Notes on the Olympic Peninsula

sunset at Kalaloch Lodge beach

Mother Nature is making up for last year by providing us with yet another sunny day. Today I had some time to read through the booklet in our cabin about Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades national and state parks. Here are some of the nuggets of knowledge I picked up.

The western side of the Olympic Mountains receives an average of 140 inches of rain every year. There are three reasons why the area is so wet:

  • Cool ocean currents
  • Prevailing westerly winds
  • The Olympic Mountains

On the Olympic coast, the greatest rainfall occurs during December and January, with daytime temperatures averaging in the 40s.

The top of Mount Olympus receives 200 inches of rain annually, while the town of Sequim (pronouced squim), located on the northeast side of the mountains, receives 16 inches or fewer in a year.

Almost the entire Olympic Peninsula is protected land as part of either Olympic National Park or Olympic National Forest. Highway 101 follows the edges of the peninsula, but there are no roads that cut across the full width of the peninsula. Spur roads off of 101 provide access at several points to interior areas, but the only way to get from one side of the peninsula to the other is by following 101 around. Some areas are closed in winter.

Several tribes have traditional ties to this land: Lower Elwha Klallam, Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Makah, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Quileutae, Quinault, and Skokomish. They originally lived in communal homes called longhouses. They fished and gathered most of their food during the spring and summer. During the winters, which are mild near the coast, the women wove baskets and clothing from red cedar bark. The men carved dugout canoes and made ceremonial items from wood.

In 1788, John Meares, an English sea captain, named Mount Olympus after the mythological home of the Greek gods. Four years later Capt. George Vancouver made the name official when he entered it on his map and referred to the whole mountain range as the Olympic Mountains. Mount Olympus is 7,980 feet high. By comparison, Mount Rainier, in the Cascade Mountain range, is 14,410 feet high.

Throughout the late 19th century pioneers moved into the Olympic peninsula to fish, farm, and cut lumber. In 1885 and 1890, the U.S. Army came through the area to survey and scientifically document the interior. In 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument. In 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill designating 624,000 acres as Olympic National Park. In 1953 most of the coastal wilderness was added to the park. The 1988 designation of Olympic National Park as a World Heritage Site protects the area by forbidding road building, mining, lumber cutting, hunting, use of off-road motorized vehicles, and other types of development within the designated wilderness area.

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