The Hoh is a magical place. We had already seen the temperate rain forest at other locations in Olympic National Park, but the Hoh is extra special. In the Hoh River Valley, more than twelve feet of rain dumps annually, and the old growth Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, western hemlock, and big-leaf maple trees are dripping with moss and lichens, and various fungi are growing everywhere as a result. Because it is so wet, the trees don’t have to grow deep roots to access water. However, when strong winds blow, which occurs regularly on the west coast of Washington, some of these trees, even 200-foot tall trees, fall to the ground. These trees live on by continuing to support moss and fungi, as well as providing a nutrient-rich substrate on which other trees can sprout. These downed trees are called “nurse logs.” Newly sprouted trees on these logs compete for light and other resources, and those that survive grow tall and mighty, and their roots eventually find their way around the nurse log and into the ground. The nurse log will rot away after a time, making the new trees appear to be standing on stilts.
We walked around the Hall of Mosses loop trail, admiring all the bearded and hairy trees loaded with moss. As it started to sprinkle we walked about a mile down the Hoh River trail. Since it was fall, the big-leaf maple trees and many of the shrubs were changing color, dotting the trail with orange among all the rich greens of the conifers, mosses, and lichens. The rain only made the colors more intense. We stopped in a dry spot under some trees for lunch and explored a sandbar on the river at the one-mile mark. There were lots of elk tracks on the sandbar, but no elk. We were lucky enough to be surprised by one bull elk when we returned to the visitor center (more on that story here).