Olympic National Park: Hoh Rain Forest

After Ruby Beach, we continued northeast on 101 out of the park’s coastal section and up the Hoh River Valley, which has been heavily logged. We turned east on Upper Hoh Road, and the walls of the Hoh Valley grew steeper around us. Shortly after reentering the park’s main section, the forest got denser and more otherworldly. The road twisted and turned along the river to our right.

We stopped to have a look at one of the largest Sitka spruces in the United States: over 270 feet tall and over 500 years old.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Moss grows on its massive trunk.

Image: Kathrin Russette

An uprooted stump next to the giant spruce becomes a garden for ferns and other plant life. Image: Kathrin Russette

We continued on toward the visitor center. Then, as we rounded a curve, we spotted two Roosevelt elk grazing just north of the road. They are the largest members of the deer family after moose. Protecting their habitat was the primary motivation behind President Theodore Roosevelt’s creating Mount Olympus National Monument. The herd at Olympic National Park is the largest unmanaged elk herd in the nation.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Not long after we spotted the elk, we arrived at Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, where even the (now defunct) phone booth has a head of moss.

Image: Kathrin Russette

Sean acquires a new stamp in his National Parks passport.

After looking at a Rufous hummingbird’s wing under a microscope, as suggested by an extremely vivacious nine-year-old junior ranger, we walked the Hall of Mosses trail.

Image: Sean M. Santos

At the location of the visitor center, the rain forest receives 140 inches of precipitation a year (compared with 90 inches at the coast and 240 inches at Mount Olympus, a dozen miles further up the valley). The air in Hoh Rain Forest is among the cleanest on earth.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Kathrin Russette

As gorgeous as we had found Quinault Rain Forest, Hoh Rain Forest is something else again, justly famous, literally overwhelming. Everything, everything seemed to have something else growing on it or from it.

Image: Sean M. Santos

A short spur trail led us to a grove of otherworldly big leaf maples.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Far from being parasitic, clubmoss, lichen, and other epiphytic growth help filter moisture from the air, drawing nutrients into the forest. The trees even grow tiny roots from their limbs into the other plant life draped on them in order to take advantage of this moisture. Some trees in Hoh Rain Forest carry mantles that weigh four times as much as their own foliage.

Not all of the the moisture, of course, stays in the canopy. Much of it drops to the forest floor either as rain or droplets filtered from of the mist.

Canopy lichen lobaria. Image: Sean M. Santos

Dense as the forest is, it would be much more so if not for the browsing of Roosevelt elk. As an experiment, NPS rangers created an enclosure to keep the elk out. Within the enclosure, the plant life was far more dense…but also much less diverse. Within the forest, elk keep aggressive species at bay, allowing more plants room to grow.

Oregon oxalis

Banana slug

Sean contemplates a huge spruce.

In addition to becoming habitat for fern, fungi, lichen, and other small plants, fallen trees provide protection for seedlings and saplings. In the image below, five western hemlocks (including the much smaller twin of the tree in the foreground of the image below) were nursed by one log.

Image: Sean M. Santos

A Douglas squirrel did not appreciate our presence. Image: Kathrin Russette

Image: Sean M. Santos

At Ruby Beach, looking closer yielded rewards. The same was true here.

Image: Kathrin Russette

The vanished nurselog is present through its absence.

Image: Sean M. Santos

Image: Kathrin Russette

Fiddlehead fern. Image: Kathrin Russette

We departed Hoh Visitor Center at 3:45pm and decided to begin the drive to Seattle, leaving a visit to the coast at La Push and a drive up the Sol Duc Valley for another visit. We would by necessity see Lake Crescent as we followed Highway 101’s path north through the town of Forks and then east toward Port Angeles.

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