Even though it wasn’t initially in our plans for this trip, we’d heard great things about the Olympic Peninsula, a wild section of incredible rainforest, mountain and coastline in Northwest Washington. How could we miss out on that? We joined back up with 101, the first time since California, and soon realized that we’d hit the jackpot with weather: blue skies, warm sun - this isn’t the Olympic Peninsula we’d thought we’d encounter.
Without a clear plan of where we’d try to reach by nightfall, we started following the brown signs towards a Big Spruce tree, and were pleasantly surprised by the heavily wooded two-lane road lined with full-bloom blue hydrangeas that opened up to a small town strip and a magnificent lodge, at the edge of Quinault Lake. Practically entranced by the beautiful 1920s-era structure towering above us, we walked into the main lobby wide-eyed, snapping photos here and there, and made our way out to the back lawn which was dotted with Adirondack chairs looking out to the beautiful lake. If we’re ever looking to splurge on lodging, this seems like a perfect place. We glanced at a window sticker that proudly proclaimed the lodge had been rated as one of the “Best Places to Kiss in the Pacific Northwest”. Duly noted.
Driving around the small town, we decided we’d already seen enough incredible trees, so we turned back to 101 and made our way to a scenic beach turnout. We left the car at the roadside and paid a visit to the amazing expanse of smooth-stone and driftwood beach, a small hike through the wooded buffer from the road.
Finally deciding that we needed to hurry up and get to a campground, we anxiously walked into a ranger station asking about the status of the camps in the park. Her worried look didn’t put our minds to ease, and we took her recommendation (which fortuitously jived with the recommendation we’d received from a friend) to get to the Hoh River Campground as soon as possible. From there, it was strictly business. We drove a few loops of the campground, noting that some of the spots amazingly boast river access, before claiming one of the few remaining sites.
We needed to get some cash in order to avoid grossly overpaying for our site, so we again got into the car, unknowingly needing to drive another 45 minutes before reaching the next grocery store and ATM. We were losing sunlight, but Kristen got her wish of touring Forks. That’s right, the same Forks from the Twilight books. We grabbed groceries at the same store Bella shopped at, we drove by the Forks Highschool (the wooden sign which was replicated for the movie), and we drove by “Bella’s” house, which wasn’t the same from the movie but still photo-worthy. Armed with cash, wine, SoCo, and a couple of food items, we made the trip back into the forest to our home camp.
Unfortunately we’d run out of sunlight, so we didn’t get the chance to do any hiking that night, but we did get to make a yummy dinner. We reheated our Pok Pok chicken wings over the fire while roasting foil-wrapped yams (purchased at the grocer in Redwoods Natl Park), in the fire. Once they were soft to the touch, we pulled the yams out and mashed them into a pot with half a can of coconut milk (from Trader Joe’s in Corvallis). The combination of sweet potato/yam with coconut milk is Loren’s signature dish, which has become a staple in our home, though this marked the first time we’d tried the fire-roasting technique. Worked perfectly.
After dinner, we put the rest of the can of coconut milk on the fire grate and let it heat up. Then, we added some hot coco mix (courtesy of the hotel in Sedona), and passed the hot can back and forth for a sweet, silky, warm dessert drink.
The next morning, we were determined to get a hike out of the Hoh area, so we left our campsite on foot to do the mile and a half Nature trail, lamenting that we couldn’t do the 18.5 mile hike to the Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus (maybe next time...). But what we saw was enough to get us excited about the area. We learned about the different phases that the riparian rainforest ecosystem goes through, with winding riverbeds changing, literally paving the way for certain kinds of trees to initially thrive, which are then replaced by the towering Douglas firs and Western Hemlocks. It’s interesting to think about the different phases of growth that forests go through, which take decades upon decades to transpire. We as humans have such a warped sense of time; when we see forests of Ash and Cottonwood, they seem permanent, don’t they? But everything in nature is constantly changing, always.
As we left Olympic and drove through the northern peninsula town of Port Angeles (yes, also from Twilight) we realized we’d made our first big turn East, marking the end of the West-Coast portion of the trip.