There is a reason Washington is so lush, and why it has a rainforest. The rain pours down regularly, and, law of averages being what it is, we explored the northern route on a mid-June day that varied from drizzle to downpour, every drop cherished. We cheerfully donned our raincoats and wryly thought of Katie, who would have hated this weather, no doubt much happier to instead be tucked up dry and warm with Aunt Chicken.
Colin and I stopped near Quinault Lake to see the world’s largest spruce tree – 1000 years old, nearly 200 feet tall, and a whopping 59 feet in diameter – and marveled at forest roads that had all but disappeared under a single season’s growth. Washington’s wild coastline is breathtaking, with burlwood forests butting up against misty beaches, where crashing, powerful waves toss massive trees into piles along the shoreline as though they were toothpicks.
The rain continued as we wound our way northward, further up the coast. At Ruby Beach, we skipped stones and picked giant orange Oregon berries, like the biggest raspberries you’ve ever seen. There’s really nothing in the world to compare with the experience of picking fresh fruit straight from the bush.
Our last stop before Port Angeles was the Hoh Rainforest, one of the locations that got a giant MUST VISIT pin on our planning map, for a reason that was close to home for both of us.
The museum where Colin and I work has some incredible dioramas. Many of them built in the age of 1940’s automobile travel (“See America!”), they were designed to transport the viewer to far away places, as if you could simply sweep back the brush and peer into the intimate scene of nature’s flora and fauna caught in a moment of symphony. In the North American Wildlife Hall is just such a diorama of the Hoh River Rainforest, and for decades we’d been passing that diorama in the course of our daily work. As nomads on the road, we looked forward to seeing the real thing. As and added bonus, that diorama holds one of the delightfully cherished hidden elves, tucked into the background artwork by the painter. Standing here now in the Hoh Rainforest itself, we could not only experience that place we’d previously only imagined… we could also be that elf.
And who knew, it would get even better. Beyond the sheer joy of elf-photo possibilities, the rainforest was just cool, cool, cool. The mossy ground had a certain “give” as we walked. The sounds and smells were fresh, the air moist and close. The whole thing was definitely reminiscent of that scene in Star Wars where Princess Leia is hanging out with the Ewoks. And there were… banana slugs!
Cool facts about banana slugs: Species name is Ariolimax. They live in forests from Alaska to California. The biggest ones are almost 10 inches long, and, weighing in at more than 4 ounces, they contain more than liquid than you can bring on an airplane.
“She’s got just one foot, she ain’t got no toes;
She hangs out in the forest and helps it decompose.
Ba-na-na-nah, na-na-na nah, nah nah nah, banana slug!”
– Duffy Ballard, A Blistered Kind of Love
The Olympic Peninsula was everything we’d hoped for, and more. The forest gave way to misty mountains; a short time later, we rolled into Port Angeles and found our hotel.
The skies had cleared, and at 9pm the sun was setting over the harbor as we walked out to find some dinner. H2O, a chic, blue-neon restaurant with good ratings, beckoned. We finished the evening with Hawaiian Poke bowls whose preparation was personally supervised and lauded by the Hawaiian owner. She shared stories of her menu inspirations as we gobbled up the fine, fresh fish, perfect sticky rice, and a complement of bright vegetables. It had been a day of national treasures. Tomorrow, Canada!