The Pacific Northwest

USA – The Pacific Northwest

A landscape of glacier-clad volcanoes, vast forests, wilderness waterways, and jagged mountain ranges, the Pacific Northwest is prime wildlife habitat. There are stunning sights to see, ranging from orcas cruising in the sounds and spawning salmon jostling their way upriver, to black bears foraging for berries.

These natural riches are the cause of considerable conflit between consevationists seeking to preseve and protect them and those who wish to exploit them financially. Visitors will undoubtedly encounter debate on perennial environment issues such as logging, fisheries, and the impact of development on wildlife.

Two of North America’s finest national parks are located in this region: Mount Rainier and Olympic. Both of them are in Washington State, with a few hours’ drive of Seattle.

Mount Rainier rises regally from a shroud of forest in the southwest of the state. The highest peak in the Cascade Range, the mountain is visible from some 200 miles (320 km) away on a clear day.

The mountain dominates Mount Rainier National Park, created in 1899 to protect this magnificent region of old-growth forest, waterfalls, and ice fields. Formed by volcanic eruption that began less than a million years ago, Rainier is a sleeping giant, expected to erupt again within next 500 years. An average of more than 50 feet (15 m) of snow falls each winter on its heavily forested western slope. The eastern slope is much drier and the vegetation sparser.

Three hundred miles (480 km) of trails cover a variety of terrain. The Wonderland Trail, a 93 mile (150 km) loop, circles the mountain’s flanks, passing through alpine meadows and valley forests to give views of 26 glaciers. You are likely to see mountain goats and Roosevelt elk in the high country, but black bears tend to stay hidden. The park supports more than 150 bird species, and 100 wildflower species bloom in its woods and meadows.

Olympic National Park encompasses a 56 mile (97 km) stretch of fog-shrouded coastline plus vast tracts of old-growth forest and glacier-draped mountains. The mountains rise steeply from the shore and Pacific storms dump about 200 inches (5,100 mm) of rain and snow on them annually. Along the coast, Stika spruce and western hemlock dominate the temperate rain forest. As you head inland and the elevation increases, you will find a succession of habitats: lowland forest, mountain forest, sub-alpine forest, and, finally, alpine meadows.

During the ice age, the peninsula was ice-bound, resulting in the evolution of several species that are found nowhere else. These include the snow vole, the Olympic marmot, the Olympic chipmunk, and Flett’s violet.

Most visitors sample Olympic on foot, taking to the hiking trails. The coast is a wonderful place to explore: check out the sea anemones and the crabs in the pools at low ride and look for shorebirds at the water’s edge. Harbor seals are common and you may see a river otter.

Great blue herons stalk in the coastal wetlands, while bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and other raptors soar over higher ground. In summer, alpine wildflowers bloom in profusion.