Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trip to the Olympics

We spent last week at the Olympics with my best friend from high school and his wife and one-year-old son. We had a great time, although most people immediately think we were in England when in fact we were visiting the Olympic Mountains and Olympic National Park in far western Washington. We were watching the Olympic Games on television like everyone else.

We stayed in a vacation rental home on Lake Quinault, inside the national park, at the end of a dirt road about fifty yards from the lake, complete with a wraparound deck, grill, and hot tub. The house was mostly childproofed and allowed pets, which was more important for our friends than for us, since we boarded our dogs and our baby is still blessedly immobile, but it was a wonderful and relaxing place to stay.

Olympic National Park is most famous for its temperate rain forests, with a few locations receiving over 200 inches of rain a year. For as much rain as Seattle notoriously gets, it's actually in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. We spent one day visiting the Hoh Rain Forest, which has a "Hall of Mosses" trail including some thousand-year-old trees. Something like five species of tree have their largest known example in this national park (including Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, and red cedar). The visitor center has a few tree-trunk cross-sections showing off their quarter-inch annual growth rings, meaning that some trees gain half an inch in girth every year -- a lot, if you think about it.

The park also includes large sections of Pacific beach. We took the baby down for his first experiences with sand and with the ocean, and he absolutely loved it. He wanted down into the sand and loved the feeling so much he immediately started eating it. Then I stood him at the edge of the surf and he squealed and jumped as the waves washed over his feet. He wanted down into the water, too, but I thought better of letting him get salt water splashed in his face. He could have stayed there a long time, but we weren't really dressed for the beach and it was getting toward time for his dinner. (He was also willing to sit on a log at the edge of Lake Quinault for 15 minutes at a time, just watching the water. I think trees and waves are much healthier entertainment for babies than mobiles with flashing lights and annoying songs.)

There aren't any roads through the park, so on our last day, we drove home the long way, five hours around the park. The road is US Hwy 101, the other end of which is in Hollywood, near where we used to live in Pasadena. This northern end of the highway is about as non-Hollywood as you can get, but it also passes through the town of Forks, Wash., the setting for the Twilight books. We didn't stop, but we did see (and ridicule) cars full of middle-aged women doing Twilight Tours. We drove up a steep road to Hurricane Ridge, at about 5000 ft. elevation. From the alpine meadow on top of the ridge, one can see Mt. Olympus (the American version), the park's highest point at nearly 8000 ft.

On this day, Hurricane Ridge also had views north across the Strait of Juan de Fuca into Victoria, BC, and the Cascade Mountains on the British Columbia coast behind it. To the east was Puget Sound and then Mt. Baker, a conical volcano in the Washington section of the Cascades. We couldn't have asked for more beautiful weather for this trip. The finale for the day was the ferry ride from the Olympic Peninsula back to Seattle, returning us to our home in this amazing city.

Mt. Rainier to the south