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Special Characteristic: Finest Remnant of the Pacific Northwest "Rain Forests"; Majestic Mountain Uplift; 20 Square Miles of Glaciers; Approximately 3,000 Rare Roosevelt Elk Which Summer in the Park

Olympic National Park
Soleduck Falls—Olympic National Park

By Grant

OLYMPIC National Park is a spectacular expanse of glacier-clad peaks, flower-strewn alpine meadows, turbulent streams and jewellike lakes, deep winding canyons and broad valleys supporting a rich forest growth unequaled elsewhere in America. This unspoiled "last frontier," its mountain fastness teeming with vegetation and wildlife, is destined to be preserved as a primeval wilderness, little changed in a thousand years.

Located in the northwest corner of the United States, this park occupies the central interior of the Olympic Peninsula, promontory of the State of Washington, washed on three sides by the Waters of the Pacific Ocean, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. Cool ocean breezes temper the summer weather of the area, and moderate temperatures prevail throughout the year. Little moisture falls in the park in summer, rains being normal for the region except on the western slopes of the Olympic Mountains which have remarkably heavy precipitation in the winter months.


One of the few remaining areas of virgin forest, Olympic National Park presents a glorious example of the original timberlands of the Northwest in the dense growth which surrounds the Olympic Mountains. In the lower valleys of the western slopes, the temperate climate, a seasonal rainfall averaging 142 inches annually, and favorable soil combine to produce the unique "rain forests," vast stands of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, western red cedar, and silver fir, with age-old individual trees of remarkable size. Some of these tree specimens tower as high as 300 feet, and one, the largest living Douglas fir, measures over 17 feet in diameter.

These unsurpassed "rain forests" are tropical in luxuriance, with an undergrowth of vine maple, bigleaf maple, ferns, and other junglelike growth. Mosses drape the branches and trunks of trees in fantastic patterns. Seedlings, in ancient succession, take root on fallen trunks which through the centuries rot away, furnishing food for future forest monarchs.


The majesty of the tumbled, jagged peaks of the Olympics is unrivaled in America. They form no definite range, but rise in an irregular mass from the junglelike forest that clothes the lower slopes up to 4,000 feet. Mount Olympus, its crest rising 7,915 feet above sea level, is loftiest of them all, but numerous other peaks are nearly as high. Although not reaching to the altitudes of the Sierra Nevada or the Rockies, the Olympics are equally impressive. Stretching from sea level to their full height of 5,000 to 7,000 feet, without intervening plateaus, the vast array of peaks presents a tremendous sweep. So wild and precipitous is this mountain massing that it never has been completely explored.

Olympic National Park
Mount Tom, as seen from the Skyline Trail—Olympic National Park

The highest peaks are snow-covered throughout the year. The snowfall in the interior, said to be the heaviest in the country, has produced one of the largest glacier systems on the continent. There are some 50 or 60 living glaciers in all—the count is as yet unofficial—covering an aggregate area of nearly 20 square miles. Many of them are large ice masses that are still working their way downward, relentlessly gouging and shaping the rock beneath. In all this snow and ice swift rivers are born, to plunge madly downward, slashing deep narrow canyons. Beautiful lakes dot the valleys between the peaks or fill ruggedly sculptured cirques. Alpine tundras encroach on the snow line, to give way in turn to flower-strewn open meadows that merge into the forests below.


Chief of the park's wildlife is the Olympic or Roosevelt elk, largest of the American wapiti. About 6,500 of these magnificent animals inhabit the Olympic Peninsula, making their last stand there against oblivion. Establishment of the park gave protection to range vitally needed if the Roosevelt elk are to survive. Unlike other elk, this species is almost nonmigratory.


Last Modified: Wed, Sep 13 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

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