Discovering National Parks of the Northwest
with Barbara Rizza Mellin
The National Park Service turns 100 on August 25. Thanks to John Muir and other naturalists who had the foresight to preserve thousands of acres of virgin lands for future generations, even in the face of advancing commercialization, relentless industrialization and encroaching settlements, we all have the opportunity to visit these sites a hundred years later. It was a remarkable idea!
Seniors are especially fortunate, since we qualify for a $10 lifetime pass that allows us entrance to any of the 408 National Parks in the county and many of the Federal Recreation Lands and Monuments, as well. Often, when we speak of National Parks, we think of the breathtaking Grand Canyon or geyser-filled Yellowstone Park. I have been to both and know they are well worth visiting. However, recently my husband Bruce and I decided to explore some our Pacific Northwest parks and forests.
I can now tell you that no matter how many pictures you see, you cannot sense the true grandeur of the Northwest forests without looking up at those enormously tall pines, nor can you fully appreciate a horizon pointed with snow-capped (yes, even in July) mountains without sensing an almost spiritual wonderment.
In the farthest corner of Washington State’s peninsula is Olympic National Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve and World Heritage Site. Here, in addition to Mt. Olympus, which rises nearly 8,000 feet, we discovered the crystal clear, turquoise water of Crescent Lake and visited the county’s only rain forests. Old-growth trees dripping with moss tower above fern-covered forest floors in the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests. A short hike felt like we were stepping back into a primeval place. We also used our passes at Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Observation points along Spirit Lake Highway offered incredible views of the crater and the mountain that lost 1,314 feet and 234 square miles of forest land in the 1980 eruption. Several short, informative films at the Johnston Ridge Visitor Center explain the geology behind the event and the natural recovery in progress. We learned, for example, that beautiful lupines were among the first plants to resurface on the barren landscape.
Another volcanic crater forms the focus of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. However, this one was formed 7,700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted. It is one of the world’s deepest lakes at 1,932 ft. As an artist who embraces color variations, I was amazed at the brilliant blue water in the early evening and the vivid violets of sunset. The 33-mile rim drive will astound you at every turn. Likewise, the Lodge, built in 1919, offers magnificent views of the caldera and surrounding mountain. In addition, while the lodge has no TV or air conditioning, it did set the mood with its large stone fireplaces, bark covered walls, Pondarosa Pine ceiling supports and elegantly rustic dining room.
If you do visit this region, be sure to also stop at National Forests and Scenic Areas such as the Columbia River Gorge, a 60-mile long canyon between Washington and Oregon that cuts through the Cascade Mountain range. It is punctuated with waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls, the country’s second highest. Just below Oregon’s southern boarder, near Crescent City, California, you enter the Redwood National Park, another World Heritage site, with 2,000-year-old Coast Redwood trees that can reach 380 feet, and 3,000-year-old Sequoias, with diameters up to 40 feet. Created in 1968 to protect nearly 40,000 acres of these ancient woodlands from logging and commercial development, the area encircles three state parks, which are jointly managed. We hiked the easily traversed Stout Grove trail in Jedediah Smith Park, where the warm smell of the forest and the tangible quiet belies any photographic image, even the hundreds of digital pictures my husband managed to acquire on this trip.
Get your National Parks senior pass soon and start discovering the beauty and wonder of our great national parks!
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