SOL DUC: A Green and Dripping Place

Moss-covered Bigleaf Maple in the Sol Duc Valley

Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, where I live, is a moist and enchanted place where plants grow with vigor and frequent strangeness.  Looking into the forest from the windows of my study, I see a Bigleaf Maple trunk covered with creeping bright green moss, and with Licorice Ferns emerging from the overwhelming moss.  The canopy of Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars casts a dark and depressing shade from November through February, and bits of lichen and moss blow down onto my mossy lawn whenever a strong wind blasts through the forest.

We decided to drive to an even wetter place in mid-February:  the Sol Duc Valley of Olympic National Park, where there is even more rain than in our little town.  Sol Duc is on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, and is close to the famous Hoh Rain Forest, which is drenched with over twelve feet of rain in a year–most of it from November through April.  These temperate rain forests are lovely, if you REALLY like rain and have a sunny disposition that can withstand day after day of steady downpours.  Some people have adapted well; such as the loggers and vampires in the remote town of Forks who spend their days outdoors no matter the weather.  I envy their webbed feet … but I like my dry days too much to spend my life in the heart of the rain forest.

Our temperate rain forests catch the wet, low clouds sailing in from the Pacific Ocean.  The Olympic Mountains force the clouds to dump most of their water load on the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, leaving the east side, where I live, with just 65″ or so each year.  Still wet.

Anyway, back to Sol Duc.  This valley is famous for its hot springs, which have their origins in the active geology of the Olympic Mountains, where collision of two of the earth’s plates causes earthquakes and rising mountains and naturally hot water.  Alas, the hot springs are closed in winter.  But we knew that; our destination was Sol Duc Falls, which is a 0.8 mile trail from the end of the road.  It is an easy trail, with some gentle ups and downs, and the falls at the end are spectacular and thundering after a week of winter rains.

What struck me, and what I concentrated on photographing, was the mosses and lichens and green plants draping rocks and tree trunks.  I felt that if I stood still too long, my skin would take on a green cast and I would have moss growing out of my ears and nostrils (picture that, if you will!).  I was reading a novel just before this hike, in which a band of hikers encounters a conscious, hungry vine in the jungles of Mexico.  If you have a vivid imagination, and want to think forever differently about plants, read The Ruins, by Scott Smith.  Then take a hike on the Olympic Peninsula and pray that you’ll come out of the rain forest alive!

A Western Hemlock with a humanoid form clasps an elder hemlock

Sword Ferns arc spiderlike over the forest floor

Oregon Lungwort (Lobaria oregana), a strange and large lichen

Tall conifers in the fog, with young Western Hemlocks

The trees reach high for the sky in this wet landscape

Moss dripping from a Vine Maple

Sol Duc Falls roaring after a winter rain

Licorice Fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) and mosses on a Bigleaf Maple

A trail shelter built by the CCC toward the end of the Great Depression

Moss covers every limb of a Bigleaf Maple

A rustic log bench waiting for a Hobbit

Moss thrives on the roofs of most buildings on the Olympic Peninsula

A small tributary of the Sol Duc River tumbles through mossy boulders

Sol Duc Falls viewed from a cliff downstream

Mossy Vine Maples twist their way through the forest

More mossy limbs of Bigleaf Maple

Giant trees catch a ray of sunshine through the mist

Sudden inspiration at the end of the day

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2 Comments on “SOL DUC: A Green and Dripping Place

  1. Howdy.

    Good presentation. I surfed in from your Flickr post.

    The Olympic Peninsula is high on my list for exploring in the upcoming years. I’ll go up there at least once this year, and maybe twice. Will have to divide between it and the coast redwoods. I have worked outdoors in this region for 30 years, and basically thrive on this foggy misty weather we get. What a natural reward with the forests we have.

    Cheers ~ M. D. Vaden of Oregon

    • Thank you M. D., the Olympic Peninsula is stunning. In addition to any of the forest and mountain habitats within Olympic National Park, be sure to hike parts of the Olympic coast. The hike to Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches from the Makah Reservation leads to the most stunningly beautiful part of the Washington Coast. The Makah also have a trail to cliffs within their land that are equally beautiful.

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