On July 31, a Tuesday, our journey to Montana began with a 5:20pm flight from O’Hare to…Seattle. Then we’d continue on to Great Falls. Sean and I both worked from home until it was time to head to the airport. And we both were stressed tying up some final things before the trip. Our stress continued on the way to the airport in a Lyft. Traffic was extremely heavy, and we’d left later than we’d wanted to because of work stuff.
Lake Crescent in the northern Olympics formed when a glacier-carved valley, whose river drained into the Elwha River, was dammed by a natural landslide some 8,000 years ago. Although it has since been stocked with alien fish species, the lake’s Beardslee and Crescenti trout evolved over millennia into genetically distinct populations found nowhere else on earth.
Lake Crescent’s official depth is 624 feet, but there are parts that are almost certainly deeper than 1,000 feet.
After Ruby Beach, we continued northeast on 101 out of the park’s coastal section and up the Hoh River Valley, which has been heavily logged. We turned east on Upper Hoh Road, and the walls of the Hoh Valley grew steeper around us. Shortly after reentering the park’s main section, the forest got denser and more otherworldly. The road twisted and turned along the river to our right.
We stopped to have a look at one of the largest Sitka spruces in the United States: over 270 feet tall and over 500 years old.
Ruby Beach lies just south of the Hoh River’s outlet into the Pacific. We parked in the lot on the bluff above the beach and made our way down the switchback trail. The trail emerges along Cedar Creek, which is flanked by piles of driftlogs. Sea stacks rise from the beach at low tide. Although they are massive, they are dwarfed by Abbey Island (to the left in the images above and below).
After leaving Beach 1, we continued north on 101 until we came to a pullout on the inland side. Near Beach 5 was a short side road that led to one of the world’s largest cedar trees, boasting a girth of 66 feet.
From Quinault Rain Forest, Highway 101 descends through the Quinault Indian Reservation to the lower Queets Valley, a section of the park added by the Truman administration. From there, the road turns abruptly north and follows the coast for eleven miles, past seven specific beaches that comprise the southernmost coastal area of Olympic National Park.
The three of us spent two fun days exploring Portland from Powell’s Books to the Hawthorne District to food cart pods. Saturday morning, April 28, we returned to Seattle via the Olympic Peninsula. We rose early to get a head start on the three hour drive to the first, and southernmost, section of the park areas we wanted to see: Lake Quinault and the Quinault Rain Forest.
We woke up early, dressed, picked up our rental car (which we got upgraded to a Prius), and started down I-5 toward Portland. Almost immediately, we noticed how verdant the landscape was, from vines growing from overpasses in downtown Seattle, to moss on cut logs on the back of a lumber truck.
In January, my cousin Kathrin visited Chicago. She is looking to move on from our native Michigan, and while Chicago is on her list of potentially livable cities, so are Seattle and Portland. Kathrin suggested that Sean and I travel with her to both cities at the end of April. She and Sean had been to Seattle, but not Portland. I had never been farther north on the West Coast than Napa Valley. Sean and I were game for the trip, and soon we had our dates set.
We’re rethinking Mount Rainier. While it is the most accessible, in some ways, during our trip to Portland and Seattle next month, it is also the least accessible in others. I had been prepared for there to still be a lot of snow on the ground, and that we’d essentially be driving into the park up to where the road is closed at Paradise to look at the scenery, etc. In my mind, I’d likened it to the trips to Park City we’d taken when I was younger. Snow? Mountains? No problem.
In digging further, though, apparently all vehicles entering the park are required to carry tire chains until May 1, a big problem with a rental car. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think that it would be going to the park at about the least optimal time of year just to say we’d done it. Advice from a friend in Seattle had some impact on this thinking.
So, we’re going to a different park, which I think will be much more rewarding, and which won’t alter our larger travel plans at all: