A few summers ago, my family visited Ruby Beach, in the Kalaloch area of the Olympic National Park for the first time, located about sixty miles north of our final destination, Pacific Beach. At the time, it felt like a concession; I’d hoped to continue south to my then favorite: Cannon Beach, which would have required an additional six hours of driving, roundtrip.
We followed Highway 101 south, exited onto Ruby Beach Road and continued on it for two-tenths of a mile, parked, then walked down a fern-lined path to the beach. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I’d ever seen. I’m a sucker for the large rock outcroppings called stacks or sea stacks. A USDA brochure about these geological formations explains how they are formed, “As waves approach the shore, the are refracted nearly parallel to shore so that wave energy is concentrated on headlands. Rocky cliffs develop on the headlands and sand is deposited in the bays, forming beaches. Through this process of erosion and deposition, an irregularly shaped coastline will be gradually straightened. In the cliffs that form the headlands there are areas that are more fractured or have inclusions of softer rocks. Breaking waves exploit the fractures by pounding them with loose pebbles and forcing air into them. Wave action will erode weak areas more quickly, isolating outcrops of more resistant rocks to make sea stacks…[a place that] consists of mixed sedimentary and volcanic rocks that have some shear fractures. The heterogeneity of these rocks makes them prone to developing sea stacks.”
Once we reached the beach, which has an extremely flat slope and extends for miles, we understood the existence of the Tsunami Hazard Zone sign near the intersection of Highway 101 and Ruby Beach Road.
According information on a National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP) for the Quileaute area, as the crow flies, about 20 miles north, “The phenomenon we call “tsunami” (soo-NAH-mee) is a series of traveling ocean waves of extremely long length generated by disturbances associated primarily with earthquakes occurring below or near the ocean floor. Underwater volcanic eruptions and landslides can also generate tsunamis. In the deep ocean, their length from wave crest to wave crest may be a hundred miles or more but with a wave height of only a few feet or less. They cannot be felt aboard ships nor can they be seen from the air in the open ocean. In deep water, the waves may reach speeds exceeding 500 miles per hour.” The NTHMP found specifically, a model of two scenarios–both based on a 9.1 magnitude earthquake with a tide height of +4.0 feet, a tsunami produced by such event would arrive at the Quileaute area about 30 minutes afterwards. The graph “Elevation time history of tsunami waves in open water off the Quileute” indicates a maximum wave amplitude of ten to fourteen feet along the shoreline. That wouldn’t give a person a lot of time, so the sign reminders are a good reminder of the potential danger of earthquake-causing tsunamis.
After leaving the always crowded parking lot, I forgot about tsunamis and headed to the beach. In spite of the number of visitors we could see, it didn’t seem crowded because there was so much to do and so much space. There were plenty of driftwood logs to walk on, the Cedar Creek to cross or swim in, the right kind of sand for building castles, waves to watch and sea stacks to observe or climb.
Unfortunately, the tide was too high to access the largest one. I realized afterwards that I’d taken few photos, but it didn’t matter because I was hooked on this place and knew we’d be back and were, the following August. Most recently, we visited in June of 2017.
The weather has been great every time as have been the views, from any place at any angle. During subsequent trips, we purposely arrived near low tide, which allowed us to venture out to the tallest sea stack and checked out the shorter sea stacks, which lie to the south. At low tide, we observed small to medium size Giant green anemones Anthopleura xanthogrammica, which, according to Invertebrates of the Salish sea, “is one of the largest species of anemone in the world,” “can get to 30 cm in diameter [12 inches],” “are vividly green if they are exposed to bright sunlight…[which] can be attributed to green pigment in the anemone epidermis and to symbiotic algae that live in the tissues that line the gut.” A smaller, pink tipped anemone, the Aggregating anemone Anthopleura elegantissima reminded me of home. These are common at Deception Pass State Park’s Rosario Tidepools. The Salish Sea site says that they “Can be found either in dense populations or solitary, on rock walls, boulders, or pilings from between high- and low-tide lines to low-tide line.”
Another creature we encountered was crabs, two types, a Hairy hermit crab Pagurus hirsutiusculus and some species of kelp crab. The tide pools (such as they are) add some excitement to an otherwise (high tide) sea stack viewing trip, but there are better placed to see creatures, especially Salt Creek Recreation Area in Port Angeles.
On each of the three trips we’ve taken to my favorite sea stack viewing beach, we spent about an hour before continuing on our way to Pacific Beach. I plan to return again and again, likely during low tide. I’m not sure that my photos did this beach justice, but John Fowler’s sure did. My advice: June is a good time to go because it’s when the lowest daytime tides occur during the year, but any time during low tide would be good.