Olympic: Not Just Any National Park

Located in northwest Washington, Olympic National Park is like no other place I’ve visited. After reading about the glacier-capped mountains, wild Pacific coast, and the temperate rain forests,  I placed this destination at the top of my bucket list.

My husband and fellow adventurer, Herb, planned our trip to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary. However, he did not plan on Hurricane Irma’s arrival in central Florida, one day before we were scheduled to leave. Our flight to Seattle was cancelled which threw our itinerary off. When we arrived in Olympic on September 13, we relished our escape from the stress we experienced prior to, during, and after Hurricane Irma.

As we hiked the Staircase Rapids Trail,  I felt like I’d walked into nature’s cathedral. Huge conifer trees stretched heavenward in their quest for light. The fresh woodsy scent of cedar permeated the air. The gentle ripples of the Quinalt River refreshed my tired body. The experience was like a dream.  It was as if we’d suddenly been transported to another planet.

IMG_0513Little did we know, the beauty of Staircase Rapids was only a prologue to the wonders awaiting us.

The second day in the park we hiked to Hurricane Hill. This area is named for the seventy-five mile per hour winds which buffet the ridge. We joked about the name “hurricane.” Of course I had to send a picture of our location to my friends in Florida, with the comment, “Wish you were here.” Nothing like rubbing in our good fortune.

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I struggled with the seven hundred foot elevation gain, but the views of the surrounding mountains were worth the climb.

IMG_7083 Herb photographed a marmot in an alpine meadow.  This little guy was very excited. We heard him sounding an alert to his marmot friends.

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At the top  of Hurricane Hill we met a gentle deer in a grove of trees.  We were never this close to either of these animals. Herb used his telescopic camera for these images.

The mountain ecosystem of Olympic is in the center of  922,651 acres of  wilderness.  Highway 101 circles the  perimeter of the park and few roads lead into the interior.

We stayed in all four of the lodges operated by the parks service. Our favorite was Kalaloch Lodge, located on the Pacific Ocean. We saw a beautiful sunset from the porch outside our room.

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The beaches of Washington are very different from Florida. Few people swim in the freezing water. The shores are rocky and littered with dead trees.  We were thrilled to arrive at Beach 4 at the right time to see the tide pools.

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What a delight to witness a world that is usually underwater. I felt like I was trespassing. IMG_7574

These sea stars (starfish) and sea anemones reminded me of alien creatures.

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Sea stars come in various colors and walk using tiny water filled tubes located under their arms. Fascinated, I could have watched the pools for hours, but as the tide was rising, we had to retreat from the rocks before water surrounded them.

Olympic National Park is home to one of the most spectacular temperate rain forests in the world. The Hoh Rain forest receives up to twelve feet of precipitation each year.  Not only do trees compete for light, they compete for space. In the rain forest, plants grow on top of plants.

PGBF5398 Various kinds of moss hang from the limbs of primeval trees.

Trees also compete for space on the forest floor. When one tree dies and falls to the ground, other trees sprout on top of it and absorb the nutrients from the decayed tree. These dead trees are called “nurse logs.”

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When a nurse log disintegrates, the result is a very strange looking tree with a bend in it.

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During our two week visit, I tried to learn the names of the giant trees which have lived here for hundreds of years. We saw the oldest spruce tree in the world.

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And what about our anniversary celebration? Over dinner on September 17, we tried to remember how we spent our previous 39 anniversaries. We could only recall ten of them. I think we’ll remember this one.

 

 

Two Hurricanes in Three Weeks: Lisa’s Story

Lisa regularly flies from Orlando to Texas to visit her elderly parents. However, her most recent trip was one she’ll never forget. On August 24 her plane to Dallas was delayed. She missed her connection to Beaumont and was forced to take a later flight. After spending hours waiting in the Dallas airport, she wondered if it was an omen of bad things to come.

Lisa was aware of Hurricane Harvey’s location in the Gulf of Mexico but didn’t think it would affect Beaumont.  Her parents, Glenda, 84, and Lindy, 90, had a relaxed attitude.  At their age they’d seen many storms come and go along the Texas coastline. The weather forecast predicted thirty inches of rain for their area. Her parents thought it would never happen. Still, Lisa encouraged them to go shopping for extra bottled water and food, just in case they might not want to go out in the rain.

On Saturday, August 26, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Corpus Christi and looked like more of a threat for Beaumont. Lisa encouraged Lindy to fill up his gas tank. He did. That night bands of rain arrived and continued off an on for four days. Lisa emptied the rain gauge in the yard every time it was full. They received thirty- five inches of rain on their property.  The family was amazed their home did not flood, nor did they lose power. Every time the water would rise on the patio, the bands of rain would stop long enough for the water to recede.  Lisa attributes this miracle to the prayers of friends and family.

On Thursday morning she turned on the faucet to make coffee and there was no water.  Flood waters from the Natchez River contaminated the city water treatment plant. The local news reported the water would be off for several days. Lisa and her parents were resourceful. They gathered buckets and coolers and put them in the back of Lindy’s pickup truck. Lindy drove to a nearby soccer field which had become a retention pond.

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Lisa helped her parents carry buckets of water from the flooded soccer field to the truck. Back at home, they used this water to flush the toilet. They still had bottled water to drink, but wondered how long it would last.  Without water, it was necessary for every store and restaurant to close.

Originally Lisa planned to visit Beaumont for five days. With the airport closed, and roads flooded, she was stranded. Still, her main concern was the welfare of her parents. She knew they had to find a way out. If they could evacuate to her sister’s home in Dallas, her parents would be safe and she could get a flight back to Florida from there. She managed to access a Texas Department of Transportation website that posted passable driving routes.  One road, Highway 90, was passable.

Friday morning Lisa, Lindy, and Glenda threw their suitcases in the back of Lindy’s truck and started driving. The trip was frightening at times, especially when they drove onto a bridge across the flooded Trinity River.  A drive which  normally took six hours turned into nine, but they made it. Along the way they watched scores of vehicles coming toward Beaumont to help people evacuate. The lack of water forced those in hurricane shelters to leave.

Lisa flew home from Dallas to Orlando September 2.  Within two days she and her husband Bill were busy preparing for Hurricane Irma. Because of her experience with Harvey, Lisa’s first thought was to stock up on bottled water. Panic ensued. Publix and CVS had no water left on the shelf. She bought empty containers at Target, filled them with water and placed them under their carport. Hurricane Irma was a long time coming, and the path kept changing. Finally, the morning of September 11 hurricane force winds hit Orlando. Lisa and Bill’s power went out and stayed out for a week. City water was unaffected.

Between the two hurricanes, Lisa states her experience with Irma was much more difficult. “Living without air conditioning in Orlando’s heat and humidity is a big challenge.” By Friday night she and Bill checked into a hotel. Their power came on the next day.

Prior to all of the hurricane madness, Bill and Lisa had planned to take a cruise scheduled to depart from Puerto Rico. It was cancelled of course, by another storm named Maria. Lisa was fine with the cancellation. “I didn’t want to see a third hurricane.”