Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Road to the Hoh- Part 1

My alarm went off at 7am, taking me away from my slumber and into a world where I wake up to the Imperial March from Star Wars. It was Sunday, Dec. 4th, 2011 and I was going to the Hoh Rain Forest, again. Last July, I drove the 3 hours to the Hoh Rain Forest; I was shocked by how many cars filled the parking lot. The Hall of Mosses trail was loud and crowded and wildlife like a calm place to admire nature, was hard to find.
The Olympic National Park is a huge chunk of land, taking over most of the Olympic Peninsula. The roads are mostly empty, with small towns and remnants of the logging age hiding in plain sight along the road. The drive is pretty enough. Highway 101 is well maintained and seeing it in the winter, with fresh landslides and fallen trees reminds you just how remote this place is.
I left the capitol city of Olympia after a quick stop off at 7-11 for energy drinks and snacks, you know, typical car travel food. From the gas station, I stepped on the accelerator and took off toward Grays Harbor County. Driving through the little towns of Montesano, Elma and Satsop, I glanced to the south and saw the 2 Nuclear reactors that are out of commission. Built in 1977 under one of our worst governors of all time, the project was finished in 1983 due to nearly a billion dollar shortfall. The Nuclear plants have never been active and serve as an eyesore to an already impoverished area.

My mind continued to drift back to my years of living on the coast at Ocean Shores. I live on the coast for 5 years, which meant 5 epic winters of storms, wind and more rain than I can remember. To say it was wet and windy during the winter sells the experience short. Lucky for me, the weather was holding, with a small promise of clearing as I got to Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is an interesting town. The once proud logging town is now not even a shell of itself. Years ago, military members were prohibited from going to the twin towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam because the town was so rough and full of trouble. Now, sadly, the only real trouble in both towns is unemployment and meth. Driving through the towns, you can see the once proud history, slowly deteriorating, like the mind of a meth addict. It had and to some degree, still has potential, but the city, along with the addict, needs outside assistance to turn its life around. The streets are lined with classic 1940’s house, and if they were to all be fixed up and taken care of, the drive through town would be downright fantastic. As it is, the only thing I was going to stop in town for was to go to the Star Wars shop, but it is only open from 10am to 5pm, and I wasn't going to hang around waiting for it to open.
I followed the signs to Forks, and soon was weaving around corners, heading toward Lake Quinault. The road is the perfect illustration of what logging does to the environment, as you drive through sections of protected lands followed by clear cuts. Abandoned shake mills line 101, again alluding to the once proud logging communities that thrived long ago. The land looks like patch work, and in some clear cut areas, a few trees remain, as if serving as reminders to tourists that trees used to exist in that location. I know many companies now replant where they clear cut, but it still leaves a scar, like hollowed cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

After a while, I see clearing in the clouds and the peaks of the mountains in the Colonel Bob Wilderness area peeking through, teasing me, enticing me to go climb instead of take pictures. I admire them from my car and pass the turnoff where I could go to climb the 6000ft peak, instead gunning my car over a river and nearing Lake Quinault.

Lake Quinault is a beautiful lake, with roads on either side of the lake taking you to the national park. From this entrance, you can hike past Graves Creek and into the Enchanted Valley and Mount Anderson, one of the tallest peaks in the Olympic Mountain range. The “city” of Lake Quinault is much like the other towns you pass on highway 101. A small store, a restaurant and abandoned tourism buildings slowly falling apart are all that remains of a once thriving tourist destination. Yet, even with the sadness of a failing economy, Lake Quinault overcomes these shortfalls with unmatched beauty. It is isolated, desolate, green and wonderful, yet Lake Quinault serves as the official entrance to the land of giant trees, rain forests and amazing beaches. When I get to Lake Quinault, I know I am about to experience the unique beauty that is the Olympic National Park and Olympic Peninsula

After my break at the side of the road by Lake Quinault, I saw signs for something I had never visited and decided to take a quick detour. The signs told me of the world’s largest Spruce tree, which was located .3 miles from the road. I parked, exited my warm car and traipsed, in the cold, down the path to see what this tree looked like. To be fair, I have low expectations when it comes to trees saying they are the world’s largest or tallest, so I walked with quite a bit of cynicism toward the wooden monster. Turning the final corner and crossing a small bridge, my eyes gazed up and were in awe. This beast, over 191 feet tall and has a circumference of 58 feet. Knowing you can wrap nearly 6 basketball courts around it and it is 2/3 of a football field tall, it is huge. I admired the tree for a bit, snapped some pictures and bounced back to my car.
The beach and rain forest were waiting for me.

To be continued

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