WASHINGTON’S OLYMPIC PENINSULA – A Quick Trip!

We were itching to go back to the Olympic Peninsula. We knew two days would be barely enough time to make a dent, but…off we went! It required a drive to the ferry, a chilly trip across the sound, and more driving to get to Hurricane Ridge, a popular spot up in the Olympic Mountains with great views and our first destination.

Fellow chilly ferry passengers.

While docking we saw a gull dining on a sea star – how he got it down, I don’t know!

We stopped at our favorite “truck stop” ever:  the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe’s Longhouse Market & Deli. Selling gas, groceries, wine, take out food, and much more, it is the epitome of taste in gas stations.

A closer look at one of the totems guarding the entrance.

On the way up to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains we broke through the morning fog into a clear, sun-filled day.

Cooperative black-tailed deer posed along the trail. No one was feeding them, happily. They seemed to be getting salt or minerals from a little seep of water in the rocks near the trail and clearly didn’t mind having people close by.

What seemed to be the very last flower of the season up there was this tiny spreading phlox, sitting pretty on a sunny slope. This kind of situation is what gardeners call “sharp drainage” – I’ll say! It takes a tough plant to survive these harsh conditions.

Another detail that fascinated me was the amount of sap on these cones:

A long view across a valley in the Olympics, with snow in the distance. You can see two people on the trail to the right near the trees.

Looking down onto the fog:

These cones were losing their seeds to wind, birds, or squirrels. I don’t know which, but it made for a comical profile!

The fog returned as we made our way to the coast, to Third Beach. First we stopped at our hotel in Forks, the little town famous for the Twilight books and movie. Having secured our room, we drove to one of the nearby beaches. I knew it would be low tide when we got there and I was eager to walk out and see what I could find.  Fog gave the narrow two lane road lined with tall trees an enchanted look.

By the time we parked and walked about a mile through the forest to get to Third Beach, it was late afternoon and light was getting low.

Hardly anyone was around – just a few gulls and one or two people. It was a good place to lose yourself in the mist and rocks.

I picked my way across the rough, barnacle-covered rocks towards the sea stacks.  I was hoping for sea stars, anemones, whatever might hide in those crevices…

And there they were, but it was hard to focus properly in the low light.  I guess I’m happy to have gotten anything. It’s just more reason to return.

In the photo below, the little trench of water is filled with sea anemones. The sea stars in both photos are the same species even though they’re different colors. Called Purple Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus) it’s thought that diet may play a role in the coloration.

The next morning we visited the Hoh Rainforest. Instead of too little light, there was too much – it was unusually bright and sunny. Most days the rainforest is, well, rainy, or at least very misty. But that day the contrast of bright sun and dark shadows made it difficult to photograph the complicated landscape.  There were only a few workable images. But again, it’s more reason to come back.

An old phone booth with no phone in it at the parking lot was overgrown with moss. I’m so glad they didn’t remove it.

Sunlight created complex reflections and shadows on the surface of a fast-moving creek full of aquatic plants.

I saved our prize sighting (and the worst photo!) for last. As we drove into the rainforest that morning, we noticed something big up ahead in the road. When we saw it – a bull elk and two females – we slowed to a stop and then tried to creep forward in the car to get a photo, as I scrambled for my camera – I was so excited! I ruined shot after shot because I couldn’t calm down enough to hold the camera steady.

But it was still a great experience.  The bull soon became annoyed with us, whistled to his women, and with a nonchalant glance over his shoulder he strolled into the forest and disappeared. They dutifully followed.  I remembered to breathe.

Later that day we saw several warning signs in the park. You’re never supposed to get as close as we did to a bull elk in the fall. Ignorance was bliss, this time.

After the rainforest we returned to the coast one more time. It was almost high tide at dramatic Rialto Beach. Being a weekday in the fall, almost no one was around. Ethereal mist and fog silvered the water, the wind blew, round black stones clattered under breaking waves that crashed with enough force to roll log giants…it was impossible not to be fully there, with all senses engaged.  Photographs from that day are here.

And here are a few more shots from Rialto:

One more, snapped with my phone as I regretfully left Rialto for the long drive home.

The road home across the peninsula’s north side (the middle is unpassable because of the mountain range so you either go north or south) follows Crescent Lake’s quiet, scenic shoreline for miles.  I thought about our next visit to the Olympic Peninsula. Maybe the rainforest will be rainy…maybe we’ll spend more time in the mountains…explore another beach…get out to Neah Bay…take a closer look at Crescent Lake. But for one trip, we sure packed it in.

RIALTO BEACH

The goal was a wild, fog-smudged shoreline over 150 miles from Seattle…

We drove, ferried, and drove again, finally arriving in Forks, the small town made famous by the Twilight books & movie. It was a two day blitz – on the first day, the Olympic Mountains and Second Beach; on the second day, the Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach. (Even with all the water around Seattle and Puget Sound we are starved for the beach!)

Rialto Beach is an easy half hour drive from Forks, but first we wanted to explore the Hoh Rainforest.  Often mist-filled and rainy, the Hoh area was sunny that day, but even in sunny conditions it was dark inside the forest. Most of my photos of the rainforest didn’t turn out well – patience and a tripod would have worked better than our determined pace. Next time.

As we headed to the coast the fog returned and hovered just at the edge of the land. We parked and made our way through a patch of forest towards the pounding crash and boom of high tide. The powerful sound overtook me well before I saw the beach. Within the woods, even at water’s edge, dim light concealed details, and where thick forest confronted heavy surf, spindly fir tree skeletons stood tall, their future a tangled wreck at their feet.

It was all wet grays and diffuse light.

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The smooth, round rocks clattered as they rolled and tumbled under receding waves.

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A miscellany of sea life was scattered about the beach. It all made me wish we had a handy marine biologist along to grill with questions: What’s this? And that? Why this color? Who eats this stuff? And what does the other forest, the one that lies beneath the waves look like?

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A few enormous logs – the trademark of Pacific Northwest beaches – rolled around freely in the tide. We actually recognized one giant log from the first time we came here, two years ago.

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The softest, most subtle colors could be seen through the mist, whether you looked out to sea or back into the woods.

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The sun would hide behind thick clouds, then a vague, barely blue patch would form up the beach revealing tantalizing glimpses of rugged outcroppings and sea stacks. There’s a natural arch not far from here, but that would have to wait.  It was getting late. I wished I could stay another night – there are birds here, (last time we saw pelicans), killer whales, seals, and a whole other world out there at low tide.  Today all that was invisible to us, but we were well satisfied.

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Drift with me

along sea-sprayed shores…

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I discovered a gem – please take a second to listen to this recording of the rocks and surf at Rialto, and sounds inside a hollow log on the beach.  The recording was made by acoustic ecologist (acoustic ecologist – that idea alone makes me shiver with pleasure!) Gordon Hempton. He was interviewed by Krista Tippet, who produces a very good NPR show called “On Being.”

CHANGING TIDES

Tides nourish the land, and their dependable changes remind me that if life is difficult now, it will get easier…

Sunset at Lemon Creek Pier

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge is “Change.”  The serene view above is minutes from a  busy New York City highway. Maybe the beautiful colors were caused by pollution, but that thought was far from my mind as I sat on the beach that evening, lost in the sound of gently lapping waves and the changing hues of sunset.

A receding tide offers foraging opportunities for Willets on Captiva Island in Florida.

The ebb tide lends itself to soft focus, also on Captiva.

Just after high tide, the noise is deafening as waves crash hard onto the rocky Washington shores of Rialto Beach.  Bit by bit, centuries of changing tides have carved a dramatic seascape here.

Happily, the only buildings in the area are well out sight – it’s just rock, water, and sky as far as you can see.

Deception Pass divides two northern Washington islands. Water from the Strait of Juan de Fuca, separating Washington from Canada, is sucked in to Skagit Bay through this narrow passage, creating whirlpools and eddies.

The bridge whose shadow you see was built in the 1930’s – it’s WAY up over the pass, but if you’re not subject to vertigo you can walk across it.

On the  bridge, you can look east towards Swinomish Indian lands,

watch the incoming tide as it ripples and flows,

and gaze straight down into paisley water swirling a tidal song of change.

Just to the north, on a rock in Rosario Bay, a gull perches precariously as an incoming tide approaches gently, leaving soft herringbone patterns on the Pacific blue waters.

In the intertidal zone the tide pools are slowly filling back up, wafting kelp in open circles.

Sea anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima), packed tightly into the tide pools, have closed up shop as the tide is out, but a few are starting to reach their tentacles out into the shallow, nutrient rich water.

At Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Olympic Peninsula the tide is halfway out, exposing a dizzying variety of colorful seaweed on the rocks.

Mussel shells tangle with seaweed on the rocks at my feet. It’s getting late, but gulls, cormorants and ducks will feast here til dusk. Tidelands along the Strait of Juan de Fuca  support a complex ecosystem of plants, invertebrates, numerous species of fish and shellfish, porpoises, whales, sea otters, birds…I’m sure there are other living things I left out. People, for example!

In Seattle the ocean is a hundred miles away but the waters are still subject to tidal changes.

Looking west towards that distant ocean, the Olympic Mountains draw a ragged edge on a golden sunset as a lone pleasure boat heads north on an ebb tide.

More Weekly Photo Challenges on the topic of Change – a BIG one! – can be found here.