Life Sustained by The Kalaloch Tree
I came across the Kalaloch Tree from an article, 15 Places in Washington You Need to See Before You Die, which was one of the inspirations to motivate my Washington Adventures. I had never been to this part of western Washington before, which is regrettable because it is breathtaking. The drive from Seattle to the Kalaloch area in Olympic National Park is about 3 hours and the path Google recommended involved diverging off of I-5 South along various roads like Wynoochee, Wishkah, and Hoquaim. It made for a beautiful route with winding roads through thick evergreens and open fields.
It was a tantalizing sight to reach the final stretch, aptly named Kalaloch road, and see brief peeks of the blue and frothy white ocean through the trees. I parked my car at the Kalaloch Lodge, an accommodation that hosts cabins right along the beach, and breathed in the salt air. I would definitely consider staying at the lodge, the amenities look great and the location is perfect. It was also a very exciting introduction as when I arrived, toilets and tap water were unavailable. That isn't the standard by any means, turns out the electrical company had crossed a line and it would take several hours before such necessities could be used. Thankfully I didn't need to pee (or the other duty) and had brought a water bottle. The staff were very friendly, provided cartons of water for everyone, and actually came to my personal aid when I was in dire need.
I was excited to see this tree of life, an ecological wonder, made all the more amazing by the beach and the vast neighboring ocean. There is little that brings me such joy as when I've got feet in the sand, fresh salt air to breathe, sea shells to collect, and drift wood to straddle.
So, my dire need. I entered the beach by passing a quaint white gazebo and took some precarious drift wood steps down to the sand. I had read the tree was north of the lodge by about a 1/2 mile, but I soon found myself meeting a thigh deep river that extended from the sea into a small lake. There weren't rocks along the perimeter to journey across and I wasn't quite ready to wade through the water. Then to make matters a tad more challenging, I looked at my phone and discovered I had 5% life left.
I have another phone recommendation you probably don't need (you can see Conquering the Irish Mountain for my first), charge your phone in full before you begin your drive even if you have a charger in your car (and bring the power adapter, not just the USB cord). Now I was at a slightly greater disadvantage (of my own doing) because my phone is ancient and perpetually feeble from dropping it every day. But had I been better prepared the stress would not have been so great...and it got a little worse in the coming hours.
After realizing I didn't have the vital adapter I visited the welcome desk of the lodge and embarrassingly asked if they had a charger I could borrow. Unfortunately they didn't, but they kindly offered to charge my phone from their computer. So as I waited, I took the opportunity to sit near the fire, attempt to relax my stress away, and read of the history of this interesting place.
What is this tree?
There is no official name, but locals and visitors alike have identified it as the Tree Root Cave, Kalaloch Tree, or my personal favorite, the Tree of Life. Kalaloch means “a good place to land” in the Quinault language.
As I mentioned before, it is an ecological wonder. Over the many years it has existed the soil beneath has eroded away to reveal its knotted twisted roots. I couldn't help but question their strength as so much of the tree is exposed, but they manage to keep a solid position despite the void beneath. The cave is deep enough to stand directly under and allows you to see the texture of every root, details typically hidden from sight. Sure, you’ll come across trees that have a few roots that have broken the surface, but the scale of this revealing Sitka spruce tree, looming 40 feet above you, is truly impressive.
To see the tree most quickly, I would recommend driving a little further passed the main accommodation to the Kalaloch campground's paved parking area. Take a right once you’ve taken the trail steps down and after a few minutes’ walk you will come to the tree. It's too bad yours truly didn't think to start that way. I received this info from the staff and decided to walk down the road from the lodge into the campground's trail to the beach (a viable option, though more time consuming, with a wooden bridge and blockaded side walk) . It meant for a greater distance to cover, which was pretty wonderful as I traversed the driftwood with the ocean yards away. I was very proud of my dexterity. No bruises.
About 10 minutes later I came upon the tree. THE TREE.
The impression I got seeing pictures online, which were amazing, paled in comparison to the real sight. Looking upon it calmed my body and mind, eased my thoughts into a gentle rhythm instead of the usual cacophony. It was its massiveness contrasted with its seemingly fragile state that made me stop and appreciate the grace of this nature. I captured one photo and then my phone died. Again.
Here was a critical moment with two options.
1. Accept that I no longer had means to capture photographs
2. Make my way back to the lodge (like run) to my car, plug in my phone to charge as I drive to the parking lot, and pray I can acquire enough life to capture just a few more photos before the sun set completely.
I chose option #2. I sprinted down the beach, panicked for a brief few minutes because I couldn’t find the trail to the campsite, then made my way to my car. I was sweaty, disheveled and perturbed that I put myself in this position. But it was worth it.
I stayed through sunset and marveled at the way the water reflected the fading light. It was an amazingly smooth transition that seemed to make time slow down. After my phone died, I made sure to read all the textures I could so as not to forget any detail. I’ve been told that constantly taking photos keeps you from remembering the experience as well because you’re not devoting the time for your memory to really define the surroundings. Having spent the last hour or so running around like an idiot and stressing over losing my chance to immortalize the experience, I thankfully recognized the necessity of just being. I reveled in my existence here along the Pacific Ocean.
It is definitely a place in Washington worth visiting before you die. I wish you all the time in the world as it is truly a wonder to behold.