Before I begin getting into the details of my ventures in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), please note that if you have ANY opportunity to go there, just go… without hesitation, just say yes. Details can come later.
I have always wanted to go to the PNW but had never had a real opportunity to visit before this summer’s epic adventure. Carrie and I headed west after our adventures in Grand Teton and Yellowstone to visit a friend who lived in the Columbia River Gorge before heading to the Olympic Peninsula. The Columbia River is without a doubt the largest river I have EVER seen. The Washington-Oregon state line lies somewhere in the middle of the Columbia River and if you wanted, you could just go back and forth across the bridges that interlace sporadically. The absolute power of the river is evident as you view the gorge that it has created- the huge rocky walls that tower over the river bed. The Columbia River also houses one of the largest system of Dams that powers much of the PNW and California. As most rivers run, the Columbia River flows towards the Pacific Ocean. Because of this, the Army Corp of Engineers created a dam system that would be very efficient at harnessing energy created by water flowing over turbines and the energy could be dumped into the electrical grid. All this sounds really cool, until you understand the ecological and environmental impacts of this dam system to the surrounding areas. One of the most known impact that is tied to the dam system is the decline of the salmon populations that utilize the Columbia River, contributing tributaries and streams as spawning grounds. Carrie and I had pretty extensive conversations about these ramifications and concluded that the need for renewable power resources has impacted the region at a significant cost.
Getting back to visiting our friend in the Gorge… Christine was a wonderful host who showed us a local place to go swimming. Technically we swam in the Columbia River, but it was an area that was semi blocked off which allowed the water to be much warmer than the water in Taggart Lake (see Reveling in the View at Grand Teton). It was nice to be surrounded by the Gorge and take time to relax within our surroundings. From here, Carrie and I travelled north to the Olympic Peninsula.
Google maps… failed us. BIG TIME. Our route on our journey to the Peninsula tried to take us through a timber logging area. If you have ever been around a logging operation, you would understand why this was a scary time. If not, let me detail it for you. First as you drive down this road, that was a roadway… until it wasn’t. The ‘road’ became a gravel road then a dirt road. And while that is scary, all around you is the devastation that the timber logging has done to the beautiful trees. Then the closure signs pop up… and then you have to turn around and figure out how to get out by going around it all. Like I said, Google maps failed us. Once we got back to a more ‘civilized’ infrastructure route to our destination, it was more of a relaxing drive through the forests that inundate the Pacific Northwest.
We entered the peninsula from the Southwest portion which allowed us to drive through Forks, WA. Forks is infamous for being the town in which The Cullens and Bella lived in the movie empire, Twilight. Once upon a time, when the movies first came out, the town was a tourist haven for fans. These days, you still see signs of what once was the vampire fan haven. We left Forks and headed to the coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Once the first signs of the Pacific Ocean were on the horizon it was like a wave of serenity washed over us. Carrie and I are marine ecologists by trade and absolutely revel in the pull of the ocean. So naturally, we stopped so we could put our feet in the Pacific Ocean and breathe in the beautifully salty air. We played in the surf and explored the coast. We witnessed how powerful an Impact the ocean is on the beach with all of the drift wood and steep cliffs.
Our destination was the Hoh Rainforest once we left the Pacific Ocean. The Olympic Peninsula is known for its temperate rainforest. A temperate rainforest is defined as forest that has a minimum threshold of rainfall of 55 inches of rain annually. Similar to its cousin the tropical rainforest, the temperate rainforest host a diverse array of species from plants, and insects, to animals. As we made our way into the middle of the peninsula towards the Hoh rainforest, we passed a sign that said “large red cedar trees” that pointed off the beaten path. When in Rome…. So of course we went down the side path toward the large trees. I have always enjoyed trees and how they have the ability to tower over us and be full of life. We were completely humbled by just how enormous these trees were as we could barely, if at all, see the tops of the trees. It was incredible. Not only were the trees tall, they were wide at the base. Pictures did not do it justice, and I am not sure that a picture could truly capture the majesty of it all.
The Hoh Rainforest was unlike anything I had experienced (Carrie had been there before and wanted to show it to me as part of this trip). I thought we had entered scenes from Jurassic Park, you know the scenes where everything is so lush and large and mesmerizing??? It was just like that. Dinosaurs (even though Jurassic Park is not real) could have been a part of this untouched and seemingly virgin landscape (if they weren’t extinct).
Our last venture of the PNW leg of the trip was to stay out on the beach overnight so we could go tide-pooling with the tides. In order to get to this beach, you have to hike a 3.2 mile trail on a decently marked path. This was the longest hike we did on this trip and on top of it, we were backpacking. I have never backpacked before in my life. We had to carry all of our equipment to the camp site and then back out in the morning. The backpacking trip was pushing my own personal limits, but in a glorious way that allowed for personal growth. But the view from the campsite was worth it all. Carrie and I camped on the beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We went tide pooling and played with our snails and crabs (Carrie and I worked on a few research projects back on the East Coast with crabs and snails). We watched the sunset over some beautiful outcrops along the horizon. It was majestic and what made it even more so was the fact that a small pod of whales was out on the horizon. We never identified them but we saw water spouts and a fin or two. We were like two kids in a candy store with the scenery and embracing all of it.