Mt Rainier Up Close and Personal

Did you know there is a Paradise on earth?  Well yes, there is!  And it can be found at Mt Rainier National Park!

After being teased by beautiful local views of the mountain we decide to take the drive to the National Park for an up close and personal look at Mt. Rainier.  No, not for the first time, but for the first time this year.  A sunny day is promised and the roads are clear.

We arrive at the south entrance to the Park at Longmire, and after lunch at the historic National Park Inn, take the drive up to the Paradise Visitor center.

Mt Rainier National Park was established in 1899 and was the fifth U.S. National Park.  It was the first to be designed from a master plan to include entrance arches, rustic buildings, scenic lookouts, trails and visitor centers, becoming a pattern for National Parks to follow. We stop at many viewpoints and waterfalls on our way to Paradise.

Near the top we spot a red fox by the side of the road who wisely climbs the snow bank to safer ground.

We arrive at the Visitor Center at 5,400 feet and enjoy close-ups of the 14,410 foot volcano, the second highest mountain in the continental U.S.  It is also one of the snowiest places on earth.

It is from Paradise that climbers make their way to Camp Muir at 10,188 feet so they can rise under the darkness of night for the climb to the top. Over 10,000 people a year attempt the climb and almost half as many make it.  With binoculars, you can already see climbers making their way up to Camp Muir. Others are content to play in the snow a little closer to the ground.

After our visit we head back down for a short hike at Longmire in an area where meadows meet the forest. We take the boardwalk through hot springs, skunk cabbage and fragrant woods.

Under the tree canopy I tell Bob to look for the buried treasure ahead.   ‘X marks the spot’ I say, but he walks on by.

We complete the loop, following the trail into golden meadows where more views of Mt. Rainier await,

until we are finally back to where we started.

On the drive home we pass by the Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park near the small town of Elbe.  For just a donation you can walk among the unusual sculptures created by artist Dan Klennert which we did,

finishing up with a song.

And so after a wonderful day under sunny skies at the most beautiful mountain in America we head back home, once again counting our blessings that we live in such an amazing part of the world.

~  Susanne

Most Popular US National Park – Surprised?

I know you can google it but why don’t you guess?  Of the 59 US National Parks, which one is the most popular based on number of annual visitors?

My guess was Yellowstone National Park.  Established in 1872 and considered to be the world’s first national park, Yellowstone continues to impress visitors with bubbling mud pots, shooting geysers, and rainbow colored hot springs. Located in the northwest corner of Wyoming (with small portions in Idaho and Montana),  it is a mountainous region where pristine rivers run with trout, and grizzly bear, bison, and moose roam among ponderosa pine and in expansive valleys.  I’ve been there many times.  Wish I was there now, in fact! But it’s not the most popular as measured by annual number of visitors.

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dsc01458-2My second guess was the Grand Canyon, knowing that people travel from around the world to see one of nature’s greatest vistas.  I went there once (too long ago to have a good picture to share) and it was grand indeed, though it doesn’t make my own favorites list. It’s too, I don’t know, grand.  Inaccessible. But it comes in at #2 on the list of most visited National Parks for 2015.

How about Yosemite with its world famous valley and enormous chunks of solid granite, El Capitan and Half Dome. Can you top that?

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Well apparently you can, because Yosemite shows up as #4 on the list according to numbers published by the National Park Service.

How about Olympic National Park one of my own local favorites?

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Or Glacier in Montana?

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No and No.  Okay then.  Which National Park comes in at #1?

Unless you googled it I suspect you didn’t guess correctly (though I am a westerner and may be biased.)

The winner for most visited National Park in the USA is:

Great Smoky Mountains National Park with 10.7 million annual visitors!!

Surprised?  I was.

I mean, aren’t the most gorgeous, jaw dropping sights in the US found in the west?  Well, yes, I believe so.  (See western bias mentioned above.)

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Great Smoky Mountains straddles the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. The gentle, ancient mountains are covered with hardwood forests and filled with diverse plants and wildlife.  Fog hangs over the region like a blue, hazy smoke giving the mountains their name, and the historic, rustic, cabins of settlers remain. It is a beautiful area and I liked it a lot. But #1?  Grand Canyon which is #2 on the list isn’t even close, coming in at 5.5 million visitors. How can the number of visitors be almost double that of any others on the list?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Here’s my theory.  There are very few national parks on the eastern side of the country and Great Smoky Mountains NP is in close proximity to large population centers.  It is therefore the “go to” park for millions.   Yellowstone, on the other hand, is way out there, up in Wyoming which happens to be the least populous state in the union, and not on the way to anywhere. You have to really want to get there.

For the record here’s the official list of the 10 Most Visited National Parks for 2015 according to the National Park Service

  1. Great Smoky NP       10.712 million
  2. Grand Canyon NP       5.520 million
  3. Rocky Mountain NP    4.155 million
  4. Yosemite NP               4.150 million
  5. Yellowstone NP           4.097 million
  6. Zion NP                        3.648 million
  7. Olympic NP                 3.263 million
  8. Grand Teton NP           3.149 million
  9. Acadia NP                    2.811 million
  10. Glacier NP                    2.366 million

And here’s the list of my own current favorites:

  1. Yellowstone          Perhaps you could tell?
  2. Olympic                What can I say? I live in Washington State.
  3. Mt Rainier             Practically in my backyard.
  4. Glacier                  Wish I had more time.  Just go.
  5. Yosemite              You saw the pictures.
  6. Zion                       Yosemite in color.
  7. Redwoods             Perhaps the most beautiful trees in the world.
  8. Arches                   Red rock country!
  9. Great Smoky         Surprised it was #1 but it really is gorgeous.
  10. Saguaro                 Love the cactus in the Arizona desert!

Finally, one more thing.  If you include the 400 plus sites administered by the US National Park Service (parks, monuments, historic sites, parkways, etc.) guess what tops the most visited list?  No need to google, I will give you the information right here, right now.  At over 15 million visitors a year, it’s the 469 mile Blue Ridge Parkway which runs from North Carolina to Virginia and is right next to ….  you guessed it, Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

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As with the Smoky Mountains, it’s amazing to me that this is the most visited site in the National Park system.  But I’m sticking to my earlier theory.  This gorgeous parkway is in close proximity to major population centers of the east, accessible to millions and “on the way” to other places. We took the parkway once and I really did love it. If I made an expanded list that included all sites, it would definitely be near the top!

Of course this isn’t a competition and it doesn’t matter if your favorite parks ever show up on the Most Visited list.  I expect my personal list will continue to change and grow as I visit new parks and revisit the old, as old memories fade and new ones are created.  But I hope I have inspired you to go and see some of these national treasures.  Visit as many as you can.  Soon you’ll be making your own top 10 list and memories for a lifetime.