An ode to God’s first temple – the pristine forests
Olympic National Park is an international biosphere reserve and a world heritage site with a huge temperate rainforest, one of the most spectacular examples of temperate rainforests in the world.
Located in the United States of America, Washington, the park is named after the region it is set in the Olympic Peninsula. Mild winters, cool summers and up to 12 feet of annual precipitation give rise to the giant conifers that dominate this rainforest. Plus, there are an estimated 3, 66,000 acres of old-growth forests, the largest in the Pacific Northwest. Its unique character begins with ancient trees that took root 200 to 1,000 years ago.
Seattle (Washington) to Olympic National Park is a beautiful journey, both on water and on land. We take a 35- minute ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, our SUV seeming to enjoy the journey on the lower deck. We drive through this beautiful island and reach the very interesting town of Port Angeles. A perfect jump-off point, staying in this place made it easier to travel and explore the beauties of the vast Olympic National Park.
On the first day, we drive 28km (from Port Angeles) to Lake Crescent, nestled in the northern foothills of the Olympic Mountains. This lake is over eight miles long and is one of Washington State’s deepest lakes. The pristine waters of the deep, glacially carved lake reflect the vanishing sun at dusk, making for a gorgeous sight.
From nature walks to snowshoeing, there is much to do in the Olympic year-round. Visitors enjoy forest walks, bicycling, boating, fishing, water sports, camping and many other activities. On the second day, we opt for a nature walk in the temperate Hoh Rainforest.
We choose the Spruce Nature Trail that exemplifies the rainforest with dense lush vegetation. Along this 2km loop is a lush variety of plants, representing different ages and stages of forests affected by the wandering power of the Hoh River. The club moss hangs from the trees giving the place an ethereal look.The atmosphere of the rainforest is so fertile that some plants thrive on air. Dining on moisture and nutrients from rain and windborne particles, club moss and licorice fern fasten to trunks and branches but do not harm their hosts.
As opposed to tropical rainforests and most other temperate rainforest regions, the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest are dominated by coniferous trees, including Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, Coast Douglas fir and Western Red Cedar. These trees can grow as tall as 300ft with a circumference of 23ft. Mosses coat the bark of these trees and even drip down from their branches in green, moist tendrils.
Western Hemlocks are all around us. They thrive in deep shade and, with Sitka spruce, are the dominant trees in the rainforest. The feathery feel of their leaves contrasts with the Sitka’s pricking needles. The Hemlock’s drooping top is also an easy giveaway.
Dead and downed trees decay slowly and support new life as ‘nurse-logs’. The eternal cycle of life and death is strikingly apparent in this magnificent forest community.
The 50-mile long, wild Hoh River is born high on glacier-capped Mount Olympus and descends 7,000ft to the Pacific Ocean, fed by snowmelt and rain along the way. The sun reflecting in the radiant waves makes a splendid sight.
Immense fallen conifers are swept down the river and create logjams and quiet pools for salmon. Their spawned carcasses feed dozens of aquatic and forest animals and fertilise the soil, bringing riches from the ocean to the forest. In turn, the forest lends stability to the river by preventing massive sediment flushing. Mountain, river, forest, and ocean – each part of this ecosystem depends on the other, a tapestry woven together as one naturally functioning unit.
We resume our walk through the trail and come across Taft Creek where the clear water comes from springs and seeps just upstream. Filtering down through forest soil rainwater slowly percolates through deeper layers of sand and gravel, and supplies the springs with a steady flow. We stop and gaze at the clear waters of the stream and the silence around makes us forget the whole world.
The first 20km of the Upper Hoh Road outside the park is a mosaic of second growth, third growth and pastures. Logging, clearing for homesteads and market hunting of elk is said to have changed the look of this valley.
Olympic National Park was created in 1938 to preserve the primeval forest and provide permanent protection for the herds of native Roosevelt elk. In fact, the Hoh Valley – from the park boundary to Mount Olympus – looks much like it has for 5,000 years. A large number of the park’s estimated 4,000 to 5,000 elks live in the Hoh Valley today. Though they say that elk and deer are often seen in the area, we didn’t come across any in the forest. But, as we were driving one evening, we saw an elk and a cute fawn close to the road, gazing at us with its large and innocent eyes. And horrifyingly, on another day, we also came across an elk lying on the road, probably struck by a passing vehicle. In a world of diminishing resources, this forest has become valuable to people for many reasons. The beauty and tranquillity found here are one of America’s rare treasures. It is a gift of ocean, rain, river, mountains, and the wisdom of past generations, to be cherished and cared for in turn by the next generations.
Originally published in Saevus Sep-Oct 2013 Issue
Read also: Revisiting the moments in the wild
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