Sunday, September 16, 2007

Mount Rainier Trip; Sept. 14-16, 2007

This past three-day weekend turned into a lovely getaway to Mount Rainier National Park!

Day 1. We left Portland in the morning and reached the park in mid-afternoon. We stayed at the Gateway Inn, a collection of cabins just outside the Longmire entrance to the Park. JUST outside. Literally. Maybe 50 yards or so away.

In this picture--taken on Day 2-- you can see that the cabins were rustic and very clean. Shiny, even.

The decor was a bit... eclectic. See below image in which, if you're careful, you'll find at least 9 different prints, patterns, or styles of decor. We liked it, though-- it added to the charm, and the price was right.

After we got settled, we did some exploring. Here's a gorgeous waterfall just off the road above Longmire. Note the turquoise color of the water, caused by glacial dust and sediment from the glaciers only a mile or two up the mountain:

We headed up to Paradise, hoping for some incredible views of the mountain. It wasn't long before we go our wish! Some people took this photo of us, just below the Paradise road.

The weather was interesting-- down at our cabins, everything was socked in with fog. But as we drove up the mountain, the fog faded and suddenly Mount Ranier loomed before us, lit up with full sun. Very cool.

Here are some views from our first hike, a 1.6 mile, late afternoon climb to a gorgeous waterfall in the upper meadows, just below the snowfields. Thanks to a long, cool spring and a late summer, many wildflowers were still in bloom. That, combined with the autumn colors of huckleberry, maple, and alder made for gorgeousness at every turn:

Right around the time we reached the terminus of our hike, the fog started rolling up the mountain (figure that one out!) and so we started down. Here I am, with the fog in the background and a series of glaciated peaks and arettes that Bill called 'Mordor.'

Here's a view of the trees through the ascending fog....

On our way off the mountain (I was driving), I screeched to a halt when Bill started yelling about maybe spotting a wolverine. What he saw was even cooler: a fox, splendid in black and grey. The little canine sat and watched us for a moment before taking off. It turns out that this was a red fox, showing a startling variation in color. It's the first fox I've ever seen in the wild-- a wonderful moment!

We had dinner at the really funky diner in Elbe, Washington. The diner is located inside a train dining car, with the bar in an adjacent club car. A string of nearby cabooses are a hotel (called the "Hobo Inn.")

Day Two. We drove toward the east side of the park, stopping to see the mountain's reflection in Reflection Lake. Clever name.

We stopped at several falls and streams. In the image below, you can see that this water appears a milky beige; this is because of glacial "flour" in the water.

We drove all the way east to the Ohanapekosh campground, hoping then to head east and drive up to Sunrise, the northweastern visitor center and the highest drivable place in the park. Alas, the torrential rains and flooding from the fall of 2006 had washed out multiple places in the road-- including one 60-foot stretch that fell away to form an 80-foot deep canyon. Needless to say, we had to turn around. Above you can see Xena (Warrior Car) reentering the park through the southeast gate near Ohanapekosh.

After touring around, we stopped at an amazing hairpin turnout that we'd stopped at several years ago when we visited. Bill brewed up a pot of coffee and got out our camping chairs and I laid out a picnic....

... and we enjoyed lunch from what we believe to be the best view of Mount Ranier in the park! Seriously, there's a sheer mountain on one side, a thousand-foot or so drop into Stevens Canyon on the other, and Mt. Rainier filling the sky. What could be better?

Here's a view, looking at the road on the other side of the canyon, and showing two of the major landslides from the winter before:

(And yes, we drove along that road.... Scary....)

After lunch, we drove back up to Paradise-- once again driving into heavy, wet fog, and then breaking through into sunshine. Bill wanted to do some hard hiking (my knee still isn't 100%), so he took off for a quick sprint up the Glacier Vista Trail, while I walked up Alta Vista about 1/2 mile and took some photos:

As I waited for Bill to return from his hike, the fog once again rolled in.

Below is a shot of the Sun, obscured by waves of fog. (Note: never look through a camera lens at the Sun, or for that matter, straight at the Sun! This was safe only because of the dense fog.)

We splurged on dinner at the Longmire National Park Lodge. It was a wonderful meal.

Day 3. We went back to the Longmire Lodge for a small breakfast, that drove up the old Westside Road-- mostly closed by the floods. I was hoping to see a bear. We didn't find any, but we did see a spotted owl, which is considered an "uncommon to rare" bird sighting in the park. So that was cool. (It happened too fast to get a photo.)

We also stopped to take a couple of pictures of the devastation from the 2006 floods. Much of the park's road system and one entire campground were destroyed. Only the work of dedicated crews and a phenomenal outpouring of volunteer effort has seen the park largely rebuilt.

We left before lunch on Sunday and were home by mid-afternoon. A whirlwind trip, and a good one!

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