At the end of October, I zipped up to Olympic National Park to revisit the rugged Washington coastline where I worked for two summers during college. My first full day in the park was limited by heavy rainfall, entirely normal for that time of year.
Imagine my delight the next morning at the intermittent sunshine and sporadic sprinkles. There were only a few cars in the Cape Flattery parking lot when I pulled in. Wanting to make the most of the agreeable weather, I grabbed my camera and jacket and hit the trail. It had been ten years since my last visit and I was eager to see if my memory served.
The timing of my visit helped me avoid the crowds of summer and, as anticipated, I had the overlook to myself. As I leaned against the railing, my thoughts wandered back to my two prior visits. In 1995 I focused on the geography of the point, proudly standing on the northwestern most part of the contiguous United States. In 2008, I watched Tufted Puffins dive and surface with multiple fish lined up carefully in their beaks.
This time I had no expectations, just content to experience whatever magic nature had to offer. South of me a Bald Eagle soared, riding an updraft of wind that swirled up the cliff face. West of me, a Sea Otter surfaced in the choppy waves. Floating on its back it devoured some sort of maritime snack.
Though it wasn’t part of my original plan, I was excited to explore another nearby trail. I parked between two other cars at the Ozette Loop trailhead of Olympic National Park around 2pm. The Ranger Station was closed for the season so after availing myself of the outhouse I wandered over to read the information in the kiosk. The kiosk was full of the standard cautions for backcountry travel: warning black bears live here, recent cougar sighting, stay on trail, pack it in, pack it out, be prepared, etc.
Armed with my jacket, camera, and essentially useless cell phone, I hit the trail. As the trail narrowed into a raised boardwalk I realized that it could be tricky when it came time to pass other hikers. A half mile in, rustling in the bushes caught my attention, and my heart sped up. I was about to have a close encounter of the animal kind.
I figured it was too noisy to be a cougar, though it could easily be a bear. Halting, I scanned around for a broken branch or anything else I could use to defend myself. I sighed with relief when elongated tan ears poked over the top of the bushes. Deer. Quietly, I grabbed my camera, snapping a few shots of the mom and fawn.
I laughed out loud as I clomped along the boardwalk, realizing that with all the noise I was making there was no way a cougar or bear would come anywhere near me. When clouds darkened the sky I decided I’d pushed my luck far enough so I returned to the parking lot. A Ruffed Grouse popped through the grass along the roadside to wish me farewell.
The next day I drove around the rest of the Olympic Peninsula before angling southeast through Olympia. I overnighted in the quaint little town of Tenino on my way to Mt. Rainier National Park. I knew my access to the park would be limited by snow. In a way, that made sense to me since my summer stint working at Paradise Inn in 1997 had been a short one. Tahoma stayed hidden behind the clouds so I headed home.
Overall, a pleasant weekend exploring my old stomping grounds.