Olympic National Park – Mystic Ocean

We’ve arrived at our destination; Rialto, Washington, a portal to the Olympic Coast Wilderness wonderland. This stretch of coastline was designated Wilderness in the 1950’s; an essential component of the Olympic National Park ecosystem. Clad in synthetic armor and packing insta-evolution in a big black bag, granules of Rialto beach sand disperse under the weight of me. Looking around, the seascape looks unlike any other coastline I’ve seen. I’m an alien here.

Frozen in time, sea stacks resembling giant orca dorsal fins lay just beyond the tidal break lining the westward view as far as can be seen. Smiling, I imagine that an accord was crafted when the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was made giving orca’s the task of patrolling the waters. We’re in mixed substrate territory sprinkled with sand beaches and dense rain forest to our east. Towering Western Hemlock, Red Cedar, Sitka Spruce and Douglas Fir occupy the steep slopes. Herbs and shrubs tolerant of the shady understory form a complex multi-layered canopy just tall, dense and dark enough to make one think twice.

No easy escape.

Ultra productive rain forests combined with neighboring mixed substrate, immense sea stacks and coastal shelves; the place hums with life……

and death.

It’s smell is upon the air. Omnipresent salty goodness spiced with organic decomposition, wet sand, drying wood and the occasional animal corpse. Hundreds of plants and animals put themselves to task making a home of this place. Once, humans did too. Makah Indians used to claim this territory. Their historic home range included over 300,000 acres of the Olympic Peninsula with many year-round villages up and down the Olympic coast line and Strait of Juan de Fuca. Makah legend tells of a time during the last ice age when the Makah were cold and starving. At the brink of annihilation, a great Thunderbird plunged from the skies to the ocean, plucking a whale from the water. Whale in talon, the Thunderbird lay the great mammal upon the beach for the Makah. Seeing their salvation, the Makah learned the secret to their survival from the great Thunderbird.

Walking here for a few days impressed upon me the heartiness required of the Makah and all living things that made this place home. There are no trails. None would survive the ocean. Beach sand, when reached, led to small rejoices after traversing spray coated driftwood, massive boulder gardens diverse in shape, texture and size and kelp detritus feet thick.

Concentrate grasshopper.

I feel child like negotiating this terrain. Resuming the age old game of hot lava, hopping from stone to stone. Fog roles in and changes the ambiance.

Silhouettes loom.



Snugging up my jacket we continue on to find a safe place to hold up for the night. We make a fire of driftwood below the tidal line and enjoy each others company and the eon old comfort of wood flame. As dusk approached the mystic grey never wavered.

Until it did.

For only a few minutes the setting sun shone through transforming the grey into an immense room filled with setting light. From my seated position at the edge of the fire I sprang to my feet.


I didn’t know what else to do and running seemed an appropriate reaction. I had to get closer to the light and let my feet carry me to the edge of the pacific. To the edge of the terrestrial realm.

As far as I could go.



I try not to move, letting the light wash over me. Light colors changed with relative quickness and combined with the confines of the fog made me feel as though we were in a definable room complete with a ceiling. My heart filled with the color and I was thrilled to be present for such a gift. In no less than ten minutes it was over and the grey mystic crept back as the light diminished.

Back to the fire.


5 responses to “Olympic National Park – Mystic Ocean

  1. Great pics Jon! Brings me back to vacation here last summer; introducing my son to tide pools, starfish and sea anemones. Chilean Beach looks amazing…gotta get there soon! Thanks for helping my memories!

    • Taking your children to the beach seems like a sure fire way to fun and exploration. Chilean Beach was amazing. Definitely some of the most impressive examples of driftwood I’ve ever seen. Let me know if and when you return to the Olympic, I am very much looking forward to another trip there. Thanks for stopping by my site.

  2. Fabulous description, photos – everything! I went there in fall 2011 and am trying to get back – well, at least I have moved from NYC to WA, so the chances are much better. Your description of the light, and the urge to run to it – I completely understand – that beach has power!

    • Welcome back out West. Wonderful! Thanks for taking some time to check out my photos. Since you’re a fellow light chaser, I’d recommend listening to this WNYC Radiolab podcast on “bliss” ( http://www.radiolab.org/2012/dec/17/ ). The opening story is really quite something and reminds me of those precious moments in life. One day, I’d like to like to travel the entire Olympic coastline starting at Jefferson Cove traveling to Shi Shi. Someday.

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