In February, at the height of the rainy season in the Olympic National Forest, the Other Half had a work function in Seattle. Since it fell right around President’s Day, we decided to meet up and visit another national park over the weekend.
On Saturday morning, we drove to the Kalaloch Lodge, a rustic lodge which sits on the Olympic Peninsula within easy driving distance of several beaches, the national park, and the national forest. The views from the lodge are beautiful, and the front desk has an entire closet full of board and card games to play while you listen to the sound of the ocean after dark.
Our first goal was to visit the Hoh Rainforest, a lush temperate rainforest which contains a 17-mile trail to the base of Mount Olympus, the aptly-named and well-known Hoh River Trail. While we didn’t complete the trail due to the limited time we had in the area, we had a great time looking into the clear waters of the river while we hiked. There were several places the trail was difficult to find due to washouts or fallen trees, but it made the adventure that more interesting and fun.
We were also able to visit Ruby Beach, windswept and gravelled, which serves as a dramatic foreground for the many storms that break over Olympic Peninsula.
But the highlight of our trip was clambering over a mountain hilariously titled Colonel Bob. No one else was hiking in the misty morning fog, and even the birds were quiet when we started. As we hiked upward and clambered, the views fell away around us and reminded us why we love visiting the outdoors- that inner peace you can only feel when you’re surrounded by nature and those you love.
Back in April, the Other Half was scheduled to take an additional licensing exam in California (which he passed!). He had his choice of several sites, but he chose to take his test in the community of Visalia, a quiet city whose morning scent of cattle reminds you of its agricultural origin.
Our original plan was to spend the afternoon hiking the area surrounding the Craters of the Moon monument, but we enjoyed our time in Hagerman enough that we stayed for a few extra hours after lunch. When we got to the lands surrounding the monument, we were surprised to find that Craters wasn’t as barren as we expected. Shrubby pioneer plants have all but taken over many of the lava flows, which continue right up to the base of the surrounding mountains.
The lava fields of the monument lie within the Great Rift of Idaho, an area of tectonic fractures which includes one of the deepest open rifts on Earth. Due to the efforts of Robert Limbert and others in the 1920s, the area was declared a national park during Calvin Coolidge’s administration.
The loop road is usually closed during winter, but due to the lack of snow, it was open when we arrived. The road leads to several geologic features, including some spatter cones visitors can walk up into. The difference between the two most accessible ones is striking: one cone has had several feet of its elevation eroded due to visitor traffic through the years, while the other is only just starting to show the wear caused by the weight of several thousand dusty shoes. Other stops provide parking spaces at trailheads to see petrified trees, different ages of lava flows, and the burgeoning plant and animal life which have a slightly tenuous grasp in the rugged area.
The views of the area at sunset are quite striking, with the bruised blue of twilight arising behind the black hills of the east, while ravens cry over the pink-orange sun which finds its daily rest amidst the burnt red volcanic rock of the west. Nestled in between, the chipping cries of douglas squirrels cease as the day turns into night over the small sheltered valleys of the area. Heck, its landscape unique and beautiful enough to make even the worst writers among us try to wax eloquent.
The Other Half and I decided for our most recent anniversary to celebrate both our love of the outdoors and our relationship with a trip to knock something off the bucket list: seeing an active volcano.
Okay, no, there wasn’t lava bubbling and spewing forth from a cone, nor were there sacrificial rites or even a vaguely smoking shoe sole. As a matter of fact, the volcano in question hasn’t even erupted in the last 1300 years. Despite this, however, there remain enough hot springs and seismic activity for Newberry Volcano to maintain its label as an active volcano.
Mount Rainier National Park was originally a national forest; its national park designation came in 1899 at the order of President McKinley. Rainier is the dominating feature of the park’s landscape, a mountain among mountains; it is also an active volcano. On a bright summer day last year, I got it into my head that I wanted to see Mount Rainier at sunrise. I had about 24 hours to convince the Other Half that this was a good idea. Unfortunately, the odds were stacked against me, mostly because my plan necessitated getting up at 2am to make the drive.
When we moved up here, we struggled to find appropriate places we could bring the dog with us. We were used to being able to take him, and occasionally the cat, on all of our hikes, errands, Sonic runs (he lives for his ‘small water with extra ice’), etc. Unfortunately, living in an area with a high percentage of pet owners means that everyone else also feels entitled to bring their dog with them. Quite a few of the people we have met have been wonderful, caring individuals with dogs who are well-trained and mindful of their surroundings. Just as many have brought untrained, aggressive, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, timid, dogs to public places before they perhaps should have.
Anyway, we have been trying to find a place that combines our love of hiking and wildlife-watching with a distinct lack of people. It’s more difficult than you might expect. However, we have discovered the secret to hiking in the Northwest: no one else gets up before 9am*.