated by a paper mill and a blue-collar downtown, the small houses on hillsides are more reminiscent of a mining town than a seaport. An interesting feature of the area is Ediz Hook, a hook-shaped arm of land that forms an arc around the harbor and provides a shelter for shipping and waterfowl. From the spit, you can look across the harbor for a great view of the port and the Olympic Mountains as they rise behind the town. From Port Angeles, it's just a short drive into Olympic National Park, a surprisingly beautiful area. Huge in size, the park and wilderness area take up most of the peninsula, over 1,400 square miles and nearly 1 million acres. Not as well known as other parks, it's an amazing place with three distinctly different ecosystems: glacier-capped mountains, rugged seacoast, and huge old-growth forest and temperate rain forest. What's striking is the elevation gain - from sea level to over 7000' in what seems like only a few miles. We started our visit with a trip to Hurricane Ridge, a 17-mile drive that gains 5000 feet in altitude. On the way, we could see across the water to the ghostly looking Mt. Baker on the horizon, over 60 miles away. We started our trip in a comfortable temperature of 65 degrees, but by the time we parked at the visitor center, it was closer to 30, with a biting wind. The view from the visitor center, at a horizon filled with snow-covered mountains, was breathtaking. Covered in clouds, Mt. Olympus, the highest peak at just under 8000', was surrounded by other peaks with a light covering of snow. We had arrived just after the first snow of the fall, so it was clear that the mountains retained a large amount year-round, and on one mountain it was interesting how the last snowfall only remained in the trees, which made them resemble Popsicles. From the visitor center, we took a few of the short side roads, and around one corner came upon these two black-tailed fawns soaking up the sun. As we drove back down to Port Angeles, it was striking how deep the valleys are in this rugged area. It's no wonder that the first expedition of explorers from Port Angeles took one month to reach Hurricane Ridge and that much of the park was unexplored until the 1900s. The exploration of the peninsula is an interesting story, you can read more about it here.
We'll be heading west to explore Cape Flattery and the Hoh Rain Forest, stop back and visit!

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