It was raining in the rain forest, as was to be expected, and several backpackers disappeared into the dense primeval wilderness, some for as long as two weeks of camping in the downpour.
"Washingtonians do everything in the rain. Camping out is no exception," observed Mike Hamblen, 29, National Park Service naturalist in the Hoh Rain Forest.
Hamblen looks like a leprechaun - if there ever was a man who looked as if he belonged in the Hoh, it is he. He puffed continuously on his pipe during his steady output of information about Olympic National Park's rain forest, where he lives and works.
"It's the athlete's foot that gives us rangers in the Hoh the most trouble. Not the rain. We're accustomed to the rain - 200 inches a year on 7,965-foot Mt. Olympus, nearly 150 inches a year down her in the valley," said Hamblen.
"Fungus of all kinds grows profusely in the Hoh, especially in and around the rangers' toes," the ranger chortled in his pixieish manner. Hamblen said he has hiked along a trail "solely on the nourishment provided by the rain forest." That was ovbious as we munched our way along the sodden pathway. The oxalis leaves tasted like tart apples. One of the mushrooms had the flavor of an oyster.
"Now take these fiddleheads," the ranger interrupted, pointing out a flurry of unfurling fern fronds. "A delicacy baked or fried in butter. I enjoy a dish of fiddleheads best with spruceneedle tea."
Limbs of towering Sitka spruce, hemlocks and maples were draped with heavy moss. The ground was a blanket of moss, flowering plants, herbs, ferns, mushrooms, liverworts, skunk cabbage, huckleberries and a myriad of other plants, lichens and fungi. A small party of Japanese on a Pacific Northwest visit trudged determinedly through the rain.
"See how they have their eyes glued to the ground. They're looking for the eyeteeth of an Olympic elk," said the leprechaun in ranger's clothing. "Orientals come here in a steady stream. They know 8,000 to 10,000 Olympic elk roam the National Park unmolested. Many return home spreading the word that the eyeteeth of elk can be found in America in the Hoh. "I don't see how they could ever find elk eyeteeth in this dense growth," the rainger mused.
Why do they look? Hamblen was asked.
"Haven't you heard? Not for watch fobs, mind you," the ranger replied. "Ground-up elk teeth are supposed to have the same aphrodisiac powers as rhino teeth."
It was President Theodore Roosevelt who set aside much of the Olympic Peninsula as a national monumnet in 1909 to protect the Olympic elk. The animals were being massacred just for their eyeteeth to make watch fobs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the park's status from monument to national park in 1938.
Ranger Hamblen spoke of the great Hoh Rain Forest controversy: hallucinogenic mushrooms - whether it is legal or illegal to gather them.
"Halluciogenic mushrooms grow on elk droppings. The mushrooms are not easy to find in the dense forest. But every September and October people come here to hunt for them.
"We know who finds the mushrooms because we see the searchers wandering about the forest with big frozen smiles on their faces. They are a harmless group, but the controversy is, should the National Park Service permit such goings-on?"
On his trek through the rain forest, Ranger Hamblen pointed out scores of huge trees standing on root stilts protruding several feet out of the ground. Hundreds of smaller trees were growing out of logs.
"The growth is so thick on the floor of the forest, the only way trees can reproduce is on fallen stumps knows as nurse logs," the ranger explained. "The falleng logs rot away after the passage of many years, leaving the stilt-like roots standing above the ground as the trees' foundation."
The forest was incredibly quiet.
"Yet it was the sounds of the rain forest that scared the Indians from penetrating too deep," Hamblen noted. "When giant trees are blown down by fierce winds it sounds like huge bombs bursting in the Hoh.
"Indians believed this was the home of the Thunderbird god. When huge blocks of ice would break off from the 60 active volcanoes in the national park, the Indians believed the roar of the breaking ice was the Thunderbird god hurling chunks of ice at them.
The hike through the rain forest ended where it began, at the Hoh Visitors Center.
"I've got to run," said Hamblen as he vanished into a green canopy of moss to make sure that the party of Japanese elk-eyetooth searchers did not stray from the trail. If they did, there was plenty of nourishment to sustain them and maybe a few mushrooms to put a smile on their faces.