Feature: The rebirth of the Elwha River in Olympic NP

The Elwha River starts at Dodwell-Rixon Pass, a high crack in Washington’s Olympic Mountains. There, a hiker who crossed would find the Elwha Snowfinger, formed by heavy winter storms and the avalanches that pour off the surrounding mountainsides. Wedged into a steep-walled gully, it forms the upper reaches of the Elwha basin. If the hiker followed this snow down, eventually she’d find a stream, and that stream would widen and become the Elwha River.

As she traveled down, as more streams joined its flow, she would find one of those messy rivers that characterize the Pacific Northwest: Wide, braided channels, scattered with logs and boulders, gravel bars strewn with detritus, a sense of a landscape half-finished. Then the river would round a corner and flow out into an area of high gravel banks stretching on for yards, dozens of feet above the water. These are what’s left of Lake Mills, one of two reservoirs that once trapped the Elwha.

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