Olympic Peninsula, Washington


The Olympic Peninsula in Washington State separates Puget Sound from the Pacific Ocean and is dominated by the Olympic Mountains, a cluster of peaks in the northern interior.  Vancouver Island lies across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north.  The mountains are buffeted by north Pacific storms, creating temperate rainforests on the western half and a rain shadow in the northeast.  The western side of Mount Olympus averages over 200 inches of annual precipitation, while the northeast around Sequim sees less than 20.  Much of the peninsula lies within the Olympic National Park and adjacent Olympic National Forest lands, as well as other national and state parks, wilderness, wildlife refuges, and conservation areas.

In 1592, Ioánnis Fokás (aka Juan de Fuca), sailing for Spain, claimed to have discovered the Strait of Anián (the fabled Northwest Passage) around 47° north.  In 1778, Captain James Cook named Cape Flattery, but dismissed the existence of the “pretended strait”.  In 1787 Captain Charles William Barkley confirmed the passage into Puget Sound at 48°, and named it the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Mount Olympus was named by Captain John Meares in 1788.  Manuel Quimper in 1790 and George Vancouver in 1792 investigated the Strait in more detail.

The peninsula was one of the last places in the contiguous United States to be explored and settled.  The rugged terrain of the interior kept most Euro–Americans near the coasts.  In 1885, a small Army party lead by Lieutenant Joseph P. O'Neil set out from Port Angeles on the northern coast to explore the mountains.  After about a month of slowly cutting a trail, they reached what is now called Hurricane Ridge.  They began to explore the Elwha Valley, but the expedition was cut short.  In December 1889, a handful of civilians endured one of the worst recorded winters in the region as they trudged up the Elwha River.  Ultimately, after six months, they descended the Quinault Valley out to the Pacific coast.  Other explorers followed.  In 1897 most of the forests were placed within the protection of the Olympic Forest Reserve.  The Mount Olympus National Monument was established in 1909 by President Theodore Roosevelt, and by 1938 the Olympic National Park by President Franklin Roosevelt.

My parents and I planned a trip around the peninsula after Labor Day.  August and September are usually the driest months in the Northwest, and with the kids back in school, we figured the attractions would not be so crowded.  Unfortunately, a large front built up in the north Pacific as my parents were making their way out to Oregon.  With forecasts of heavy rains and even thunderstorms (the latter a relatively rare occurrence west of the Cascades), we decided to cancel our original reservations, wait a couple days, and reverse the direction of our trip to hopefully have better weather for our outdoor activities.