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(All photos and scan by me. In Lightbox...click to enlarge)
The coastline of the Pacific Northwest is one of the most dynamic and changing in the world, due to rough weather, strong currents, and giant surf. It's also along a line of collision between tectonic plates, jumbling and twisting a mix of solid bedrock into sharp stacks, loose stones and weird formations.
To see the evidence of all this violent activity, you have to hike along the shore some distance, your only route with the open ocean on one side and impenetrable temperate rainforest on the other. There are only a few points of access along this coast, which belongs mostly to Olympic National Park.
Hole-in-the-Wall is a remarkable rock formation in many ways. Let me show you signs of the dynamic action acting on it. Do not be misled by the calm quiet day. We are catching it "asleep" for this moment.
It's a two-mile walk down Rialto Beach before we come to the harder bedrock that makes up the headland at this end, protruding out into the ocean. It's only relatively hard though. The relentless pounding of surf has eroded inland, leaving seastacks like tall strangely-shaped islands near the beach, and has carved holes right through solid rock. You can see by the size of my scale-figure (Mr O) what kind of waves blasted this arch through bedrock.
(rocks, wrecks and more below the fold...)
The changes here are a kind of history, different events playing out in hours or years or decades or centuries or millennia. I've seen changes within my own lifetime. Fifty years ago, my father was photographed in this same spot. A great deal of my love for the outdoors, and my confidence there, comes from adventures out in nature, including all the winter multi-day wilderness hiking trips our family went on, preferably in the rain, as far back as I can remember!
Compare the shape of Hole-in-the-Wall in these two photos taken half a century apart. Notice the big boulders on the ground in the current photo? They have fallen in the intervening decades. This bedrock has little structural integrity. It's composed of various different masses jammed together by tectonic crushing.
A close look at the edge of this arch shows how the rock was literally twisted and folded, in a plastic state. Big cracks are places of weakness too.
It's low tide, so we can walk through Hole-in-the-Wall. Otherwise this would be the limit of our walk. Climbing over headlands in this wilderness is risky: very easy to get lost. Looking back toward the Hole, there's both sandy beach and bedrock to walk along. One section of bedrock appears flat, but it's actually layer upon layer of sedimentary rock tipped nearly sideways, alternating colors and hardness evident in how the layers have eroded.
Deposits of beach stones, rounded by rolling surf, rest temporarily on the beach, waiting for the next high tide. Why the wide range of colors and shapes? The tectonically jumbled mass of bedrock of the Olympic peninsula, a series of land masses accreted onto the continent over millions of years, has formed a "melange" here. Many rock types, so many different kinds of stones.
Over different time scales, other things have washed up on this beach. For the last few centuries, ships have sailed these rough unpredictable waters, and many have wrecked upon these shores, usually in winter storms. Rocks and shoals become invisible and unavoidable in gale winds and giant surf. The Pacific Northwest is known as the Graveyard of the Pacific. In the winter of 1893 a wooden sailing ship, the Leonore
, wrecked right here during a bad storm. We think these iron fittings are all that's left of the Leonore
. Possibly chain-plates? Any readers familiar with ships from that era have any thoughts on what these pieces are? (there are other shipwreck pieces in this area too, but they are steel, and from more modern vessels, and not as interesting to me.)
Heading back, we can see some other bedrock at the base of the headland, scoured and smoothed by centuries of surf. The different colors tell a story of what happened to this sedimentary rock that was once a series of straight layers. It's been twisted and cracked, chunks inserted, and even partially remelted. Tortured rock, apparently unmoving to our eyes, but remember: the forces that created these weird shapes are still at work right now. Just because our lives are so short we can't see it doesn't mean it's not happening.
Time to return, back through what is temporarily a hole in the wall. One day as this cliff continues to break apart, we may see a seastack here, and then boulders, and then stones and sand. It will be different, certainly.
Last photo is walking along the beach back to the car at sunset. These beautiful waves and stormy sky are a little reminder of some of the powerful forces at work along this coast.