Olympic National Park Fun Stuff©

Ok…we’re on to Fun Stuff in the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington…the primary attraction here is Olympic National Park. 

The thing about Olympic NP is…it’s freaking huge…Elwha is on the north side just about in the middle and the overall park is 60 miles E/W and 50 miles N/S plus a strip over on the coast…and there are no roads through the middle, you have to drive around the outside to where you want to go in and then drive into the park.

The other day we visited Blue Mountain…but our next two days of Fun Stuff©were concentrated in the Elwha River Valley section of the park right near our our campground and the Hoh Rain Forest section which is over on the west side.

We headed out Sunday about lunchtime after Mass for the Elwha River Valley section. The Elwha River runs about 30 miles from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and has about 30 miles of tributary streams. Back in the day…there was a pretty good salmon run on the Elwha but starting back in 1913 a pair of dams were constructed…the Elwha Dam about 5 miles from the east and the Glines Canyon Dam another dozen or so miles upstream. Neither dam was built with fish ladders even though they were required by Washington state law…so that ended the salmon run except for the first 5 miles. In the late 1990s…Congress passed a law requiring rehabilitation of the salmon runs on the river and providing funding for that effort. Accordingly…in 2014 the two dams were removed and the river restored to it’s wild state. Salmon fry were seeded in the upper reaches of the river and it’s tributary streams immediately but were not expected to return to spawn for 4 years…but despite this salmon were seen spawning in the upper reaches of the river within a year after the dams were removed.

Our question was…how did this happen since salmon return in 4 years to spawn and…as far as we knew…always returned to their birth stream, usually within yards of where they were hatched. We asked the ranger about this…and it turns out that what we all know about salmon returning to their birth place is wrong. True…about 90-95% of salmon do that…but the other 5-10% are…well, let’s call it more adventurous. For whatever reason…the phase of the moon…their birth stream is too crowded…whatever…anyway some of them continue and spawn elsewhere. It’s not been enough years for any salmon hatched in the upper reaches of the Elwha to return…next year it will happen…but the numbers of spawning salmon in the river has increased each year since 2015.

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Our first stop was at the Madison Creek Falls…a nice 0.2 mile round trip hike to a 60 foot or so high falls on Madison creek right before it drains into the Elwha.

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Once back at the parking lot…a view up and down stream at the Elwha.

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Connie hard at work tweeting her view of the day.

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We continued on into the park to the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam which contained Lake Mills behind it…here’s a shot of the dam and the lake behind it back in the day.

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One side of the remains of the dam…for cost reasons only those portions that blocked the river were removed. The dam was 210 feet high and about 250 feet wide across Glines Canyon.

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Looking down on the downstream side of the dam.

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And upstream.

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The former Lake Mills lake bed…as you can see the lake was 30 or so feet deep up until it got deeper right before the dam.

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Mount Olympus in the background…it’s the one with the snow on it behind the first peak you can see…hopefully we’ll get some better photos later in the week from Hurricane Ridge. I looked for Zeus but didn’t see him.

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After those views…we headed back home for dinner and rest until bedtime.

Early Monday morning…we headed off for the Hoh Rain Forest section of the park on the west side…it’s only about 30 miles as the crow files from Elwha Dam RV…but about 70 miles by the time you drive around there. We passed Crescent Lake on the way…and a spot with a delay of “up to a half hour” where the cliffside has collapsed and buried the road…it’s under reconstruction and DoT is putting up some wire netting keep rocks from falling onto the road…but it’s a one lane road around the construction area and it’s one of those “let all the vehicles go by for 10 minutes then close both ways and do 20 minutes of work” before having another traffic going by time period.

On arrival at Forks WA…we stopped and picked up a Subway for lunch later on and also Neil got a couple pictures of the solar eclipse that happened today…more on the eclipse later. After that we continued on to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center where we had lunch and then went on a short 1.3 mile hike on the Spruce Trail over by the Hoh River before heading back…through the construction area again…and having pasta with chicken, nuts, and garlic for dinner.

Right past the construction area we noticed some nice reflections on Crescent Lake (hike there is scheduled later in the week)…and there was no wind so we got some nice reflection shots.

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Really, really clear water…you can see the rocks on the bottom as it drops off quickly…by the time you’re 20 feet offshore you’re in probably 20 feet of water. Don’t know how deep the lake is but it’s really a pretty view.

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Ok, about that solar eclipse today. Connie was really freaked out about it…she’s only got the one eye that works as you know…and we took all possible precautions to keep her remaining eye from getting any eclipse damage…but she was really freaked about it anyway. 

We didn’t get totality here in northern WA…just a partial eclipse with a maximum coverage of the sun of about 97%…not sure of the exact number but it was north of 95% and we saw estimates on the web ranging from 97% to 98.5%. Whatever. 

It did get darker than it was before the partial started…it looked brightness wise like it was an hour before sunset except it was blue-gray instead of the orange colors one typically sees at sunset. The thing that we were most amazed at was that it really didn’t get that dark even with something >95% of the sun covered. Sure…it was darker but nowhere near dark and actually not even really dark enough where sunglasses needed to be taken off.

The second thing we noticed…was that it just gradually got darker from the time the partial started but the last 5 or 10 minutes before maximum coverage the rate of getting darker got much quicker so that you could notice it getting darker as from now to a minute from now.

The third thing we noticed was that…at least the apparent brightening after maximum coverage was faster than the apparent darkening just before the point of maximum coverage. Physics tells me that the rate of change was the same for both at the same time before and after maximum coverage…but to the naked eye it really looked faster coming out of the eclipse than going in. No idea why.

The fourth thing we noticed was that…even at maximum coverage…the sun was still too bright to look at with the naked eye…which made it easy to keep from blinding ourselves. Apparently it’s just the couple of minutes before and after totality starts and ends that are the dangerous time.

While we were at the Subway…Connie grabbed lunch inside and Neil got a couple of shots of the eclipse. Don’t worry…he was safety conscious and didn’t look at it directly at all…he set his camera to use the screen on the back instead of the normal viewfinder and it was just a point and shoot thing with his hat held up to prevent the sun from impacting directly on his eyes. Long time exposure of even the camera to the eclipse can damage it…but he was quick about it. He tried a dozen or shots at varying settings…this is the best one he got and it’s right about maximum coverage.

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We continued on and parked at the Rain Forest Visitor Center. Funny thing happened on the way there. Shortly after we turned off of US-101 onto the road leading 20 miles to the visitor center…we were still on either BLM land or Forest Service land…and we passed a sign that said “Open Range. Watch for livestock on road.” A sign we’ve seen plenty of times before and you almost never see any livestock at all…much less on the road. Today we saw just about the last thing we thought we would see. We figured we might see cows or horses or maybe even sheep…but not a chicken. Standing in the middle of the road a few miles farther on was a single chicken. We stopped and were looking it…didn’t move. Another car drove up from the other direction and stopped…it took one look at it and obviously decided the itty bitty car was more dangerous then Big Red and skedaddled out of the road. I guess chickens count as livestock…but it sure wasn’t what we were expecting. No photo though…it got away too quickly and the camera was still in the back seat.

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Between the entry station and the visitor center we passed a pond and got some photos of ducks.

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Heading out on our hike in the rain forest…this was a damp, moist feeling area with strong light coming through the trees.

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Really tall trees…Sitka Spruce and Hemlock…although that might not be what these are.

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Neil liked this one that grew out of the root ball then sideways before heading upwards…a later photo explains the reason for this. This tree…due to lack of open space on the ground…began life growing out of a previously fallen tree then gradually the roots grew out and down to the ground and the tree grew higher…eventually the long underneath mouldering away to nothing.

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Looking down and then up stream on the Hoh River. We immediately noticed that it was a glacier fed river as the water was very milky…this is due to very fine silt known as glacier flour suspended in the water. If you recall our photos from Jasper and Banff National Parks in Canuckistan and the various rivers we photographed on our Alaska trip back info 2015…this glacier flour will be familiar to you. Supposedly elk come down to the river to water…but it’s obviously only at dusk/dawn…we didn’t see any sign of them.

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Connie next to really large tree…this must be 12 or 14 feet in diameter at the base. 

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The underside of a root ball from a fallen tree…again this is about 15 feet tall.

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This is how many trees start growing in the rain forest…all of these mature trees started life as seedlings on top of the log you can just see the remains of below them. Eventually the roots got to the ground and the tree matured…these are all at least 125 feet tall so they’re obviously mature trees a century or more old…with the few remains of their original sprouting log under them. 

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Another example of growing trees…this is actually 4 or 5 different trees. All of them sprouted as seedlings on to of a fallen tree stump…eventually the ones on the outside grew to the ground and matured chocking out the seedlings in the middle…and forming what looks like a single tree with 4 or 5 trunks although they’re actually separate trees that just grew up together. Big too…the large trunk to the left is probably 4 feet in diameter and they’re all 125-150 feet tall at least.

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Salmon fry…just left of center right over top of the right hand fork on the upside down Y-shaped branch piece. After hatching…salmon fry remain in their birth streams for a year before migrating down to the ocean and converting to a salt water pelagic oceanic fish…then return after another 3 years to their birth stream…or maybe elsewhere as noted above…to spawn for the next generation. Each salmon that actually makes it back to spawn faces extremely long odds…only one of about every 100,000-200,000 eggs that are laid survives to hatch, grow as fry, migrate to the ocean, grow, and make it back to spawn. This specimen is about 1.5 inches long at this point…probably hatched this spring.

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Another long view of Mount Olympus…looking almost directly east here and it’s a dozen or so miles away…but again it’s behind another peak.

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Tuesday’s Fun Stuff© involved a trip about 15 miles east to Sequim to visit the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge…ya know…I’ve been spelling that out for blog after blog so hereafter I’m just going to call them NWRs and National Parks NPs…saves me typing.

After arrival we hiked the 3/4 or so of a mile down to the beach bluff then down onto the beach. Not much wildlife to be found…mostly it was pictures of empty beach, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and driftwood…although drift logs would probably be a better description in this case. We sat on a log for an hour or so just watching the world go and enjoying the almost ocean views. When we got tired of doing that we hiked back to the car…stopped by a place named Sweet Beginnings Cafe for another cup of coffee (we left really early and never really woke up very well) along with a pastry…bacon and cheddar savory for Connie along with a latte and almond blackberry for Neil with a plain ol’ cup of joe.

From there…we stopped by Walmart and got groceries then headed home for the afternoon. Later on…we went to the local Elks Lodge for a brew…they have Taco Tuesday but the crowd was really sparse and the food didn’t really smell all that appetizing so we headed on over to Smuggler’s landing again for dinner…a Wee Heavy each…Connie had a steamed clams appetizer and Neil had an OK oyster po’ boy then we headed home.

Looking northward along the spit just before we headed down to the beach…our resting spot was on that log you see to the far left.

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Both of these driftwood pieces were 15 feet high…considerable chunks of wood.

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The local traffic…after heading past us it looked like he was heading out the strait to the Pacific but then he turned right and went over towards Canuckistan…musta had some containers to drop off or pick up there before he departed the coast.

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These two…the light blue one was inbound from the Pacific…passed starboard side to starboard side…completely opposite to what one would expect in Inland Waters…but there’s n traffic separation scheme or transit lanes in the Strait. The outbooud guy was coming out of the Hood Canal and the industrial area to the south while the other one was obviously headed farther inland along the strait…he’s out in the middle and the outbound one was heading gradually towards the right side of the strait…at least until he turned sharply right and headed up to BC somewhere.

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The absolutely strangest sight we would never have expected on the beach…a pair of doe mule deer…looked like a mother and offspring as one was larger. There was a couple hiking eastward farther to the west from where we were sitting and they herded the pair right within about 30 or so feet of us. The does were fearless…kept looking at us but none of us moved and they just wandered on by like they owned the place.

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Interesting stuff from the net.

Coincidence…I think not.


The 2017 eclipse.


Aliens vs humans.


Now there’s a surprise.



About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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4 Responses to Olympic National Park Fun Stuff©

  1. Mj Trainor says:

    Are you freaking kidding BabySis??? Gorgeous pix; and I’ll have to re-read the text a zillion times over and over again when my “brian” goes back into absorb mode! Huggems!

  2. Cat White says:

    Consider me well and truly entertained. Spectacular photos. Also Interesting about the salmon. So the salmon will use the new fish ladders and multiply in “ancestral” waters. Well, the adventurous ones anyway. I shared Connie’s feelings about looking at the eclipse so John whipped up a pinhole camera to track the shadow’s progress, such as it was, here in NH.

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Glad to be entertaining.

      We found it strange about the salmon as well…we thought they only went back to their home stream and within yards of where they were hatched…but apparently some of them are a bit more adventurous…the ranger at the park said it was in the 5% or so range.

      The dams were originally built without fish ladders despite a WA state law requiring them back in the 20s/30s…then in the 90s Congress passed a law requiring their removal. Studies to figure out the best way to do it lasted until 2011 and they were removed in 2014…although only the center portion where the river bed is was removed. Elwha Dam was earthen construction and only 50 or so feet high…most of the dam remains in place although it’s up on the bank now. Glines is concrete and much taller…about 240 feet tall but only 150 or so wide since it’s at the top end of the canyon with the lake upstream…again only the center 50 feet or so was removed and all the photos there were taken from on top of the remaining dam. Elwha was so unspectacular that I didn’t even bother taking any photos of it after we walked the 1/3 of a mile out there yesterday…it just wasn’t worth it.


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