I like to think of the more archaic definition of truss when I look at the bunches of flowers heaped upon the wide dark green leaves of the rhododendron. That definition describes bundles. You see, the bundles of flowers of the rhododendron are called trusses. It is quite fitting. There’s another definition of truss that comes to mind when I see the pink ruffled blossoms in the forest. This one speaks of being elaborately dressed, in fancy costume. I imagine a teenager heading to her first prom - all arms and legs as she bursts into the room. At once gangly and elegant, growing into the woman she will become. She laughs as she dances in her pink dress, ruffles shivering in the breeze. My heart can’t help but be lifted by her joyous nature.
Washington State’s official flower, the pacific rhododendron, invites our hearts to dance in the stately halls of the cedar, hemlock & douglas-fir forest. Unlike the dense wall-like shrubs of their domestic relatives found in almost every yard in the Pacific Northwest, the wild Rhodies branches stretch through the forest mid-story in search of light between the great conifers. All Rhodies thrive in shaded areas with dappled light, which is why you will sometimes see wild Rhododendrons sometime 20 or more feet tall. The flowers of the Pacific Rhododendron are a soft pink that are in stark contrast to the rough browns of the trees that give them a backdrop. Because of this contrast, many photographers choose compositions with a single blossom or a truss against the trunk of a tree.
To see these beauties up close and close to home, visit four state parks on the northern Olympic Peninsula during their peak season of late April through early June. You will easily understand why the natives of Puget Sound decorated their long houses with these otherwise unusable plants. The only creature that seems to like nibbling on Rhodendrons is the mountain beaver - and my goat Butterfly who could not stay out of my mother’s rhodies even though the made her very, very ill. The light pink flowers can brighten any dull room and amongst the trees they sparkle with a shimmer of joy.
Next travel a short distance to Anderson Lake State Park. While the lake has suffered from a toxic algae bloom and is unsafe to swim in, it is still very pretty spot to sit and contemplate the resilience of nature. Life still swarms along the edges of the lake where reeds and water lilies grow. But to see the pink flowering bushes, you’ll need to travel just a short distance from the lakeshore. Several trails interconnect and encircle the lake adding to the leisurely pace of the park. The best one to see the Rhododendrons and converse with them as they reach out to you along your walk would be the Anderson Trail – approximately 1 ½ miles around the lake. It’s tempting to pick a few flowers to take home, they’re so close to the trail, but please leave them be for others to enjoy including bouncing bumble bees.
Head out to Highway 101 and towards the town of Sequim to our next Rhodie filled park. Miller Peninsula is one of the newer parks for the Washington State Parks Commission and is still considered an undeveloped property. Several volunteer groups, including the Washington Trails Association, have been busy improving the trails for hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders and in recent years a paved parking lot with outhouse and horse ramp have been added. While I have seen wild Rhododendron in all parts of the park, for more intimate views of Rhodies hike along the short parking lot loop trail. You will see pink even before you lock your car and by the end of your walk you will feel as if the joyous pink flowers are your best friends.
Directions from Port Townsend (29 miles between parks):
To Old Fort Townsend - Head south on Highway 20 to Old Fort Townsend Rd and turn left. Follow to the park – trail access is along the road and past the ranger’s quarters near the RV camping area.
To Anderson Lake – Drive back to Highway 20 on Old Fort Townsend Rd and turn left. In 1.5 miles you’ll come to a junction with Highway 19, veer left onto Highway 19. Follow this for 4 miles to Anderson Lake Rd and turn right. The park will be on your right in 2 miles.
To Miller Peninsula – Leave Anderson Lake State Park and turn right, this will take you back to Highway 20. Once there turn left and follow until you reach Highway 101. Turn right towards Sequim and Port Angeles, drive another 8 miles to Diamond Point Rd and turn right. The parking lot is on your left about a mile down the road.
To Sequim Bay – Return to Highway 101 by Diamond Point Rd and turn right. Drive 5 ½ miles to the park located on your right.