Day 20: Thursday 25th
Again it was raining when we struck camp today, athough not hard. I slept much better last night, perhaps in some part due to using my pack as a headrest - I don't know. After a very brief shower, we struck camp and set out on the road to the Olympia Rain Forest, in Olympia National Park.
The park is huge - about 1.6 million acres - and mostly forested with a mixture of Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and two types of maple. The trees here can grow to very great height; one avenue of trees in a section of managed timber forest was at least 200' high, straight up from the road and continuing for a mile or more.
The part of the Olympia peninsula which is not NP (about 630,000 acres) is designated national forest, and managed with slightly different rules. For example, in a NP you cannot use firearms or walk a dog off the leash, while both are possible in a NF.
The rain forest itself, when we got to it about 11.30am, was wonderful. The water in the Hoh river was ice blue, just like the glacier it came from, and tasted really good. By complete contrast, some of the streams which feed it are exceptionally clear. Even a foot down the bottom is so clear it is only possible to tell there is water at all by the ripples. These streams seem strangely dead, though; only a few water weeds and margin plants grow in some places, and where the weed growth is more abundant on the more established streams no animal life could be seen. They are fed by seepage from the rain saturated soil above which create springs in the lower parts of the valley.
The trees are immense here, too. Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, Mountain Hemlock all grow to 150 ft or more; on average the canopy is 220 ft up. Tree rings some years are up to 1/6" each! The lower branches in particular, and in some cases the higher branches too, are covered in mosses, some of which hang like hair over the branches to create quite spectacular forms. Dead trees here rot quickly, but it might still take many years for a typically 6 ft diameter log to be broken down. Tree seedlings which fall on these logs sometimes use them as nursery logs, resulting in a row of saplings straddling the rotting log as their roots finally find the soil beneath. Eventually the old log disappears leaving a row of massive trees with a tunnel at soil level.
Higher up on older river plateaus, the forest is no longer disturbed by the Hoh river as it carves out new channels in the river basin below and the forest is more ancient. Huge logs from fallen trees - 5 to 8 ft in diameter and up to 200ft long - litter the forest floor for years while living ones stand proud and high. According to the plaques the canopy here supports a diverse wildlife which few people see, but if you stop and listen many birds can at least be heard. Squirrels can also be seen gathering food on the forest floor, while chipmonks scamper amongst the leaf litter. The canopy of leaves can be so dense in places that quite heavy rain can fall and not reach the ground, other than in an ever-present drips from the leaves and mosses.
I could have spent ages there, but we only walked the Spruce Trail (about 1.5hrs) and the Hall of Mosses (45 mins) before leaving.
The journey onwards took us beside Crescent Lake, which at first looks like a Norwegian Fjord. It is big for a lake, with steep, thickly wooded sides and rocky, thin beaches. The mountains surround it on all sides, with only a river leaving it at it's westernmost point, leading to the ocean a mile or two away. When we drove around it rain was falling fairly steadily, making the view across the lake shrouded in veils of water, grey shapes suggesting the hidden majesty of the hills beyond. After a while the rain died down and the view opened up a bit, with wonderful views over the lake to the mountains beyond.
We got to Port Angeles, which is a nice, modestly large town with a bustling port, and stopped for a while at a coffee shop opposite the harbour information centre. Deciding to try for Hurricane Ridge, we set off quickly and drove, initially through sunshine but later through mist rain and cloud. The visitor centre was ok although small by American standards. There was a balcony outside where there would have been a good view of the mountains, but even though the rain did ease a bit and the view improved, it was only to the point of being able to see vague outlines which was a shame. I did find some really nice long postcards both of the view and of Crescent Lake, which was good.
We drove back down the valley, stopping briefly for a photo over Port Angeles and the harbour, then carried on to the camp, a KOA about 8 miles east of the port. It was quite sunny here and the group lazed a bit, doing some laundry and tidying up. At first nobody was sure what to do about supper, and I think because of this Dean suggested we had another meal out. Eventually, when all the laundry and other things had been done we returned back to a pizza restaurant in Port Angeles called Cordy's, where some very pleasant waitresses made a very nice pizza. I couldn't decide between two, a veggie one with pine nuts, artichokes etc and a very meaty one, and ended up having a half-n-half of both. As I was also hungry I also ordered a medium (12") size, but they were more filing than I expected and three slices (of 8) were left,which I saved together with the chocolate slice.
The group, esp. Bruno, wanted to go partying after this so Dean took us to the only place he could think of, called the "Sports Pub". There were pool tables and a bar, and a very loud music system which got louder. I stayed to watch a couple of games of pool and even played a game with Dean, but eventually the music got too much for me and I retired to the van to do a bit in my Diary.