It’s an unpublished secret of fall in the Pacific Northwest. During the summer months, much of the coast is shrouded in fog, veiling the vistas and dampening the skies. But in September and October the air becomes cool and dry. The fog lifts by early morning, and sunshine, and then sunsets, create a setting on the fringe of Western Washington that affirms that Nature will always be the preeminent artist.
One of the most epic notches along the coastline is Kalaloch, Wash. A pristine stretch of beach nestled between two rainforests, Kalaloch lies about an hour and a half north of Aburdeen, inside the Olympic National Park. Last weekend Billy and I drove down the 5, shot right at the 8, and jetted back up north on the 101. We reached Beach 2 of Kalaloch–the only section open to camping this time of year–in a little more than three hours. Intended to be a quick escape from reality, I was hoping for an intense seascape filled with big, beautiful storms quarreling above a raging sea.
Instead, we arrived just in time for the magic–at dusk. Crouched amid the brambles on the edge of the bluff that overlooks the shore, we took it all in: the pastel sky, the blazing sun hanging above the purple rolling waves, lowering ever so slowly toward the wanting horizon. The ancient ocean seemed at peace; the sunset, exotic.
Thousands of tree logs, tumbled and dried into driftwood, are markers of Kalaloch. Washed down to the ocean during massive storms, the logs collect against the bluff about 50 yards from the waves. Their graveyard creates a snarled course down to the shore. There is so much driftwood, in fact, that harvesting and burning it is legal in Kalaloch.
A lazy ocean with silver tongues accompanied our hike the next day. Our destination: the rocks inside the mist, or maybe farther. Halves of sanddollars and hollowed crab shells litter Kalaloch’s soft-sand shore. When we reached the huge crags an hour north of the campground, we posted up and looked out into an infinity cut short by the horizon. It’s easy insert the cliche musings about finding peace and harmony in a natural environment that hearkens back to primitive times. But I’ll just say this, we sought an escape from the concrete labyrinth and car and mental exhaust obligated in a city. And Nature delivered.
The Olympic National Park was sanctioned in 1938, and the area became a World Heritage site in 1981. Kalaloch is part of the Olympic National Marine Sanctuary, allowing for a thriving nesting bird population and the revival of the sea otter nearly eliminated by early fur hunters. If you’re lucky–as we were–you’ll catch a glimpse one of the many bald eagles that inhabit the area. The meaning of the word “Kalaloch” is eluding me in Internet searching, but unlike “Ruby Beach” to the north, “Kalaloch” seems to roll of the tongue to the rhythm of the lapping tide.
By late afternoon Billy and I had become two beach scribes, a rock inspector and wood collector. Driftwood is an elegant dry and makes for a savage flame. We built a roost in the cold sand for the evening, and a tiny fire, enkindled and growing faithfully warm.
And then the glory befell. The colors. Oh god, the colors. The sky turned yellow to orange to pink to purple, wind-brushed, cloud-streaked and with accenting ribbons laced through, at times all punctuated by passing black birds. Each brilliant color sliced another, each lined with gold. The descending sun turned the silver ocean pink then purple then a tumbling, foaming black. The greatest sunset ever created–lasting seemingly centuries, overflowing the heart, soaking us in silent awe.
Sunday afternoon we decided to drive up and around the peninsula and catch the Kingston-Edmonds ferry off the 104, which shoots west of the 101, about an hour southwest of Port Angeles. The beach scene we’d left behind was not fall, not in our minds. It was one more taste of summer before the rain. But the drive to and from proclaimed that fall had arrived. Bursting from the evergreen walls lining the highway were firey reds, yellows and oranges–patches of leaves so stunning that summer surrendered and with it, our homage to autumn.