Thursday, October 7, 2010

Olympic National Park - The Beach

A couple of weeks ago, Roger and I took a mini-vacation to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.  I've wanted to visit Olympic National Park for the past three-plus years, but every time I tried to plan a trip, something came up.  Finally this year Roger and I picked a date, blocked out vacation time, and went for it.

Yes, I know the title of this post says "the beach."  We'll get there in a minute - first I want to begin with a couple of photos of a gigantic tree we visited on our way to the coast.

The world's largest Sitka Spruce tree

Once we reached the Olympic Peninsula, our first stop was Lake Quinault.  As we drove around the lakeshore, we saw this sign advertising the world's largest spruce tree.  Intrigued, we decided to stop and check it out.  The rain that had been with us off and on since we left Portland stopped.  So, thinking we were safe, we just grabbed our cameras and headed down the trail towards the tree.  It was a short hike through the forest and across a small bridge.

The sign that caught our attention

As we reached the giant tree, the skies decided to open up again and gave us a drenching!  Roger and I didn't have our jackets or an umbrella, so we ducked for cover under a nearby tree.  It didn't provide much shelter and we ended up getting wet.  Since Roger and I had only gotten a couple of photos, we waited out the rainstorm in hopes to get a few more.

What a monster tree!

Our persistence paid off.  After about five minutes, the rain let up, and we emerged from our shelter, and clicked away.  There was a sign at the base of the tree that gave the stats.  The spruce is 191 feet tall, 58 feet 11 inches in circumference, and is estimated to be 1000 years old.  The world's largest Sitka spruce tree used to be in Oregon, near Seaside, but a storm blew it over several years ago.  Now this tree is the champ!  It was amazing to stand next to a tree so large.  Makes one feel puny and insignificant.

Our wonderful oceanside campsite

Our original plan was to camp at Lake Quinault that night.  But it was still early, and we weren't impressed with the one campground that was still open there.  Lake Quinault did not impress us either - it was cloudy, rainy and gloomy.  Looking at our map, we saw that the coast was not too far away.  We decided to take a chance and drive on to check out Kalaloch Beach.

Evening at Kaladoch Beach

As Roger and I drove in to Kalaloch Beach Campground, we knew we'd made the right decision.  The beach was beautiful and the campground was great.  Many of the campsites were situated on top of bluff overlooking the sea.  We lucked out and got the last campsite with ocean frontage.  It had a great view of the Pacific Ocean and beach.  And I loved listening to the crashing waves.  Much better than gloomy old Lake Quinault!

Evening beach walk

After camp was set up, Roger got a fire going and started cooking steaks.  I took advantage of the dry weather and headed down to the beach for a quick evening photo session.  Considering the day's rainy start, dry evening weather was most welcome.  The fading light on the sand made for good colors.  Low lying clouds off in the distance threatened rain, but the moisture held off.

A toast to vacation!

Roger and I had an excellent dinner, shared a bottle of wine, and then sat on top of our campsite's picnic table to watch the sunset.

Sunset view from our campsite

The sunset was stunning.  The clouds helped create lots of dramatic lighting.  Roger and I clicked off many nice photos.  We watched the sky turn orange and pink, and the colors reflect on the ocean surface.  Slowly, the sun sunk below the clouds, and we were enveloped by darkness.  Time for bed!

We no sooner get settled in our sleeping bags when the wind picked up and the rain came down in torrents.  Luckily the storm didn't last long.  Then things quieted down, and I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach.

Seagulls hanging out on the beach

I awoke periodically throughout the night to small rain squalls pounding our tent.  The storms didn't last long, and by morning the rain had stopped.  Not wanting to waste the dry weather, I bounced out of bed and suggested to Roger we take a quick walk on the beach before breakfast.

Roger's reflection in the wet sand

Our guidebook mentioned tidepools both north and south of the campground.  Roger and I started walking south along the beach, only to find our way blocked by a river, swollen with last night's rain.  We weren't going to attempt to cross that, so we turned around and headed north instead.

Yep, I did a lot of this.

I don't get out to the coast much, and I've forgotten how wonderful it is.  I was struck by the beauty of the beach, the pattern of the waves on the sand, the dramatic cloudy sky, and the wind-swept trees along the bluff.  Lots of interesting things to photograph!  I really need to visit the ocean shore more often.

Our only starfish sighting

The sea was starting to transition from low tide, so we did get to see a few things along the beach.  Lots of empty crab shells.  And this lone starfish.

Tidepool creatures

After walking north for at least a half hour, we came to a group of rocks along the beach.  In amongst the rocks were small pools of water.  In those basins were tidepools, with bright green sea anemones.  Wow, very cool!  This was totally worth the walk.

Beach rocks that contained tidepools

Roger and I were getting hungry, so after looking over the tidepools for awhile, we headed back down the beach.  The clouds were beginning to thicken, and the fog roll in, so we decided we'd better head back to camp.

Smile for the camera!

Roger is better at getting these self-portraits than I!  This one turned out pretty good.

Roger found a couple of intact sand dollars

On the walk back, Roger kept scanning the beach for shells.  There were lots of bits and pieces of crab and sand dollar shells.  He did manage to find two whole sand dollars.

We no sooner got back to our tent, when the clouds opened up and dumped rain.  Roger and I hurriedly took down the tent and threw our wet camping gear into the back of the suburban.  We got totally soaked in the process.  Once we finished, we realized neither one of us had eaten breakfast.  I broke out a couple of muffins that we gulped down while pulling away from the campground.

Ruby Beach

I'd talked to a very helpful ranger lady at a visitor information center the day before.  She took out a map of Olympic National Park and circled the best places to see.  One of her recommendations was to visit Ruby Beach.  This beach wasn't too far from where we'd camped, so on our way out, we stopped by.

Some people do artsy things with the rocks on Ruby Beach

The rain had not let up, but that didn't stop Roger and I.  We grabbed our rain jackets, covered our cameras, and headed down to check it out.  Ruby Beach was unusual.  Instead of sand, this beach was covered with perfectly rounded rocks.  Some people had gotten creative with the beach rocks.  We saw small cairns, and other stacked rock artwork perched on driftwood.

Rainy day on Ruby Beach

We would've stayed longer, but the rain was really coming down, and we were getting wetter by the minute.   The beach looked like a really nice scenic spot, and it probably looks much better on a bright sunny day.  Roger and I climbed back up the hill to the parking lot and flung our wet jackets onto the growing pile of wet gear in the car.  We cranked up the heater, and headed towards our next destination - the Hoh Rain Forest - which I'll cover in my next blog post.  Stay tuned!

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