For any use of my photos, please contact me at monika.wieland (at) gmail (dot) com

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Ozette: Visiting the Outer Olympic Peninsula

Last week we went on a four day camping trip to Lake Ozette on the outer coast of the Olympic Peninsula. This is one of those places I've long wanted to visit but hadn't ever been to until now. It's only about 180 miles from Friday Harbor, but with two ferry rides and lots of winding roads it took about seven hours to get there, which is part of the reason why it hadn't happened until now!

The town of Sekiu along the Strait of Juan de Fuca - namesake for one of our whales (K22)

The big draw for me to Ozette was the nine mile Ozette loop hike I've read about. While we didn't have the best weather for our trip (what do you expect for camping in a rainforest?), conditions did cooperate pretty well for our hike. It was overcast but not windy or rainy. The trail is an equilateral triangle with two sides being mostly boardwalks through the woods and one side being along the beach.

The boardwalk trail to Cape Alava

Bunchberry, or dwarf dogwood, against a backdrop of multicolored moss
About two miles out the boardwalk takes you through a clearing, the site of a historic homestead slowly being reclaimed by the forest:

"Ahlstroms Prairie"
Then, not too long after, our first glimpse of the rugged coastline. This part of Washington is the most uninhabited shoreline in the Lower 48, feeling more like Alaska than the rest of the United States. There's no road access here, or hardly anywhere along this part of the coast - this particular stretch goes over 20 miles with no driving access or development of any kind. Even the "trail" itself is really just the beach, which means the going is pretty slow! Stretches of gravel beach are interspersed with rocky shorelines that you just traverse any way you can.

It's a refreshing sight to take in: a beach in a fairly pristine state. Seaweed covered rocks, thriving tidepools, offshore roosts for pelagic birds, foraging bald eagles, and crashing waves. Nothing else. In fact, during our hike we saw just as many eagles (11) as other people.

We came across a gray whale skull not too far down the beach.

Keith pays his respects

Another highlight was locating some petroglyphs from the Makah tribe that predate European arrival to the Pacific Northwest. Pretty cool to see some killer whales etched into the rocks:

The true highlight, though, was the geology: all the sea stacks make for a very impressive landscape.

In some places, the headlands are only passable at low tides. There are overland trails you can take if you arrive at high tide, but I was glad we snuck through before the water got too high. This overland "trail" looked more like a rock climbing wall - notice the rope and near-vertical incline to the left of the sign. I would have been a bit scared to tackle that!

Of course, no where is truly pristine anymore, least of all the ocean. There was a fair amount of large garbage/debris that washed up, including lots of buoys, canisters, and derelict fishing gear. Several items appeared to be of Asian origin:

When we got to Sand Point, where the trail heads back inland, I was looking at some seals through binoculars and I was surprised to see a sea otter pop up! I really shouldn't have been surprised - when people identify our Salish Sea river otters as sea otters I often tell them how since the hunting era when sea otters were locally extirpated, they haven't returned to Washington's inland waters but are thriving on the outer coast where they have been reintroduced. Still, I wasn't expecting to see one! We actually ended up seeing about ten or so. I wasn't carrying my telephoto lens so unfortunately this is the only picture you get to see of one:

The hike was well worth the trip, but of course I was keeping my eyes open for wildlife all the time. In addition to the Swainson's thrush (170), warbling vireo (171), black-headed grosbeak (172), and cedar waxwing (173) that I added to the year list in recent weeks, on this trip I added purple martin (174 - in Friday Harbor while waiting for the ferry!), common nighthawk (175), and red crossbill (176). The most entertaining birds were the ones that visited camp, however - the normally skittish Steller's jays were quite the camp robbers:

Notice the blue "eye spots" indicative of the coastal morph of the Steller's jay - inland birds have white eye spots.

One of my all-time favorite birds, the Steller's jays are a Pacific Northwest icon conspicuously absent from San Juan Island. They don't like to fly over water - but have made it over the shorter waterways to nearby Orcas and Shaw Islands. As I mentioned, on this trip these guys were always hanging around looking to swoop in for food scraps. When we were packing up, with doors and the trunk open, I was surprised to see one fly out of my car!

There were also lots of fledglings being fed, particularly robins, chestnut-backed chickadees, and golden-crowned kinglets. Here's a young kinglet begging for food from its parent - it was amazing to see how many insects the kinglets could round up in a very short period of time! I guess you have to keep pretty busy to keep a hungry baby satiated.

Finally, no camping trip is complete without a couple of campfires - that's one of the best parts!

And a few roasted marshmallows, too....oops, burned this one!


James said...

Sounds like a great hike, great blog and pics!

Vera said...

I really enjoyed reading the details about your trip and the pictures are fantastic. I would love to go there some day and hike that trail. Cool (but a bit sad) about the whale skull and interesting petroglyphs!