Olympic National Park has been within range of our base of operations in the Pacific Northwest. But just barely. The southernmost portions of the park can be reached with about two hours of driving. Some of the more interesting sites, however, are more like four hours. So we’ve put it off.
Still, this trip has also come to feel like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. When else will we be so close to a temperate rainforest filled with ferns, mosses, and trees the size of houses? How often are we going to be within reach of the northern Pacific Ocean, where orcas, humpback whales, and sea otters swim and play? The weather forecast seemed to provide a rare opening for an experience of Olympic National Park without rain. So we decided to go for it.
Still it took a lot of driving to get there. We piled into the minivan at 6:00 AM. That way, I could drive in silence while most of the family continued sleeping (or at least resting). And honestly, it was a beautiful drive. But still: four hours of driving. One-way.
The rainforests were beautiful — unlike anything we’ve ever seen back in Ohio (or anywhere else). We did a short hike, as a family, and it was fantastic. The coastal portions of Olympic National Park were amazing, too. We enjoyed a picnic lunch on Ruby Beach. Afterwards, we scrambled out onto the rocks as waves of the Pacific Ocean crashed around us. Definitely memorable. Worth the drive, too.
But my favorite hour of our whole week in the Pacific Northwest didn’t happen until after the rainforest. After Ruby Beach. Really, after we’d more or less gotten our fill of Olympic National Park. As we started on the road back to our rental house.
A few miles south of Ruby Beach, we made a rather spontaneous decision to stop at a place mysteriously marked as “Beach 2.” I thought, “Why not?!?” This would probably be our last chance to see the Pacific Ocean on this trip. Maybe we’d get lucky, we figured, and spot an orca off in the distance or something! There was a little stretch of gravel with enough room for maybe four vehicles, so we parked there and found the trail from the road to the beach.
Suddenly, it felt like we had the Pacific Ocean to ourselves. The kids had been kind of grumbly about making another stop — but with such a wide open beach and so few others around, they all started playing in the surf. Singing at the top of their lungs, laughing, racing waves to the shore. Marci and I combed the beach for shells and sand dollars. The setting was so powerful and so peaceful at the same time.
After some walking and playing with the family, I assumed guard duty — resting beside all the socks and shoes and purses that had been discarded by some driftwood. I pulled on the Olympic National Park sweatshirt that Olivia and I bought together in a gift shop up the road. And then I burrowed my back into a pile of round stones that had been warming in the sun.
For the next twenty or thirty minutes, I drifted in and out of sleep. A couple of times, I chatted with Marci when she looped back to our beach base. I took some pictures of the kids wandering up and down the coastline. But mostly I just lazed, lulled by the sound of the waves crashing on the shore. It was glorious.
At one point, I woke up and looked out in the surf just in time to see a sea otter. He was standing just where the water met the sand. So I signaled to the rest of the family and — miraculously — got them all to look in the same direction at the same time. We all got to see the sea otter! And it just felt like a lovely little exclamation point on a lovely little hour in the Pacific Northwest.
I’m very glad for the wealth of experiences we’ve had this week in Washington (and Oregon). But distilling the week down to a favorite hour is such a helpful experience, so I just want to capture it and record it. For my own reference and joy.