Hi-Hoh, Hi-Hoh, It’s Off to Hoh We Go!

Grover Cleveland is not remembered for many things, but here are the highlights:

  • he was the third Presidential candidate to win the popular vote, but lose the electoral vote, and, therefor, the election (you probably know who the next two were);
  • he was the only U. S. President to serve two terms non-consecutively (1885-89 and 1893-97); and,
  • he saved the public lands that now constitute Olympic National Park from logging by designating most of the Olympic Peninsula’s forested land as the Olympic Forest Reserve in 1897, one of his last official acts.

But, while Cleveland’s proclamation may have helped to better manage forests, it didn’t do much to protect the wildlife in them, in particular, the elk. By 1900, the survival of the elk population on the peninsula was in danger due to over-hunting, its teeth popular for watch fobs, of all things.

At the turn of the century, a conservation movement was beginning to form in the country and in 1909, during his last 48 hours in office, President Theodore Roosevelt designated by proclamation a part of the Reserve to become the Mount Olympus National Monument in order to protect the elk. With the onset of WWI, however, Roosevelt’s successor’s successor, Woodrow Wilson, soon reduced the protected area of the Monument by half so that its Sitka Spruce could be logged for the war effort for use in the construction of airplanes.

After the war, a popular movement to establish an Olympic National Park in the place of the Olympus National Monument resulted in President Franklin Roosevelt visiting the peninsula in 1937 and supporting the effort. But, unlike a National Monument which can be established by presidential order, the creation of a National Park literally requires an Act of Congress, which did occur the following year, on June 29, 1938 (Roosevelt did expand the Park in 1940 and again in 1943 by executive order, a right granted him in the Act).

In 1982, Olympic National Park was designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage Site in recognition of its scientific and scenic value and to serve as a baseline for the measurement of human impact. [Note: a complete history of the Olympic National Park can be found here.]

One of the most popular features of the Park – and part of the reason for its designation as a World Heritage Site – is the Hoh Rain Forest, the largest temperate rain forest in the continental United States.

The drive from LaPush to the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center takes about 1.5 hours and it’s a scenic drive up the Hoh River valley. There’s a gauge in the Visitor Center showing the amount of rainfall that has accumulated, typically between 12 and 14 feet annually. The result of so much rain is that the vegetation thrives.

There are two improved trails originating near the Visitor Center: the Hall of Mosses Trail (0.8 miles); and, the Spruce Nature Trail (1.2 miles); and we, like most people, walked them in that order. Leaving the Visitor Center, you find yourself immediately immersed in the rain forest.

Here’s the aptly-named Hall of Mosses:

I’ve been in plenty of tropical rain forests, but you won’t find this type of growth there.

Ferns, yes, but not moss- and lichen-covered tree trunks to this extent.

But the rain forest seems to have its greatest impact on the Sitka Spruce. We hiked through Sitka Spruce forests on our Ozette Triangle hike and we’ve also been in Sitka forests in British Columbia and in Alaska. But, I had no idea that Sitka Spruce could grow as tall and broad as the trees here in the Hoh. This fallen giant’s trunk – 190 feet long – is only part of the intact and standing tree!

Here in the Hoh Rain Forest, Sitkas grow an average of 220 feet tall and some exceed 300 feet!!!

Now on the Spruce Nature Trail, we came upon another toppled Sitka Spruce and its massive uprooted base (left and center right, below). We stopped to count the rings on a smaller Sitka that had been sawn to clear the trail (top right) and counted over 200 rings – 200 years old, and this, a young tree. As we continued back to the Visitor Center, I almost stepped on a Banana Slug (bottom right), the second-largest terrestrial slug in the world.

On our drive back to LaPush, we were lucky to spot a Roosevelt elk grazing along the side of the road. The Roosevelt Elk was named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt; it is the largest of the four surviving subspecies of elk in North America and is not migratory. There are about 2,000 of them on the Olympic Peninsula today.

Leaving the National Park, we turned south on US Hwy 101 and followed that road to the coast at Ruby Beach. We parked and hiked down, but didn’t stay long, preferring the seclusion of First Beach back at LaPush. Ruby Beach would be a fantastic place to visit in the early morning before the arrival of the crowds.

Tomorrow, we pull up stakes again and head back to the Juan de Fuca coast to explore the north side of Olympic National Park.

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