travelog 11

Tidepools and Pacific Rainforest

This far north we could not find or document any of our favorite plants so we decide to study something else: Tidepools and the Pacific Rainforest. In the state of Washington, more than 60 miles of Pacific Coast and about half of the interior of the Olympic Peninsula belong to the Olympic National Park. Further down south on the coast of Oregon and California one can observe sea life very nicely (along with very interesting plants).

A large part of the coasts of Oregon and California are not yet settled and are now State Parks or State Recreation Areas and the access to the rocky coast shores and the endless long sand beaches are mostly for free. This is not true for the San Francisco area, there you have to pay for everything and anything!

Before you reach the "real" Pacific Rainforest you have to drive through big forest areas, which in one part were recently cut down and look like a hurricane hit. In another area, they clear cut a few years ago and you can already see some flowers and small shrubs that have settled in this area. They afforested another area that will never again reach its original variety. And normally they afforest only because they want to "harvest" again in a few decades. In the Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic National Park grow, among other things, huge specimens of Sitka Spruces (Picaea sitchensis) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).

The biggest ones reach heights of 300 feet and a circumference of 21 feet, but in this dense forest you practically don't realize it. Mosses and ferns hang down from branches and the forest floor and dead trunks are covered with sword fern and thick cushions of mosses.

If an old tree passes away and falls down, it decomposes and becomes nourishment for all different kinds of plants. We were delighted to see that upon the dead trunks many new trees were growing. These new trees have already reached enormous heights and interestingly have grown in a row like birds on a wire! Here the sun very rarely breaks through to the floor of the forest; instead it rains a lot (on an average of 12-15 feet per year) and the atmosphere with a little fog and a misty rain is much more fascinating in this fairy tale forest then it would be with sunshine.

You can find a totally different type of rainforest in northern California. In the Redwood National Park grow the biggest living trees, the Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). They can reach heights of 360 feet, an age of 2200 years and a circumference of 63 feet. Their seed is as little as the one of a tomato and their cone as big as an olive!

In these forests, wild Rhododendrons flower in springtime and are overgrown with mosses, ferns and lichens. There are a few roads that lead through this miraculous forest. They meander around these giants and next to them our Unimog (most of the people we meet, think, it's a monster) appears cute and dwarfed. And if you explore this forest by foot you will realize how small we all are - probably as little as an ant feels between the feet of a human being.

At the coast you can observe different things. The main occupation is called tidepooling. That means "observing life in the little rocky pools that are formed at low tide". You only need a tide table, rubber boots, the right part of the coast and perhaps a book to identify the different creatures. The best thing is to ask at a ranger station for the real good places to do tidepooling. Rocks in the sand look very nice but the sea-creatures cannot adhere to these rocks.

Small pools are formed on certain rocks that at low tide are still filled with seawater; other rocks receive from time to time a little splash of water when a big wave comes in. But there are also rocks which are at low tide totally exposed to the sun and even here exist life that needs seawater to survive. Very often the beaches are covered with driftwood: not with small pieces, but whole trees with their root systems intact, washed ashore from the rainforest.

Signs warn you of the driftwood because at high tide it can be catapulted on the beach and people have actually been harmed and even killed. In the cold water of the Pacific Ocean grow large kelp forests and you can always see some specimens that were washed ashore. In the morning the coast is covered with a foggy mist, the seastacks raise mysteriously out of the haze and the sun sends delicate silvery stripes through clouds and coast forests.

The rocks are covered with Sea Palms, Feather Boa Kelp, algae, sea lettuce and other different sea- and rock-weeds. Mussels, snails and barnacles, which land in Spain as a delicacy on your plate, live on the bare rock. Colorful sea stars (Ochre Sea Star) that wait for the return of the high tide stick in crevices and in shady places. Small fish, crabs and giant green anemones (Anthopleura xanthogrammica) live in the still water-filled pools. There are also smaller pink colored anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima), which propagate by contracting the center of their bodies to form new animals. So, whenever you see them, you will see big colonies. If the anemones are exposed too long to the air, they will draw together into insignificant, brown, slimy things which open again when the tide returns.

Unfortunately, the time of low tide is always very short and the flood tide raises amazingly fast. Then, the ocean foams, big waves roll on the beach, splashes of seawater are everywhere and you have to take care that you don't get stranded from the mainland on an isolated rock.

The further south you travel the more the vegetation along the coast changes. We find again our favorite plants and we are always astonished at how they can withstand the seawater in the air. Sedum and Dudleya grow most of the time high and inaccessible in the cliffs where they are still exposed to the migrating foam.

We find wonderful white and farinaceous specimens that gleam for a long distance in the cliffs. Also the animal life changes a little bit. We can observe sea lions and seals and also the cute sea otters which either stick out of the water with all fours, enjoying the sun as they float on the water or scratch themselves while doing somersaults in the water.

Time passes in this way very quickly without the normal plant search and we are very enthusiastic that we can now, the more we drive south, combine tidepooling and looking for plants!

September 1998

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen