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Washington - Nature and Scientific Wonders

Washington - Nature and Scientific Wonders

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On the Olympic Peninsula, the Hoh Rain Forest boasts an intense, verdant spectrum. Ferns and mosses surround and drape ancient cedars in a mysterious world that receives 13 feet of rainfall each year. Day trippers enjoy small doses of the 17.5-mile Hoh River Trail, while overnighters can completely surround themselves with the fauna and flora unique to the region. .

Juniper Dunes National Forest in the south eastern part of the state, has been dubbed "Washington's Sahara." It is a land of rolling dunes accented by western juniper trees, creating a striking image amongst the sand. See a lizard dart out from behind a shrub and listen to the melodic tunes of the meadowlarks. Accessed only by foot, this peaceful area feels a world away.

At Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, in south west Washington, forested walls squeeze the mighty Columbia River, creating a striking corridor and recreational haven. Volcanic Cascade Mountain peaks seemingly protect the Gorge to the north and south. Waterfalls, wind surfer sails and stunning views make it a camera clicking Mecca.

Located on the northern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, Cape Flattery occupies contiguous America's northwestern most point, and is acclaimed as one of the most beautiful spots on the Peninsula. From the newly renovated cedar-planked trail and observation perches catch a glimpse of otters, sea lions, seals and whales. There are also fantastic views of the forbidden Tatoosh Island, the former Makah tribe fishing and whaling camp.

Located on the Long Beach Peninsula to the south, and fronted by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Cape Disappointment State Park is anything but. The park offers 27 miles of ocean beach, two historic lighthouses (the North Head Lighthouse is the oldest active lighthouse on the West Coast), an interpretive center and hiking trails. Visitors can enjoy beachcombing or exploring the area's rich natural and cultural history at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center where a series of mural-sized timeline panels chronicle the Corps of Discovery's epic journey through paintings, sketches, photographs and the words of the explorers themselves.

Powerful geological forces have endowed Washington with many unique and awe-inspiring natural attractions such as the picturesque sea stacks at Ruby Beach, the magnificent cliffs of Dry Falls and the massive ice sheets of Nisqually Glacier.

Other regional geological wonders come in the form of hot springs—mineral rich waters from deep within the earth that some believe offer bathers therapeutic cleansing in pristine surroundings. Find these healthy, healing waters in the Columbia River Gorge as well as the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.

Wildlife enthusiasts will find many opportunities to get up close and personal with animals on land, sea and in the air. See wild salmon and trout return to their native creeks and rivers each fall or visit state and national hatcheries where tours and exhibits explain the life cycle of the fish. Enjoy whale watching in the San Juan Islands, or spot the largest congregation of wintering bald eagles in the contiguous U.S. on the upper Skagit River in the north part of the state. Learn about nature and geological history at Gingko Petrified Forest, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls and the Mount St. Helens Interpretive Center at Silver Lake.

The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, shaped by volcanoes, glaciers and planet Earth's largest flood, boasts a landscape of channeled canyons, marshes, lakes, wetlands and pine forest that offer critical breeding habitat for several species of waterfowl.

Another bird-watching haven, the Great Washington State Birding Trail, has four completed routes—the Olympic Loop to the west, the Coulee Corridor in the central part of the state, the Cascade Loop to the north and Southwest Loop —and three proposed trails. Each of these have designated sites for birders, novice to expert, to spot many of the state's nearly 500 resident and fly-through species.

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