OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK: Exploring Tide Pools at Point of Arches

Sunset glow illuminating the conglomerate rocks and salt spray at Point of Arches

The first time we visited Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches in Olympic National Park, it was the Martin Luther King holiday weekend in January, 1991. The weather was unseasonably clear and cold, with no rain predicted–perfect for a winter backpacking trip. The beach was frosty and mostly deserted, though we met one melancholy couple who were enjoying a last Pacific Northwest backpacking trip before moving from Seattle to Iowa (not that there’s anything wrong with cornfields!).

Our favorite experience on that trip was exploring the tide pools of Point of Arches, where we saw Blood Stars and Aggregating Sea Anemones and Giant Green Anemones. In fact, we learned an important lesson during our last morning of tide pooling: they’re called TIDE pools for a reason. We lost track of time while I was photographing, and were late in deciding to walk back to the beach. When we came to a tidal channel that was blocking our route back, we realized that we didn’t have time to retrace our steps and look for an alternate route, and that we had to plunge through it. So, we waded nearly thigh deep through wintery saltwater in order to make it safely back. Lesson learned.

Sunflower Star and reflected light off sand ripples at lowest tide

On our 2011 Fourth of July hike to Point of Arches, we always kept the tide charts in the back of our minds. And we ended up having two of the best tide pool experiences of our naturalist lives. I’ll speak to the specific experiences in the captions, just suffice it to say that the Leather Stars, Blood Stars, chitons, crabs, sculpins, kelp, and isopods were endlessly fascinating.

Enjoy the pictures, and go tide pooling if you get a chance–especially with children. It is a fascinating glimpse into the watery world, which can seem like an alternative universe because the lifeforms are so different. Just be careful to observe the tide charts …

Hikers with a beautiful sunset backlighting the airborne sea spray

At lowest tide we climbed over rocks completely blanketed by slippery kelp; this tidal channel blocked our way from going any further, but here we were able to see a Leather Star–a sea star we had never before observed

The Ochre Sea Star comes in three major color variants, which are playing Twister on a barnacle-encrusted rock

The Sunflower Star encounters a Giant Green Anemone in a tide pool; notice how two of the star’s arms are recoiling after being stung by the anemone 

Up close and personal, the Giant Green Anemone’s mouth and tentacles look beautiful–and menacing to the creatures that are its prey. The green color comes from algae living in the tissues of the anemone. Interesting factoid: the anemone can push its stomach out through its mouth to give itself a deep-cleansing mouthwash!

Vosnesensky’s Isopod is a creature up to two inches long that looks like it might be a bedbug infesting the waterbed of a mermaid

The Blood Star is a small and stiff sea star that is a vivid scarlet

Velvety Red Sponge

Eye candy for those who love magenta and purple, this intricate seaweed defied my attempts to identify it

Purple Encrusting Sponge spreading over rough rock and exposed at low tide, with an Ochre Sea Star creating the foreground texture

Kelp completely covered many intertidal rocks; its color is a yellowish-brown, and here the slippery, shiny surface is reflecting the blue sky

Black Katy Chiton on a rough rock encrusted with other organisms

Blood Star with Giant Green Anemones

This Giant Green Anemone withdrew its tentacles as the tide went ever lower, leaving a ring of tracks around itself

Looking out from one of the sea caves–created by the pounding surf–at Point of Arches

In contrast to the soaring beauty of the wilderness beach; here is evidence that we are all connected to nature in rather mundane ways. This is one of three toilets the National Park Service provides for campers. And given the number of campers here on any nice weekend, I’m glad they provide the “facilities,” such as they are.

Our campfire on the beach at twilight, with the rocky sea stacks of Point of Arches marching out into the great Pacific

When the tide starts rushing in–as in this photograph–I look for a safe return route to the beach

Surfgrass waves gently back and forth with the surging and receding waves

This is a typical view of the exposed rocks as the tide starts to come in

A classic low tide view of Point of Arches, with the sea stacks reflected on the wet beach sand

And now for something a bit different: at sunset several people gathered on the beach to discuss this phenomenon. Some jokingly wondered if it was a UFO or if North Korea had launched an ICBM. Alas, the truth was that this slow moving trail was the contrail of a passenger jet coming over the horizon at the perfect time to be backlit by the setting sun.

Shi Shi Beach is a wilderness beach within Olympic National Park. It stretches over two miles in a gentle, sandy crescent, ending at the dramatic rocky sea stacks and arches of Point of Arches. We backpacked along the beach, and on this Fourth of July weekend we guess that there were 60 tents sharing the beach and the adjacent forest. Hikers need to be aware of the tides, which can have an amplitude of over ten feet and can affect hiking and tide pool exploration schedules at Point of Arches. Hard-sided food containers are required for backpackers (to keep away marauding Raccoons), as is a wilderness permit from the National Park Service and a recreational permit from the Makah Indian Reservation. Parking for backpackers is $10 per day at a private residence near the trailhead. For more information about Shi Shi Beach and Point of Arches, go to Olympic National Park: Shi Shi Beach and view my other two blog entries about Point of Arches at The Peregrine and the Pirate and Crab Chaos and Human Creativity.