Hoh Head, Olympic National Park

Hoh Head, Olympic National Park

by | Nov 9, 2021

Hoh Head is a sandstone headland situated 2.3 miles (3.7 km) northwest of the Hoh River in Olympic National Park, about 30 miles (48 km) north-northwest of Taholah and 12 miles (19 km) southeast of La Push, Washington. The Hoh River starts at the terminus of the Hoh Glacier on Mount Olympus in the Olympic Mountains and flows generally west for 56 miles (90 km) descending 7,000 feet (2,134 m) through Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest, then through the coastal foothills to the Pacific Ocean at the Hoh Indian Reservation. The lower river valley is generally broad and relatively flat, causing the glacial sediments to settle out, forming extensive gravel bars, river meanders, and many side channels characteristic of a braided river. Annual precipitation in the valley is 140 to 170 inches (3,600 to 4,300 mm), creating a temperate rainforest of coniferous and deciduous trees. The Hoh people call themselves Chalá·at or Chalat’ meaning ‘People of the southern river’ (Hoh River). According to oral tradition, the ancestors of the tribe were created along the river at the beginning of time by K’wati, the mythical shape-shifter or ‘Transformer’ who made the world as it is today. The Hoh River and headlands like Toleak Point and Hoh Head were also created by K’wati. According to the story, K’wati killed the chief of the wolves and then tried to escape from the other wolves by running along the beach. The wolves followed intending to kill him, but as soon as the wolves were about to overtake K’wati, he struck the ground with a magic comb and a cliff appeared and the wolves were left far behind. When the wolves caught up and were again about to overtake K’wati, he spilled oil on the ground and a river appeared that the wolves could not swim across. K’wati kept going and each time the wolves caught up he would create more cliffs and rivers.

The relatively erodable rocks exposed and forming embayments between the Hoh and Quillayute Rivers are referred to as the Hoh mélange which is not a single definable rock formation but a group of rocks that vary greatly in composition and in geologic age and were formed by both tectonic and sedimentary processes. The rocks of Hoh Head are an erosion-resistant stratigraphic sequence of siltstones, sandstones, and conglomerates and were originally deposited as sediments in a deep-sea basin. The age of these rocks was determined based on fossils of microscopic marine organisms, and larger marine invertebrates such as clams and snails, and indicate an age between the late part of the Eocene to the middle part of the Miocene, or 40 and 20 million years ago. At the base of the headland, the mélange rocks are exposed and form a low-lying saddle between Boulder Bay to the south and Secret Cove to the north. Because these mélange rocks are easily eroded, the relatively resistant main body of Hoh Head will eventually become an offshore rock. Hoh Head, although similar in composition to other sandstone headlands in the area, structurally does not conform to the regional northwest trend, but instead strikes in an east-west direction. Rock strata seen on the south side of Hoh Head are steeply dipping to the north, whereas on the north side they dip steeply to the south indicating that the sandstone strata of Hoh Head have been folded into a small syncline or downwarp. Evidence of this fold can be seen from an end view of the headland, where the structure can be visually traced in stratified rocks exposed on the extreme western end of the head.

In 1775, Captain Bruno de Heceta came ashore near Point Grenville and claimed the country for Spain. The next day, sailors dispatched to get water were killed by the Quinault when they landed on the beach. In 1787, British fur trader Captain Charles William Barkley of the Imperial Eagle, dispatched a boat up the Hoh River to trade with the Natives, but the boat’s crew of six never returned. These first encounters gave the coastal tribes a reputation for fierceness and independence. In 1808, the Russian-American Company schooner Saint Nikolai ran aground during a storm at Rialto Beach near the mouth of the Quillayute River. Tensions between the crew and the local Quileute led to a battle causing the Russians to flee south along the coast to the mouth of the Hoh River where many were taken captive by the Hoh. The captives were exchanged and traded among the coastal tribes, most ending up with the Makah in the Neah Bay area. In 1810, the Lydia commanded by Captain Thomas Brown, an American working for the Russian-American Company, sailed into Neah Bay and ransomed the 13 surviving captives being held by the Makah and returned them to Sitka. In 1855, the Hoh signed the Quinault Treaty and ceded their land to the United States. In 1893, the Hoh Indian Reservation at the mouth of the river was established by an Executive Order of President Grover Cleveland. The reservation consists of 443 acres (179 ha) with about 1 mile (1.6 km) along the ocean south from the river to Ruby Beach. On the north side of the mouth of the Hoh River, across from the Hoh Indian Reservation, the town of Oil City was established in 1911 by Frank W. Johnson and the Olympic Oil Company. Oil drilling operations were conducted by several companies including Milwaukee Oil, Washington Oil, and Jefferson Oil in the surrounding area but no significant commercial oil reserves were found. Today, the Oil City Trail, managed by Olympic National Park, begins on the north side of the mouth of the Hoh River and runs about a mile to the coast, and from there, hikers can access Hoh Head by following the shoreline. Read more here and here. Explore more of Hoh Head here:

About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2022 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

Credit: Professor Ed Hawkins (University of Reading). Click here for more information about the #warmingstripes.

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