Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Largest Sitka Spruce Tree—When a Little Side Trip on Vacation is a Big Deal

A few weeks ago, my husband and I flew to Seattle to visit friends and to once again experience that beautiful part of the country. We’ve been there often; it’s the antithesis of our flat mid-western state. The mountains, the ocean, the forests are glorious and it is always good to see friends. This year our friends joined us for a trip along the Olympic Peninsula coastline where we stopped at places like Ocean City and Ruby Beaches. 
Ruby Beach, Washington

Before this trip, I didn't know much about the area so I was delighted to see its beauty and diversity firsthand. Two peninsula counties, Clallam and Jefferson, boast 400 miles of saltwater shoreline which offer movie-grade Pacific vistas all along the drive. The Hoh Rainforest (12-14 feet of rain/year) is just off Highway 101 near Forks, WA, setting of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight Saga Book Series.  We stayed overnight at the Lake Quinault Lodge, a short drive off the highway. The lodge is the kind of place in which romance novels—or horror films (think Lake Placid) are set.  Also, there are several easy pre-dinner forest hikes available on the south side of the lodge if you can tear yourself away from looking out over the romantically ethereal Quinault Lake. 

Friends on Vacation

As we approached the turn-off to Lake Quinault Lodge, we started seeing signs pointing us toward the World’s Largest Spruce Tree. I was instantly reminded of childhood vacations when we would stop and visit such attractions:  the giant cow sculpture, in the Wisconsin Dells, for instance. My favorite, and the one image that has stayed with me over the years, is the world’s highest tide. On a camping trip in Canada, when I was eight, my father got the family up at 4 AM to drive to a spot ideal for seeing the tide scream into the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. The Bay of Fundy is known for its high tidal range—17 meters (55.8 feet). For that much water to get into and out of the bay area twice a day it has to be moving very fast. It's something you never forget.

On our Olympic Peninsula vacation, we just had to stop and see the largest Sitka Spruce Tree in the world. A tree or a tide or a canyon or any natural phenomenon that can boast it is the largest of its kind, is a must-see! This 1,000 year old tree measures 58 feet, 11 inches around and is 191 feet high. I found it hard to wrap my head around the fact that we humans, as ravenously consuming and insatiable creatures, have allowed this living organism to stand for so long. 
Our Friend Tom Demonstrating the Size of This Tree

The amazing thing is that this rainforest area is home, to not just the world’s largest Sitka spruce, but also to five other conifer trees which according to the National Forestry Association, are also champions—the largest specimens of their species: Western Red Cedar, Yellow Cedar, Mountain Hemlock, Western Hemlock and the Douglas Fir. Unfortunately . . . or perhaps fortunately . . . we couldn’t see them all on our short trip.  We'll just have to go there again some day.

Most of my time is spent indoors sitting in front of a computer. Seeing a roaring tide come in, or seeing the world’s largest Sitka Spruce in its natural environment--and not in a tree museum--is nothing short of a spiritual experience, rare and precious; something a child on vacation can’t forget, and something this grownup doesn't want to forget.