Be sure to carry a raincoat in the Olympic Peninsula

The Olympic Peninsula, set off in the northwest corner of the continental U.S., is a unique place. My longpoem American Olympus is a travelogue of one week we spent camping there.

Here are ten things to consider.

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  1. Size: About 3,600 square miles, it’s a large arm with the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the north, and Puget Sound on the east. You can’t drive straight through it, by the way – only around the perimeter.
  2. Distinctive features: The Olympic mountain range fills the center. It’s dominated by 7,980 foot elevation Mount Olympus, which has seven notable glaciers. The peninsula’s Pacific coastline (including 73 miles inside the national park) has impressive sea stacks and dense old-growth rainforests.
  3. Precipitation: The Hoh Rainforest receives 12 to 14 feet of rain a year – that is, up to 170 inches. In contrast, the eastern half of the peninsula, facing Seattle, is in a rain shadow, where lawns and gardens may require irrigation. The mountains, as you may have guessed, get buried in snow.
  4. Public lands: The peninsula includes Olympic National Park and national forest, plus designated wilderness areas and state parks. The national park itself covers nearly a million acres.
  5. Rangers: The national park has 139 full-time rangers. Seasonal support pushes that to 256 in season, assisting nearly three million visitors a year.
  6. Natives: It’s home to eight contemporary tribes of Native Americans and ten reservations.
  7. Population: 104,000 people. The largest city is Port Angeles, 20,000 residents.
  8. Wildlife: Cougars, bear, elk, bobcats, eagles, salmon.
  9. Freshwater attractions: Glacier-carved and crystal-clear, 12-mile-long Lake Crescent is up to 624-feet deep. Average depth is 300 feet. The peninsula also touts 13 significant salmon-bearing rivers, most of them wild, plunging from the mountains to the sea.
  10. Who was Juan de Fuca? The band of seawater between the peninsula and Canada is named for a Greek maritime pilot who lived from 1536 to 1602. Though we know him by his name in Spanish, he was Ioannis Phokas, sailing in service of King Philip II of Spain. He claimed to have discovered the strait on a voyage in 1592, and though much of his report departs from reality, a few details make it possible that he was just a lousy recordkeeper.  

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What’s the wildest place you’ve explored?

Sea stacks are shown at Ruby Beach. The Olympic Peninsula coastline is often strewn with tangles of fallen trees like this.

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