Monday, September 3, 2012

Olympic Peninsula - Hurricane Ridge

It has been quite a busy summer.  It seems only a few weeks ago was Memorial Day and now it is Labor Day.  The official end of summer; but we still have many more hot, humid days to look forward to here in Virginia.  This weekend has been particularly bad with humidity levels over 90% during the day.  There has been a near constant threat of rain.  And it's not like we need it.  Last week we had over 5 inches recorded at home with significant road flooding around us.  But enough complaining about the weather.  This time I actually did something about it.  Or at least changed the weather I was experiencing.

Last week I had a business trip to Seattle and since it fell right after my wife's birthday we decided to tack on a trip to the Pacific Northwest.  The weather there is much more friendly this time of year.  So if you can't change the weather then change where you are.

Hurricane Ridge Road
We found a nice place to stay on the Olympic Peninsula and planned a few hikes into the Olympic National Park as well as a kayak trip and a visit to a garden.  We had several days of adventure without work or home distractions and lots of photography time so this will be the first a several posts about our visit.

The first day we were there we headed up into the the national park to visit Hurricane Ridge.  I had a book of easy day hikes.  That seemed the right speed coming from incredibly flat Tidewater Virginia, we need supplemental oxygen to climb over the sea wall at the beach, and since we would be dragging our cameras along, short, easy hikes seemed the most enjoyable.  We both really enjoy nature photography but it does mean we usually double or triple the estimated hiking time for a trail.
Snow-capped mountains
We drove up Hurricane Ridge to start our hike.  The first stop was the park's main visitor center in Port Angeles. This is where the give out the back country passes and bear-proof food canisters.  So the parking lot was crowded with people preparing for many days of back country hiking.  We felt a bit out of place with out little day packs and freshly bought sandwiches.  I did some serious hiking when I was younger but now with photography and bird watching, I think it would be hard to pack light and put ten miles or more in a day.

Waterfall with wildflowers
The drive up the mountain was quite nice. The weather seemed to change every several minutes as we got higher and passed through another ridge.  It had started cool and sunny and turned cold, windy and cloudy by the time we reached the top.  Although the wind was nothing like the winds that are possible there.  The name is well earned.  I overheard a ranger telling some that winds have been clocked at up to 120 mph.  Glad it was more in the 20-30 mph range and then, only in gusts.

We started with a couple of the trails around the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center.  In spite of the clouds rolling in, the views were spectacular.  In spite of us being at only 5200 ft above sea level there was still snow on the north side and we could see several snow covered peaks.  The clouds started rolling in soon after we arrived and we could feel the cold, moist air coming over the top of the peaks.  It really gave me a chill as it passed by.

While out on the trails we came across several groups of Black-tailed Deer.  They are a subspecies of Mule Deer along with the well-known Sitka Deer. Their necks and faces definitely looked shorter than our White-tailed Deer at home.  It gave the young a particularly cute look.  They were well habituated to humans and even would graze only a few feet from the trails.  Even though I didn't have my wildlife lens with me I was able to get some good shots with my 15-85 mm lens.  We caught up with one small family with the mother on one side of the trail and the two fawns hidden on the other side.  They allowed us to follow slowly behind them as they moved through the trees and out into a meadow.
Black-tailed Deer along the trail side
Black-tailed Deer fawn checking us out
Field of wildflowers
One of the most striking things about the area was the abundance of showy wildflowers.  Perhaps it is a mixture of the well-tempered climate (cool summers and wet and not-to-cold winters), the elevation and the rocky, young ground but there are many openings that support flowers but not trees and shrubs.  This would probably allow the flowers to grow larger and more showy.  Back east, most areas revert to forest with mature trees and undergrowth.  This seems to lead to smaller grouping of wildflowers and less showy ones. Here we saw roadsides that looked like planted gardens.  Very beautiful.
Sharon enjoying a roadside "garden"

I hope you have enjoyed the pictures and will return soon for the next post about our kayak trip to Freshwater Bay and a hike to Madison Falls.


  1. Your mountains are so much taller than ours in the east! Love those beautiful wildflowers. Great views.

  2. I am sure you enjoyed the change in scenery! Great shots of that black-tailed deer! They do look different than our white-tails!

  3. Great photos of a very beautiful place.

  4. Yes i so much enjoyed the photos, especially the steep, scary slopes and the blue weeds!

  5. Great hiking area!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.