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Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic National Park is pristine and isolated -- rare commodities these days.

by: Ron Tamburello

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Little-Known Fact: Temperate rainforests like the rare Olympic National Park can be found only in New Zealand, southern Chile and the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Pristine forest and isolated, seemingly endless beach are rare commodities these days. You'd probably think it foolish to long for one location with both.

But such an impossibly appealing place does exist in a stretch of wilderness coast on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The 57-mile-long Olympic Coastal Strip has changed little since Native Americans walked its shores centuries ago. A short hike takes you past majestic sea stacks (pillars of rock jutting out of the sea), vast tidal pools, and extraordinary outcroppings of land weathered by a raging sea.

The sheer quantity of flotsam and jetsam cast upon the beach is astonishing. Probably the most exotic are the glass floats that Japanese fishermen use to support their nets. It takes the ocean currents about one year to carry the floats across the Pacific to the Washington Coast. Among the debris are huge trees felled by rushing rivers from inland stream bank sites and washed out to sea. As they're repeatedly thrown and banged against sand and rocks, their limbs and bark are removed and the wood is sanded smooth by the action of the waves.

The Coastal Strip is within the boundaries of Olympic National Park and lies in the shadow of Mount Olympus, a 7,965-foot-high peak that's roughly 35 miles inland and the recipient of up to 200 inches of annual precipitation (mostly snow). While the rare temperate rain forest on its western slopes receives a "paltry" 140 to 150 inches by comparison, raingear is definitely a necessity.

Trekking in wild country holds different attractions for everyone, but attaining peace and contemplation are high on the list for most folks. There's no better place to pursue such goals than the Coastal Strip, where the relentless pounding of the surf is the only sound that punctuates the utter silence.

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