Olympic National Park Off The Beaten Path Tips by richiecdisc Top 5 Page for this destination
Olympic National Park Off The Beaten Path: 24 reviews and 40 photos
not just any logs, elk
Olympic National Park is not as noted a wildlife viewing park as Yellowstone but actually has one of the most diverse ecosystems of any park due to its many terrains. While many associate the park primarily with the coastal region and therefore have images of sea-based animals, the park is home to many inland mammals such as the Roosevelt Elk. In fact, the park was originally established primarily to protect them and remains home to the largest herd in North America. Olympic Elk bulls can weight up to 1100 lbs and feed on a variety of plants depending on their habit. Often found grazing in the Hoh Rainforest, they often move up to higher elevations in the heat of summer to cool off.
One day while hiking on the High Divide Trail, we stopped to have a drink of water. The trail was narrow so we stood sideways next to each other to share the bottle. Admiring the view, I noticed what looked like logs on a huge snowy patch across the valley. I pulled out my camera with its zoom and was surprised to see a huge group of Roosevelt Elk smartly lounging on the snow. I guess air-conditioning has been in use long before we “invented” it.
thanks to image stablization, I got this shot
When you go to Africa, there are certain animals you want to see. Some are common, some less so. Everyone wants to see an elephant and they generally do. Not everyone sees a leopard. Sea otters are perhaps the most sought animal sighting in the Pacific Northwest. The rare and illusive creature is generally active at dusk and dawn which accounts for its not being seen by many park visitors. Though they are making a comeback from near extinction thanks to conservation efforts, they are still nowhere near their peak population of 300,000. Sadly, they were hunted down to a mere 1000 by 1911 when the practice was internationally banned.
Living near shore but almost entirely in the ocean, the largest member of the weasel family can reach up to 100 lbs and feeds by diving to fetch crustaceans, mollusks, and sea urchins. Though shaped a bit like sea lions, they do not have a layer of blubber for insulation, relying on the thickest fur coat in the animal kingdom to stay warm in their frigid water habitat.
We had spent the afternoon walking the full length of Second Beach. The weather was gorgeous and we were very satisfied with our two days at the Olympic National Park beaches. We had gotten lucky with the weather, seeing Rialto in its typical atmospheric fog before it burned off in time for late afternoon light for photos followed by a stunning sunset.
Second Beach had been a bit anti-climatic but was a pleasant place for a late afternoon stroll. It was now low tide once again and we meandered over to check some tide-pools but after seeing so many sea stars the days prior, it no longer held the same excitement. I joked that all we hadn't seen was a sea otter which would make our visit perfect. Just then, a couple nearby motioned for us to come over. We did as quickly as we could in lieu of the slippery terrain. Once there, they pointed over to a pair of sea otters playing on a rock. I was never so happy to have a 450mm image stabilized lens in my life. They played on the rocks, jumped in and out of the water and if anyone believed animals do not have the emotion of enjoyment, just watch a sea otter frolic. We should enjoy ourselves that much. Sea otters' numbers have rebounded but they are still considered endangered. Consider yourself lucky to see one and hopefully the experience will make you realize how man is just one creature on this planet, one meant to be shared by all.
great for atmospheric shots
One of the things that makes the Olympic Peninsula beaches so rugged is the preponderance of driftwood. I grew up on the groomed beaches of New Jersey and anything that man didn't need on the beach was just taken away, including much of the dunes before they realized the devastating effect that had on beach erosion. Driftwood was something they sold in gift shops on the boardwalk. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw the real thing, often massive trunks of trees dried with salt from the sun and wind. While it can be a nuisance for man on public beaches, posing great danger to swimmers and a lack of space to spread out the old beach towel, it does provide shelter and nutrients as shipworms and bacteria decompose it. It is very much part of the natural order of things and this being a National Park dedicated to preserving such order, the driftwood belongs just where it is. Along with providing natural benches to sit on and make-shift bridges to cross engorged streams running to the sea, it makes for some very haunting photographic opportunities.
between a tree and a hard place
The mountain goat seems to elicit much debate with regard to it belonging in Olympic National Park. Park officials argue that the animal is wrecking havoc on a fragile ecosystem and threatening to destroy one endangered plant in particular. They have used chemical sterilization but on an animal that rose from a group of 11 introduced in the 1920s to over 1000 in the 1980s, they claim perhaps rightly that the only way to eradicate them is to kill them. Proponents of the goats say the plants are not at threat and that the goats play a role in the changed landscape of the park. Animal lovers everywhere are up in arms and pretty much anyone who has seen one while hiking can't imagine the park without them.
I think the goats likely do no more harm than do humans in the park. It would have to be proven irrefutably to justify their mass extermination. I remember my first time seeing one and to the novice I assumed it was a native animal. It sure didn't look like any goat I had ever seen. These beautiful and powerful animals are so well-suited for the mountains that even the best human climber would admit their right to share the peaks.
Backpackers may find the goats a bit of a nuisance as they come into camps looking for anything salty, including surrounding vegetation that has been urinated on. It is fairly typical for backpackers in need for such relief to pee outside their tents rather than walk often a fair distance in the dark wilderness to a pit toilet. I have to admit to doing it myself on occasion. On telling a ranger about a goat coming all too close to our tent one night, he explained that the goats are just looking for salt and that urine has a high concentration of it. By peeing around the tent, we're basically putting out a welcome sign for the goats to stop by for a midnight snack! Of course, without such offerings, goats may look for their salt fix elsewhere like on the straps of your backpack or in your boots, all full of your tasty sweat.
My take is we put the goats here not exactly of their own free will and just because we didn't like the way the experiment worked out, they shouldn't be wiped out on what to them is certainly a similar whim. Maybe we need to think about our effect on the environment before acting. That goes for more than just the National Parks.
one of the tide-pool areas at low tide
Salt Creek Recreation Area may not be part of the national park system but it lacks not for scenic beauty. It's actually a county park on the northern side of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Vancouver Island. They have a nice campground very suitable for families with a good size kiddie playground. Rangers at the Olympic National park suggest the park not only for tide pool exploration but also for taking showers. The showers at the campground are pay by coin and open to the public. We used the facility a couple of times and it's clean and quite pleasant. If the camping in the Olympic NP was not so great we might have stayed here. For those seeking a less natural and more organized campground, Salt Creek is a great choice.
There are a few trails and a number of tide-pools to explore. While we were there for our showers, we decided to check one of them out and it was a truly beautiful place early in the morning. Tides vary from place to place and rangers at Olympic will give you a free tide chart with times for various spots on the peninsula. They will make suggestions on where to go and when which is very handy if your time is limited. If you only have between 10 and 12 to check out tide-pools, you want to give yourself the best opportunity to find one at low tide.
It is 15 miles or a half hour west from Port Angeles, WA. Follow Highway 101 to Highway 112, fork to right. After approximately 9 miles turn north onto Camp Hayden Road (near milepost 54). Travel approximately 3 miles, and the Park entrance will be on your right.
Entrance is free. Showers are timed by amount of quarters. $1 each was more than enough for us.
stick your finger in
While not as spectacular as the sea star, the sea anemone is another interesting and color predator. This seemingly harmless creature looks like a blob of jelly and for good reason, they are closely related to the jellyfish though have none of its cousin's bad reputation for stinging us. Though they are quite adept at stinging and paralyzing their prey, some species seem immune to their powers like the clown fish who seek refuge in their host's tentacles. They luckily have no effect on us either aside from a sticky feeling produced by the nematocystes released to stun prey. It's a strange feeling to stick your finger into one and see it close on it but not an altogether bad one. Go on, try it. It evidently does not harm the creature as park rangers demonstrate it and tell you to give it a try yourself.
sea star meeting on the rocks at low tide
Sea stars are a favorite of children and adults alike with their more than fitting name. Very much from the sea, there is something from outer space about them beyond their five pointed name. These colorful creatures vary greatly with over 2000 species living in all the world's oceans. They can reach sizes of up to 10 inches and over 10 pounds. Their bony calcified skin is quite rough to the tough and protects them well from predators which they are very much themselves. These carnivores eat their prey in a most otherworldly fashion, prying clams and oysters open with their formidable suction-cupped feet, oozing their stomach into the mollusk, and digesting them outside their body. Sounds like a marine flying saucer to me.
If you have never seen one in the wild, you are in for a treat. If you go to tide-pools on the Olympic Peninsula at low tide you are bound to see hundreds of them. Orange and purple seem to be the flavor of the day.
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