Kalaloch, Olympic National Park

Kalaloch, Olympic National Park

by | Jan 27, 2022

Kalaloch is a resort area and ranger station on the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula at the mouth of Kalaloch Creek in Olympic National Park, about 24 miles (39 km) southeast of La Push and 19 miles (31 km) north-northwest of Taholah, Washington. The sandy beach at Kalaloch is wide and flat, and even though it is very exposed to the Pacific Ocean, wave energy is mostly dissipated in a wide surf zone making it one of the few good landing places between the Quinault River and Hoh River for dugout canoes historically used by the Quinault people. The name Kalaloch is a corruption of the Quinault term k’-E-le-ok, which means ‘a good landing place’. Kalaloch Creek drains a watershed of 11,120 acres (4,500 ha) and descends over about 8 miles (13 km) from an elevation of 1,050 feet (320 m) to the ocean. Stream discharge is strongly influenced by rainfall during the winter months. Kalaloch Creek is an important anadromous bull trout habitat and the creek mouth can be blocked when a spit forms during intense storms creating a barrier to fish migration. The spit is created by an alongshore current that transports sediment in a net direction of north to south. The current is caused by waves breaking across a surf zone that can attain widths of 1 km (1.6 km) during intense storms. The sediment comes from the erosion of bluffs north of Kalaloch Creek that consist of rocks brought to the coast from the Olympic Mountains by glaciers during the Pleistocene. The rocks are part of the Hoh Formation called turbidites which are basically sandstones and conglomerates, but because they contain many fragments of other rocks geologists refer to them as greywacke. These materials were then further distributed by rivers formed by the melting glaciers and deposited in layers now visible in the sea cliffs. In recent centuries, waves have eroded the cliffs, winnowing the fine materials from the coarse gravels, reshaping and distributing the sediments along the beach so that the upper part of the Kalaloch beach is now mostly coarser gravel and the lower part of the beach is finer sand.

The wide sand beaches of present-day Washington were used as traffic corridors between villages of Southwestern Coast Salish people who lived between the Hoh River and Willapa Bay. In 1774, the first European to document the coast of Washington was Juan Perez who commanded the frigate Santiago. The following year, Don Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra on the Sonora, accompanied by Bruno Heceta and Juan Perez on the Santiago, were exploring the coast and Bodega sent seven men ashore in a small boat to find wood and water but they were killed by a group of Quinault reputedly for the iron on the boat. Heceta and 23 additional men subsequently went ashore and claimed the land for Spain. In 1846, the Oregon Treaty ended the land dispute between American and British claims to the Oregon Country, and in 1889, Washington became a state. In the early 1890s, a man named Brown, in the company of his sons, was reportedly sifting through ruby-colored beach sand at the mouth of ‘Klalops Creek’, now known as Klaloch Creek, which he believed indicated the presence of gold. In the late 1890s, Tom Lawder built a cabin and operated a cannery or fish saltery at the mouth of Kalaloch Creek, and beginning in 1903, Sam Castile opened a post office out of his split board and shake cabin for the fledgling community of Castile with a population of 17. In the mid to late 1920s logging of timber on the Olympic Peninsula flourished and railroads were expanding to transport the logs to seaports. In 1925, Charles W. Becker acquired roughly 40 acres (16 ha) of land at the mouth of Kalaloch Creek and built a residence and lodge and several small wood-frame cabins near the edge of a short bluff overlooking the beach. The first buildings were constructed from milled lumber that washed up on the beach. By 1931, the Olympic Mountains were completely encircled by 375 miles (604 km) of road and a dedication ceremony was held at Kalaloch. In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated 898,000 acres (363,000 ha) of the national forest as Olympic National Park to preserve some of the primeval forests from logging. In 1940, Roosevelt authorized the acquisition of land along 50 miles (80 km) of the coast to be added to the Olympic National Park, but this was not completed until 1953. During World War II, Becker’s property was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard for coastal defense patrols. In 1978, the National Park Service purchased the Becker property and renamed it Kalaloch Lodge, which today is the only remaining coastal resort in the park.

Rocky areas of coastline generally form a favorable habitat for a rich seaweed flora, however, sections with long stretches of wide gently sloping beaches, fine sand, and pounding surf are devoid of seaweed. Instead, a different algal growth occurs in the form of surf diatoms which are particularly abundant along the beaches of Oregon and Washington. At times, the algal growth is so dense that the breaking waves are brown, foam several feet thick can be generated, and thick deposits of diatoms may be left on the beach when the tide recedes. Beaches with the greatest abundance of surf diatoms are generally also the most highly productive Pacific razor clam beaches on the coast. The success of the razor clams can be attributed to the abundant and almost continuously available algal food supply. In turn, the razor clams recycle nutrients used by the diatoms. In particular, the major source of regenerated nitrogen is in the form of ammonium that originates from the metabolic processes of razor clams in the surf environment. Pacific razor clams can be found along the Pacific coast of North America from California to Alaska. They inhabit sandy beaches in the intertidal zone to a depth of about 30 feet (9 m). Pacific razor clams are a highly desirable shellfish species and are collected both commercially and for recreation. Razor clams, like other shellfish, may also accumulate dangerous levels of the marine toxin domoic acid. In 1991, domoic acid contamination of razor clams was first observed on the Washington state coast, and since then some of the highest levels of domoic acid in razor clams have been found at Kalaloch. Domoic acid is produced by a pennate diatom called Pseudo-nitzschia that bloom in coastal waters and are consumed by filter feeders such as razor clams, barnacles, and mussels, as well as Dungeness crab and plankton-eating fishes. Although the accumulation of domoic acid does not appear to harm fish or shellfish but can cause sickness and sometimes death in humans. In 1984, over 95 percent of central Washington coast razor clams died. The mass mortality led to the discovery of a bacterial pathogen known as NIX for nuclear inclusion X. NIX is in the Rickettsia genus that invades the nuclei of host cells and uses them as incubators to complete their lifecycle. NIX is harmless to humans as it targets gill tissue, specifically the gill tissue of razor clams. As NIX reproduces it slowly chokes out its host, eventually leading to massive ruptures in the gill tissue. It is not known whether this pathogen has always affected razor clam populations, but in 2015 nearly 100 percent of Kalaloch Beach razor clams were infected. Immediately after the 1984 die-off, NIX was absent from populations in Oregon and British Columbia but still persists with high densities at Kalaloch. Read more here and here. Explore more of Kalaloch here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2021 (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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