Olympia's Washington State Capitol

… and  Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

A summer holiday in Seattle offers a plethora of joys.   Seattle, the most populous city in the State of Washington in the Pacific Northwest region, has grown in leaps and bounds since the 80s when the technological giants began setting up strong bases here. Well connected through air, water, and land, it is a melting pot of cultures, with people from diverse ethnicities moving here in search of greener pastures literally and otherwise.  There is no dearth of entertainment for nature lovers in this evergreen State, with innumerable daylong trips to the nearby places – Portland, Olympic Peninsula, Idaho, Spokane, Wenatchee, Tacoma, Everett, Bremerton, and more; magnificent views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker, the Cascades ranges, and the Olympic Mountains can be viewed from various spots while on the move.

Intriguingly, despite its iconic location, not Seattle, but Olympia, about 60 miles southwest of Seattle is the capital of the US State of Washington.  Olympia not only boasts of several historic buildings but also has an abundance of scenic spots; it is the cultural center of the ‘Puget Sound,’ which is a coastal region of the Pacific Northwest, characterized by distinguished saltwater bays, islands, peninsulas, estuaries, marshlands… carved out by prehistoric glaciers.

One of the most fascinating spots close to Olympia is the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, primarily known for hiking, wildlife photography, wildlife observation, fishing, environmental education, and infinite fun.   Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually Indian, fisherman, civil rights leader, and a recipient of the President’s Medal was a respected activist and spokesperson for Native American rights.  Frank dedicated his life to ensuring that future generations would continue to have abundant natural resources. Not in vain! This refuge is particularly important for migratory birds besides providing year-long shelter to over 300 species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians that inhabit the woodlands and marshes.  Its distinct habitat includes a riparian forest, freshwater wetlands, an estuary, and open saltwater which provide food and shelter for wildlife.

Mud Flats at Grays Harbor, Nisqually Refuge, Olympia

The sheer diversity of the landscape can be experienced by a leisurely walk on the boardwalk, which promises a mindboggling, humbling experience. The mudflats on the Grays Harbor get flooded at high tide and are among the foremost to be exposed as the tide recedes, twice a day.  Shorebirds aplenty that rested earlier on islands above high water, swoop down over the vast mudflats aka ‘banquet tables,’ where thousands of invertebrates thrive just beneath the mud. As migrants to the Arctic in the Spring and down South again in the Fall, the avians need to fuel up at stopover areas to continue their long journeys.  On most occasions, one can commonly spot plovers, sandpipers, dunlins, bald eagles, cormorants, seagulls, tree swallows, and harbor seals. “Estuaries- where salt and freshwater mix, are some of the most biologically productive ecosystems on the planet, preserving the food chain.”

 My thoughts raced to the Adyar Estuary back home, which had not been cared for sufficiently.

At the lunch tables were signs about the ‘most dangerous’ animal; the sign warned people to keep a distance from the squirrel! Squirrels! Yes, you heard right. They are fearless and ready to charge if provoked.  No exaggeration! While enjoying snacks, people did keep ‘watchful eyes.’

After an extensive boardwalk in the vast idyllic surroundings, the next stopover was Olympia, the capital of Washington.  Located just at the base of the Olympic Peninsula, the city is the gateway to the Olympic National Park and Forest.

We had a three-day sojourn at the Olympic National Park during our earlier trip.

The Washington State Capitol Building with its rich history and architecture is mightily impressive. The Legislative building, which is the home of the government of the State of Washington has chambers for the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and other executive agencies. As it was a Sunday, the chambers were closed; moreover, we reached the place late and missed the conducted tour. We were lucky though to have a relaxed walk inside the four-story building.

Capitol Building, Washington State, Olympia

While entering the vast campus, one cannot miss the lovely Tivoli Fountain, which is a replica of the fountain at Tivoli Park, Copenhagen, which ‘adds beauty to the Washington State Capitol grounds.’ Passing through the vast grounds that lead to the stately buildings, a halt at the veterans’ memorials invokes deep feelings of patriotism and respect for the warriors of a bygone era.

Tivoli Fountain Replica, Olympia)

A remarkably striking feature of the capital grounds is the tall dome that extends about 270 feet, and is said to be among the tallest in the world, surpassed by a few gargantuan structures such as the St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, Vipassana Pagoda, Mumbai and Santa Maria Del Fiore, Florence.   The massive interiors, with a large bust of George Washington, the state seal, Tiffany chandeliers, the marble floors, the large bronze doors, and the granite staircase are breathtakingly remarkable; the iconic chandelier suspended above the rotunda by a lengthy chain with 200+ bulbs is an awesome example of man-made marvels in the building.

Giant Chandelier inside the Washington State Capitol Building

The other imposing buildings in the precincts are the Temple of Justice, Insurance Building, Joh. L O’Brien House Office Building, Joel M Pritchard Building, John A. Cherberg Senate Office Building, and others, whose names, I did not notice.

Our final stopover before tea and snacks was a brief walk alongside the lake in Heritage Park, which offers a spectacular view of the Capitol Building.

A thoroughly enriching and rewarding experience! A must-do for all travelers to the West Coast of the USA.

All images (c) N. Ravi August 2023


More by :  Hema Ravi

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