Gem of the Sea: Ruby Beach

Being more of a mountain girl, I only go to the beach once or twice a year. But my favorite beach since childhood is Ruby Beach, about half way or so up the western shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. When I saw that there is to be a (much-needed) parking area rehab this summer (hopefully including new toilets), and that the beach would be closed for three months starting possibly in May, I decided I needed to make my visit early in the season.

It doesn’t have to be good weather at the coast (it’s not a fun-in-the-sun kind of beach), but I do prefer it not be pouring rain, so when a “partly sunny” morning on Wednesday—in the midst of “mostly cloudy”/rainy days—held constant in the forecast, I went for it.

In my childhood, we hunkered down among the drift logs, protected from the wind, built a fire, and roasted hotdogs. (And, yes, the photo below is definitely posed; there is no fire! Odd.) We built forts and looked at sea stars and anemone in the sea stack tide pools at low tide. We walked on logs, from one to another, and floated on logs in the creek (my children and niece shown below; and the last time I took my mother to Ruby). When we were older, we searched for the roundest stones, which my father measured with calipers and mathematical shenanigans to determine the winner. We did not play in the surf. For one thing, it’s frigid; for another there’s a strong riptide in these parts.

Rain is predicted for late morning, so I leave early and am on the road with latte by 6:15. I discover the McDonald’s in Hoquiam doesn’t open until 8 for my usual bathroom stop (what is up with that?), so I have to detour over to the Lake Quinault Historic Lodge before the last forty-five-minute drive to the beach. I’m in and out; I’ll be back.

There are just three cars in the parking lot. It’s a smallish beach, so when the lot is full, I don’t even want to be here. I had stopped at the Kalaloch beach lodge to check the tide table, to see if I wanted to hike down to Beach 4 where there are great opportunities for sea life at low tide, and no access to the beach at all at high tide. The tide is incoming; in fact, just a couple hours from the high mark. I don’t stop.

I hike down the trail to Ruby, noting at the overlooks that the drift log count is low, and the logs look new. Not tumbled smooth yet, not grey with age, or maybe just waterlogged. I heard it was a stormy winter, and my forest hike* on the other side of the peninsula three weeks ago bore that out. Last spring, there were fewer logs than I ever remember seeing here. There are more now, though not the prodigious count there some years is.

It’s a spectacular sparkling morning and I feel lucky to be alive and to live so close to this beautiful place.

I don’t stay long. With the high tide and the early season, the creek is running deep and high. There is no way across to access the long stretch of sandy beach to the north. At low tide, the creek can be walked across where it stretches shallow before it meets the sea. Later in the summer, when the snowmelt slows and the water is languid, visitors will build bridges, from simple to elaborate, with each outgoing tide. But not today. I walk south, which I rarely do, across the stony beach. But high tide is up against the headland not far beyond. I build a cairn (fourteen tall!), then head back to the trail and up to the car. The sky is beginning to darken inland.

I return to Lake Quinualt as it starts to rain, where I sit by the fire with my lunch and a notebook for an hour. Shortly after noon, I’m heading home. It rains almost the whole way, and is pouring when I get back to town and dash into the grocery store. A golden half day.

If the construction is complete, I’ll return in September. Until then, it’s the mountains for me.

* Read about my adventure at Big Creek on the other side of the peninsula here.

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16 thoughts on “Gem of the Sea: Ruby Beach

  1. I love your description of this adventure and how you connect your present experience with your family history. And the photos are exquisite – helps me to get a feel for this beloved beach. Perhaps one day I will be able to walk in this sand and build a cairn, too. Makes me want to head to the beaches of Lake Michigan to see what stone people live there and what stories they have to share. Thanks Gretchen. May you have many more adventures to share with us. Much love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh what a marvelous day, or half day, good job on getting ahead of the rain. Those keyhole shots of sky and sea on the other side of rock are wonderful. They remind of the Japanese way of creating low doorways to gardens or viewpoints so that you have to bow to cross the threshold. And well, I’ve never seen such perfect cairn building materials. 14!! So wonderful to be able to trace your family steps in so many ways, and how you are grabbing onto the best ones.

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  3. Oh those photos! we have got to get up there soon, Gretchen. Last time we visited Gilbert’s sister in Seattle, we drove to Whidbey Island, but never made it to the Olympic Peninsula. I remember so well our visits there with you and our parents. The beauty endures.

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  4. I could not love those round rocks more! My Dad had that same engineer/mathematician mind and I can imagine him doing something similar. You have such a rich history in the PNW and it means a lot that you embraced and grew your own sense of adventure from these early experiences. I’m dying to know who is the standing champ of the circle stones. Is it you? 

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    1. The round flat rocks make for great stacking! I have no idea who won these contests. The sheets that are with the calipers and pot of stones were a late contest with Rebecca and her then husband. Somewhat surprisingly, no other measurement sheets have turned up in the house excavation. Probably I was NOT the champion, I doubt I had the patience for the hunt for long. Nor was my perfectionism honed back then.

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  5. You are such a marvelous adventurer, Gretchen. Always learn something reading your blog. This time I learned about the closing of Ruby Beach this summer. And always you do such a good job of taking us in hand by your incredible photos! Keep Trekking, Ann


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