We headed for Olympic National Park and cut our time short on Lopez Island for two reasons: 1) to distract me from getting too sad over saying goodbye to the kids, who needed to return to their lives in California as of Sunday afternoon, and 2) to get more time to see the Olympic National Park, which is 655,000 acres of majestic wilderness that we’d only scheduled one day to see. So we all packed up,bid goodbye to the wonderful little house, and got into the alarmingly-long line for the return ferry from Lopez Island to Anacortes, our faithful van parked behind Caleb and Tawny’s bright red rental.

The locals were prepared for the Sunday afternoon waiting lineup that wound a half-mile along the road from the dock. They took their spots in line and cracked open beers, sat in lawn chairs and whiled away the time gossiping and playing cards, while the four of us (and the rest of the non-islanders) paced around, cell phones not working.

“I can tell waiting for the ferry a real part of living here,” Mike said to me, as we sat waiting in the van. “When does the next Lei Crime audiobook come out?” We’d used up Twisted Vine a ferry-wait ago.

We always miss these two when they aren't with us.

We always miss these two when they aren't with us.

We all ended up making it to Anacortes in time for the kids to make their flights from Seattle, and hugged outside the Anacortes Fire Department where we’d pulled over to give the kids our camping gear for their use, since we couldn’t take it all back to Hawaii.

There was a bittersweetness to getting on the road with just my husband again—a certain relief because things were back to our familiar long silences and gentler speed, but also the  severing that haunts me ever since they moved out, the ghost-limb sense of something missing that is part of living life with children somewhere far away.

But now we had another ferry ride to distract us, from Coupeville out to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. This channel was the roughest we’d yet encountered (the others having been smooth as blown glass.) Heavy swirling rivers of current moved beneath wind-ruffled steely waters, fog reaching toward us—but the ferry, while rolling slightly, plowed on unperturbed. This was one ride I enjoyed watching through the thick plexiglass viewing windows, sipping a hot cup of tea.

By the time we pulled into Port Angeles, Washington, our goal destination for the day, we were too tired to go on, and that town is the gateway to Olympic National Park. We pulled into a Days Inn spotted from the highway. I pick the motels, and I’ve picked Days Inns three times on the trip as a good compromise between the tawdriness of a Super 8 and the expense of the Holiday Inn.

The next morning Mike woke me. “It’s looking rainy and overcast,” he said. He’d already been into the Park, scouting around. “Let’s go to Hurricane Ridge and see what we can see.”

(click on any image to click through to the rest)

We couldn’t see much. The mountain was completely socked in with clouds so heavy they clung to the car as rain. We wound higher and higher up the seventeen miles from the park gate, commenting on the nothing we could see at the various pullouts.

“I bet this is how people feel a lot of times going up Haleakala,” I commented, thinking of our beloved volcano and the National Park right in our backyard, often covered in clouds.

Near the top, the clouds began breaking up, unraveling like so much carded wool into skeins and swatches, spinning and lifting in the light wind. I gasped at the deep-cleft valleys we were skirting, as the belly-dance of teasing cloudveils danced with us all the way to the summit.

At the top, the air was a spank of cool air so clear that every blade and twig seemed limned in light. The side of Hurricane Ridge swept down below us, a golden-velvet meadow trimmed in a million yellow daisy flares pierced by purple fireweed. A harrier hawk hovered and plunged, raining death on the meadow and glorious as he did so.

Mike crouches to get in the picture with Ranger Tyler and I.

Mike crouches to get in the picture with Ranger Tyler and I.

The cloud drama here was an orchestra: rolling uphill trumpet salutes, great bellowing bass notes, timpani-thin shreds, all extravagantly performing. Mike and I both set up cameras for time lapses, and we were conferring about the best angles when a bearded young ranger approached us. “Are you Tawny’s parents?” he asked.

“Indeed we are,” I said, belatedly remembering our daughter telling me that a friend of hers from college was working as a ranger here. She’d texted him that we’d be coming through the park, but it was pure coincidence that we met.

Ranger Tyler was official in his green uniform with the shiny gold badge, and he recommended the three major parts of the park: here on the Ridge, the beach, and the rainforest. Fortunately we had outings planned to all three areas.

Ranger Tyler spots a bear!

Ranger Tyler spots a bear!

We ate some breakfast at the Visitor Center and took in Tyler’s entertaining talk about bears. He told a personal story of a bear encounter, and showed us a black bear skull with its highly developed nasal passages and educated us on the bear’s role as an important part of the food chain as a top consumer and distributor of fish/ocean byproducts, and even as a pollinator and seed spreader through all the berries and vegetation they eat.

The talk actually helped my bear fear, and I was glad to have met such an enthusiastic young man. Thanks Tyler!


Nature's totem pole on Rialto Beach.

Nature's totem pole on Rialto Beach.

We continued on and took in the beaches along the way toward the Hoh Rainforest, our next stop. The fog at Rialto Beach kept us from seeing the famous rock spires that are so often photographed, but I got a good one of a totem pine, raising its skeleton arms above the silky gray stones of the beach.

The Hoh Rainforest was dry. Not just a little dry, really dry. The swamps were filled with mud holding the footprints of elk gone foraging, but little water. The famous moss hung like brittle old men’s combovers from the trees. The salmonberries were dried on the bushes and  dust rose on the well-traveled trails beneath our feet. The streams were so low the watercress was drying above the water, and some of the creekbeds held nothing but stones.

“We haven’t had rain in thirty-eight days,” one of the ladies at a snack shop outside the forest told me. “It’s unprecedented.”

Still, the magic was there in the arches of ferns, dappled green light, and dizzyingly-tall big-leaf maples shrouded in browning moss. Mike took a picture of me in an alcove that felt like a forest queen’s throne as incredibly tiny birds sang their hearts out all around and I breathed in the loam and the chemistry of new life. Sometimes, walking along, I feel myself as nothing but a dandelion seed, blowing by briefly and just for a little while, a part of things.

At the end of our hike of the Hoh, a knot of sightseers drew our attention. A pair of spotted owls were sitting on a branch high in a moss-draped tree, and as mosquitoes flew around us in a humming swarm, Mike got as close as he could, capturing the owls’ curious looks at us and their darting, Egyptian-dancelike head movements. They cuddled and preened, entirely the most adorable creatures we’ve seen in the parks so far, and, other than their round-eyed, curious glances at us, displayed no fear.

“That was the cherry on the cake,” I said. We drove to Kalaloch Lodge, a wonderful old hotel directly on the beach. Just the driving in Olympic National Park is worth doing. It’s mile after mile of flowers, ferns and trees, and everywhere the singing of birds and drumbeat of woodpeckers.

We ate dinner in the Lodge’s dining room and went to sleep on pure white, deliciously silky cotton bedding, the sound of the sea in our ears, and no internet available.

Kalaloch Beach seemed to go on forever this morning in the extra-low tide the handout from the hotel had predicted, along with its dire warning, Beware Killer Logs! Apparently, the giant driftwood trees all over the beach, stacked like dinosaur bones, roll up in the surf and inevitably squash people every year.

This was an unexpectedly jarring note, but I wasn’t too worried as I set out across the fine gray sand, an ocean of grains from white to black and everything in between, runneled by water from above and below into crinkled patterns like the surface of a brain. Seagulls, in shoals too many to count, moved in patterns like schools of fish, rising as one, circling, descending, flowing back and forth.

For some reason, thousands of small crab shell molts crunched underfoot, and the fine, silty sand blew around them in a mournful way, covering and uncovering their fragile calcium-deposit shells. A river that ran from the direction of the Lodge carved an arc pattern across the sand, bold as a scimitar stroke, and following its path was an eagle.

He gave that cry they do, a croak followed by a whistle, nothing grand like the piercing shriek I remember from movies.

“They dub in the cry of a redtailed hawk,” Tawny had told me at the Lopez Island house when we heard the eagles overhead, with their squeaky whistling. “They don’t sound like what we think they should.” And indeed, they don’t—but the eagle was still a grand sight as he followed the stream, his yellow beak a rapier, his white head and tail catching the light.

My ideal breakfast: yogurt and fruit parfait with a biscuit and tea.

My ideal breakfast: yogurt and fruit parfait with a biscuit and tea.

Breakfast at the Kalaloch Lodge was officially awesome. They had a yogurt and granola parfait that was perfect for my food issues, and the tea situation was as good as Canada, with a full thermos of hot water, a selection of teas, and a little pot of cream and sugar. I was in heaven and so was Mike with his bacon omelet.

More hiking ensued today as we explored the nearby Quinalt Lake area, taking in side trails at Maple Grove and an old homestead, enchanting in the mossy woods. We hiked the North Fork of the Quinalt River for a couple of miles, reduced by draught to a sparkling turquoise creek that Mike was determined to fish. With my new, less fearful of bears attitude, I thoroughly enjoyed the level trails filled with green light sifting down from the magnificent old-growth trees and captured by the ferns and berry bushes below.

When we returned to the Lodge, we’d been moved to a cottage with a bank of windows, and there we took in our last day of the trip—a little sunstruck and tired from hiking, the panorama of Kalaloch Beach played out before us. We watched the longest sunset we’d seen yet, a spectacle that ran like a Las Vegas lightshow from 8:30 p.m. until 10:o0 p.m. when finally the curtains of darkness fell and the sun bade us a reluctant goodbye.

The longest sunset on Kalaloch Beach.

The longest sunset on Kalaloch Beach.

Tomorrow we travel back to Maui. I’m almost, but not quite, ready to go home.

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