Thursday, June 8, 2017

Olympic Peninsula III--Beaches and Rain Forests

This full-time RVing life has gotten us in pretty good condition to do some pretty serious sight-seeing. We have been training daily to get in tip-top tourist shape. But we have to say that this 3-day road-trip is wearing out even seasoned tourists like us. We spent the second night of our road trip at the Forks Motel, and we will be glad to get back to our own bed soon. We are learning new things about this western side of the Olympic Peninsula, such as--Forks is the wettest town in the contiguous United States. True to its reputation, it was raining when we arrived at night, and it was still raining when we left the next morning.

Forks has always been a logging center, and they have a sizable memorial to the loggers lost during their dangerous job in these woods. The wood grain on this logger statue is beautiful.

Forks' more recent claim to fame has to do with books and successful movies that were set in this little town. The author of the popular "Twilight" series uses the town and the surrounding landmarks in her books, even though she had never even visited the town before she wrote the books. The movies were not filmed here either. So even though Forks, Washington, is a famous part of this Twilight craze, it didn't actually have an active part. That does not, however, keep Forks from having a Twilight tour. One of the favorite parts of the tour is a reproduction of Bella's pickup, parked now at the Forks Chamber office.

Even though it is raining, we are headed to the beach today. We don't have the luxury of rescheduling based on the weather this time. Road-trippers have to see the sites in the order they come around the loop. So we headed towards the tiny town of La Push. There are five different beaches in this area, but we are stopping at the one easiest to get to--First Beach.

We are used to seeing logs on the beach, but this must be the largest piece of driftwood we have seen.

It's obviously big enough to use as a wind-break, and makes a good place for a beach party here at First Beach.

It was still sprinkling as we left the beach here at La Push. We didn't do much beach-combing on this drizzly morning, but we can check off another Olympic National Park site.

It was well over an hour on the road before we got to our next destination. Eighteen miles in-land from Highway 101 is the Visitor Center for the Hoh Rain Forest. As we got closer to the trails, we could see that we were entering a special place.

There are two loop trails close to the visitor center, and we hiked both. The first is named the "Hall of Mosses" trail and we soon found out how it got its name. We can play the game "Can you find Denisa and her umbrella?" in all these pictures among the huge moss covered trees.

It takes a lot of rain to get moss to grow this thick, and we were getting more rain as we walked this morning. Denisa was glad she grabbed the umbrella for this hike in the rain forest.

Mark's green rain coat just blends with all the blinding green we have walked into.

The Hoh Rain Forest is the only temperate rain forest in the lower 48 states. Here they measure rain in feet, rather than inches. They get 12-16 feet of rainfall each year, plus 3 more feet of tree drip from fog condensing in the canopy.

We took most of the pictures in the grand maple section of the hike. These large old trees have so many horizontal branches that make a great frame for the moss to drape. We hadn't thought about the fact that most conifers have a single trunk with very tall branches. They just don't drape moss like these maples.

Our next hike today was on the Spruce Nature Trail. There were some giant trees that proved that this wet environment is a great place to grow tall spruces. But we suddenly realized that we hadn't seen a single flower in this rain forest.

The trail took us beside rows of trees that started as tiny saplings on top of a fallen log. As the dead fallen tree decays, it provides moisture and nutrients for the little trees that form in a straight line along the "nurse tree." Those little saplings have become mature trees, and the nurse tree has decayed away. But the new roots are still above ground, and still formed around the dead log that is no longer there.

Our trail took us down to the Hoh River. Hoh is an Indian word meaning fast moving water, and we can report that it was appropriately named.

We hiked further up another trail, hoping to see the herds of elk that call this section of the national park home. We did see evidence that they roamed this area, as there were elk prints on the trail. The rain has finally stopped in the rain forest long enough for a picture of another line of nurse log trees--and Denisa doesn't even have the umbrella up any more.

We also discovered another rain forest phenomenon that we didn't even know existed. This is lettuce lichen. It grows near the top of these trees in this really moist environment, and then falls to the ground.

After we left the rain forest, we drove another hour and a half around our Olympic Peninsula circle. Our next stop is Ruby Beach. After making our way through the driftwood maze at the entrance of the beach, we were greeted by one of the many sea stacks. But this one is special, with a hole that makes a window out to the ocean.

After so much rain, we are pretty excited to see some blue skies peeking out from the cloudy skies.

Ruby Beach was named for the red sand that is sometimes found here. We didn't find that today, but we did find more big sea stacks on the beach and in the surf nearby.

We still needed jackets for the walk on the beach, but it was a beautiful place to be. There was enough sunshine to make our reflection in the wet sand of the beach.

Walking on that wide expanse of wet beach means that we have arrived at low tide. Low tide means that there is some great tide-pooling at Ruby Beach this afternoon.

There are lots of sea stars on this beach. Some of them are huge, as you can see when compared with Mark's hiking boot.

This is the first time we have found such tiny sea stars on the beach as well.

We had quit taking pictures of the very common anemones, but we realized that this is our last Pacific ocean beach. So we have to include more pictures of these guys today.

From visiting touch tanks at different science centers, we know that touching anemones lightly won't hurt them. It is an interesting sensation to your finger, as the little tentacles grasp onto your flesh.

We've seen lots of green anemones, and some pink ones. But this was the first time we had ever seen a pink-tipped green anemone.

Even though Ruby Beach wasn't displaying her red sand, it was still a colorful place. In the tide pools we found tiny shells that were bright purple and orange.

We will miss these unexpected treasure hunts in the tidal pools of the Pacific as we head east. We remember being so excited when we found our first sea star months ago. No we've grown accustomed to finding things like this tangle of sea stars that are uncovered during low tide.

We made another stop at a beach just further south along the coast. They ran out of catchy names, so the beaches south of Ruby Beach are Beach 1, Beach 2, Beach 3 . . . We heard good things about Beach 4, so we checked out the tide pools here as well.

Many of the rocks at Beach 4 are riddled with holes. We were glad there was a sign that told us these were formed by piddock clams. They wiggle their way into the sandstone by using a rocking motion to whittle away a burrow.

It's another hour's drive to Lake Quinault Lodge. One of the grand old National Park Lodges of the west, it has an inn and restaurant on the lake.

We're still in the rain forest, and this area measures their precipitation by the foot. The totem pole on the back side of the lodge is the yearly rain gauge.

When we look closely, we see that 15 feet has a special marking that says, "Record." Just below that, 2016 is marked as having 14 feet of rain. This year has had a record-breaking start, so we wonder where the final total for 2017 will be.

Denisa is enjoying the views of Lake Quinault from the adirondack chairs on the back lawn.

Our last stop at Lake Quinault is the tallest Sitka Spruce in the world. With all the rain, this is an ideal place to grow the biggest conifers. We took the short hike to get this picture of Denisa at the base of the tree.

To be declared the biggest, it's not just about the 191 feet height, but also about the girth of the tree. It's estimated that this guy is about 1,000 years old, and was measured at 59 feet in circumference.

That was our last stop before finishing up our loop back home at Elma RV Park. We drove 202 miles and hiked another 8.5 miles on this third day of our road trip. We have seen the Olympic Peninsula Loop advertised as 330-mile loop. But we took most of the detours into the national park, and the extra trip to the tip of the peninsula at Cape Flattery. In total, we drove 622 miles in the last three days. We might need a vacation from our vacation to recover from the 26 miles of hiking that we also did these three days. From mountains to rain forests to beaches to waterfalls to wildlife to mountain lakes . . . this loop has a little of everything for those of us that love nature. It's a great place to wander into a smorgasbord of God's wonders!

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