This narrative and photo stop, my last blog tracking a month-long journey across central and western Canada, lands us on the American side of the Strait of Juan de Fuco on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State. This is my 30th posting covering a nearly 5,000-mile trek by car with fellow traveller, Richard Mercer, during September and October 2016.
(My return to Washington DC from Seattle was just as spectacular and full of amazing discoveries - but I will blog at another time about my drive across the U.S.'s northern frontier via Washington State's Cascades; Idaho; Montana's Glacier National Park, source of the Missouri River and LIttle Bighorn monument; Wyoming's Devil's Tower; and South Dakota's Black Hills and Badlands, with Oregon possibly added in.)
Olympic National Park begins just outside of rustic Port Angeles, where ocean-class ships such as the large oil tanker Polar Enterprise (built 2006) shelter during their transits south from places like Port Valdez, Alaska. The Polar Enterprise hauls crude oil delivered along the Trans Alaskan Pipeline from Alaska's North Slope.
Arriving in Port Angeles by ferry from Victoria BC in the evening under a magnificent cloud display (see last week's blog), fellow traveler Richard and I found our hotel accommodation parked next to an enormous tent hosting a very packed crab fest, featuring seafood with all fixings and lots of loud chatter, entertainment and dancing. It felt like we had arrived home with a welcoming party to boot. A driving rainstorm outside, with water pooling on the ground near the dancers, was hardly noticed.
Earlier we had attempted an evening drive up Hurricane Ridge, a major tourist attraction in the national park, but met only fog at the highest points. The next morning, our assault on this extraordinary perch overlooking the interior of the dense Olympic forests and peaks was more successful. I was introduced to the spectacular conifer wonders of the northwest coast of the United States.
Our immediate destination was Seattle, so we only explored the northern edge of the national park, eventually finding our way east of Port Angeles to Dungeness Spit, which is apparently one of the longest land forms of this kind in the world. Here we could look back toward Canada where we had been the previous afternoon, and this time view Vancouver Island across the channel. The hiking here is superb adventure without much effort, and amidst the tender woods I could think of only how fine nature is wherever it is preserved. I couldn't be sure who enjoyed the coastline more, the tourists or seabirds.
Dungeness Sea Spit is a 5.5-mile long land thrust jutting out from the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula in northeastern Clallam County, Washington into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is the longest natural sand spit in the US. High tide regularly tosses sea flotsam, mainly driftwood and trash, onto the stone and sand floor. The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge and Dungeness Bay provide a sheltered area for thousands of seabirds and waterfowl. According to Wiki, more than 90 bird species have been found to nest in the refuge area, including Common Merganser, Cooper’s Hawk, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Vaux’s Swift, Rufous hummingbird, and Willow Flycatcher. A couple of hundred other species have been sighted in the area over the years.
The Dungeness Sea Spit is entirely within the Refuge; at the far end, if one hikes the distance, is the New Dungeness Lighthouse.
The trail to the spit is is open daily. A $3.00 per family fee (exceptions apply) with exact cash or a check is collected at the self-service station in the visitor plaza. The hike along the sea bluff to the spit is about a half-mile, including an offshoot trail or two. The walk through classic beech forest and mixed underbrush and flora introduced me to deer and refreshing contemplation, with overlooks along the route.
R Mercer attempts to alter the landscape
In the sprawling national park, Hurricane Ridge is located roughly a mile above sea level and 17 miles south of Port Angeles on Hurricane Ridge Road, off Mount Angeles Road. The twisted winding ascent is friendly except in storm and fog; at which times, as on our first evening, the scene can get gloomy and more challenging. Visibility can be manageable at the park gate but whiteouts at high altitude demand prudence and possibly a turnaround. Black-tail deer along the roadside and occasional falling rocks or trees are potential dangers.
On a clear day, the ridge is the place of choice to view the Olympic Mountains. I followed a paved trail called the Hurricane Hill Trail, the obviously easy mile and a half hike to the most inspiring lookout -- roughly 700 ft. above the parking area and visitors center. This alpine ridge is named for its winds and unpredictable weather tantrums.
Mount Olympus ahead from ridge lookout
The central valley of the Olympic Peninsula
One view alongside the easy Ridge trail
Old forest remnants on Hurricane Ridge
New forest along the Hurricane Ridge Road
Mixed forest in Autumn, Hurricane Ridge
Rain and fog approaching Hurricane Ridge