Olympus, where the word ‘Olympic’ derives is the name for the highest mountain in Greece and the mountain which early Greeks believed to be the home of their gods. Residents of the area around what is today Olympic National Park traditionally referred to the area as a gift from the sea. And if you look at its features, it certainly is some gift! It’s a huge piece of ground which contains three distinct ecosystems inside an almost circular mountain range. No less than 13 rivers radiate from the mountain range.
Picture all of this in your mind’s eye, remembering that most of its features were indeed formed by the sea – the massive rocks, many of which still have marine fossils embedded in them – come from under the ocean. The basalt in the rock faces originates from undersea volcanic explosions. Archaeologists explain that this miraculous-seeming environment came about with movements in the oceanic plates about 30 million years ago. Glaciers which were probably about one mile thick became the tools that sculpted the environment with such drama and complete beauty.
But further to these geological evolutions, Ice Age isolation led to some animal plants and species evolving only in this part of the planet – and these include the Olympic mountain milkvetch, a plant which has oblong hairy leaves and greenish white and purple-veined petals; the Olympic Mazama pocket gopher, which looks like a mixture between a mole and a chipmunk and grows to a maximum of six inches in length; and the Olympic Beardlee trout, known to locals as “blue backs”, among others.
When you visit the park, you will see lots of mountain goats – those amazing creatures which are capable of trotting up the side of a sheer face of rock with seemingly no support or footholds. Curiously, the mountain goats are not native to the area. They were introduced here in the 1920s, before the park was officially formalized. But their population exploded in the area, and in 1981, attempts were made to thin the goat count a bit. Olympic National Park in Washington State - Photo: mheston/Fotolia
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