Years ago, a dear friend introduced me to an album, The Music of Olympic National Park by Mars Lasar, nature sounds from the Olympic National Park (ONP) mixed with mind-relaxing, dream-enhancing orchestral music. We played it frequently while working, and I eventually bought a copy for myself—one of my favorite albums of all time. I knew that when we got to Washington, visiting Olympic National Park was a top priority for me. And it did not disappoint, exceeding my expectations, and I was not ready to leave, even though we extended our trip by a couple of days.
It seems like every new place we explore is my new favorite, but ONP has a mystical, magical feel, its untouched beauty sharing some secrets and closely holding others to be revealed later—much like the music on the album I love.
The park, itself, is structured differently than others we’ve visited. There are eight or so roads around the perimeter going in, but none connect inside. And, although they are several miles long, they don’t penetrate the heart of the park. To get to the center requires long, overnight hikes traversing steep elevations. We traveled into the park on about half of the roads. Others were either closed, were more rugged than we wanted to drive that day, or we just ran out of time. But we did enjoy several hikes on well-traversed nature trails at the end of each we explored.
Another interesting attribute of this park is that it encompasses several miles of beach on the Pacific Ocean. This “section” of the park is not connected to the main section but is protected under the umbrella of ONP. This would explain the whale and ocean sounds on the Lasar album.
ONP is in a fairly remote section of Washington, definitely embodying the Pacific Northwest moniker. Logging and fishing are the two main industries in the vicinity of the park, with evidence of clear cutting and new growth everywhere. Several Indian reservations are located in this corner of the state as well, and small towns are few and far between. Because of Covid, the reservations were closed to outsiders, except for travelling through them on various roads. So, we were not able to visit parts of the Pacific Northwest we would have loved to see.
Our first foray to ONP was on a [smoke] hazy, cloudy, rainy day to Lake Quinault on the southwest part of the park. Lake Quinault straddles the Quinault Indian Reservation, the Olympic National Forest, and ONP. We drove down Forest Road 93400 (South Shore Drive) until the pavement ended and continued on a gravel road for several miles, along the Quinault River. We stopped to take pictures of a waterfall next to the road and hiked a nature trail to another waterfall. Lush, green foliage, pine and cedar trees, varieties of fern, branches dripping with moss. Stumps and deadwood giving life to new plant and tree growth, sounds of water, and the occasional warbling from birds overloaded our senses. So peaceful. And this beauty cloaked us from the dreary conditions “outside.” The air was clean and moist; the earth was fertile; the conditions were ripe with creation.
Lake Quinault, itself, was shrouded in mystery by fog and haze, and we were able to see only the edges of the shoreline. The clearness of the water and the hint of blue in its depths held the promise of breathtaking reflective glass on a clear day.
On our way to Forks, we visited Kalaloch and Ruby Beaches, both parts of Olympic National Park. We could see why this stretch of shoreline is protected national park. It is unlike any we’ve seen before. Rocks and stones instead of seashells. Piles of driftwood and moss-covered forest lining the shore. Outcroppings of rock cliffs dotting the ocean-scape.
Kalaloch is home to the Tree of Life—a tree determined to survive the ravages of beach erosion. Its rootball is still embedded in the sand some 20 feet below the tree, with its roots clinging to the ground that has eroded over time. It reflects the determination all of nature has to want to live and thrive.
From Forks, we visited Rialto Beach and Hoh Rain Forest. The rocks and stones that wash to shore at Rialto are more colorful—deep greens, reds, whites, purples, grays. Surfers try their luck on the pounding shore, but the landings must be unforgiving given the rocky nature of the beach.
Hoh Rain Forest gave us a more in-depth view of ONP’s evolutionary nature. Tree root systems intertwining; fallen, dead trees serving as nurselogs. Sun dappling through moss-dripped branches. Sounds of creeks with lush, underwater greenery. Rivers and waterfalls. I am reminded of the purposefulness of evolution. It is not about survival of the fittest, which represents the old view. The new view—a new science, if you will—as suggested by Bruce Lipton in Spontaneous Evolution, is that organisms survive by adapting and thrive by becoming members of a larger community. Nature in this park is replete with examples of this type of survival, the interdependence of each element to allow everything to thrive so resplendently. Moss-encased branches on towering trees provide moisture for the plant life below. Old stumps provide haven for new tree growth. Dead remnants of trees serve as garden beds and homes for other creatures. Ancient life co-mingles with young saplings, nurturing their maturation. There was a sense of love, of forgiveness, of contentment in this wilderness. It is no wonder I fell in love with it.
To get closer to the northern parts of ONP, we moved to a boondocking spot in the Olympic National Forest, down a one-lane paved road that went back several miles. As we started down this road, a huge semi loaded with timber was barreling toward us from the other direction. Luckily, there was a turnout just large enough for our truck and Airstream so we could move out of the way. Otherwise, we would have had to back up at least a ½ mile to get off the road. Through our explorations later, we learned that deep into the mountains there was an active logging production.
Other than this one episode with a semi, however, there was not much logging activity taking place while we were there. This boondocking spot turned out to be one of our favorites. There was no road noise, and it was pitch black at night (although there was cloud cover, so no star gazing to be had!). It was a quiet respite for a few days [and it was free].
From there we took a drive on a one-lane gravel road deep in the woods a few miles past our campsite. The road was narrow, with bushes and branches scraping the sides of the truck. We felt like we were four-wheeling through the forest because of the potholes, puddles, and steep pitches we encountered. It was so much fun, but after an hour of going maybe 10 mph, we found a place to turn around and head back. What we could tell from Google maps, we had barely gone 1/3 of the way and we were still going up!
We also visited Sol Duc, another nature hike to beautiful waterfalls. The Sol Duc River is also where salmon come to spawn each Fall. Unfortunately, we were there a week or two too early and did not see any salmon.
We hiked the trail to Marymere Falls on a cloudy, rainy day, and we were finally able to see a glacier lake, Lake Crescent, on a CLEAR day. Except for a slight ripple from the breeze, the glacier blue water was like a looking glass.
Our final foray into ONP was driving to Hurricane Ridge. As we started the drive, it was a partly cloudy day and we weren’t feeling confident that we’d see any mountain ridges once we arrived at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. It was a steady incline to the top, some parts rather steep, and we passed through clouds hiding any worthwhile views. But as we rounded the last few curves, the sky cleared and we were greeted with spectacular views of Hurricane Ridge. A few clouds still hugged Mount Olympus in the distance, but we caught glimpses of it behind the stunning views of the other glacier-capped mountains in front of us.
Olympic National Park is more than rocky beaches, glacier-capped mountains, and lush rainforest. It is evidence of life moving forward through working together, supporting each other, loving, nurturing. It is not about independence or co-dependence. It is about knowing that we produce carbon dioxide so that plant life can breathe, and nature produces oxygen so that we can breathe. It is interdependence, community. As tree roots intertwined with one another creating a colonnade, so, too, do we entangle with nature to thrive. Community is more than just our family, friends, and neighbors. Nature is part of our community as well. I fell in love with the rainforest because it so blatantly represents the best of who we are. One complete community.