Just Another Day Trip to Mt. Rainier, at Mowich Lake

We’ve visited Mt. Rainier more times this year than any other that I can remember. Maybe we’re finally taking full advantage of not working? (Okay, we’re retired, though I don’t like that word.)  Or maybe it finally dawned on us how very close and accessible that wonderful Mountain is?  Today we got off to a late start and when we arrived in Enumclaw, we learned the route ahead on Highway 410 was closed. No matter. We put Plan B into effect and headed south on State Route 165 to the less frequented Northwest corner of the Park.  Into the wilderness and onto a gravelly, pitted road we went (oh yes it was) towards Mowich Lake. The views of the mountain were worth it.

After 11 miles of a bumpy, dusty, ride, we entered the National Park without any fanfare, save a self-service box for the entry fee, and a sign that told us we were in for a rough ride up the gravel road. (Yeah, we noticed; next time we’ll bring the truck.)  Dusty cars lined the side of the road the last two miles, and we realized just how popular the area was to the locals. Still we carried on and arrived at Mowich Lake (el. 4,929 ft.), where my husband kindly dropped me off while he went to park the car, his first hike of the day.

Notwithstanding the number of cars, peace could still be found in secluded spots next to the pristine lake, the largest and deepest in the National Park.  The temperature was in the nineties so the smart ones were swimming or boating in the lake.

The trails in the area are part of the Wonderland Trail that encircles the base of the mountain for 93 miles.  We saw a few well equipped hikers on the trail hiking 12 to 15 miles a day (sturdy young men with large backpacks, strong legs and determination), but mostly we saw day hikers like ourselves opting for shorter hikes, including families with children.

We stopped to eat our snack in a shady spot on the lake, before taking the hike to Ipsut Pass, which followed the lake through the woods, providing great views of the Mountain, before turning away and gaining some elevation.

On the trail up to the Pass we encountered many hikers coming down, mostly from Eunice Lake which was further than we intended to go.

‘How much farther?’ we would ask and always got the same general answer.  Eunice Lake and Tolmie Peak were a couple of grueling miles further but well worth it (though not to us.)  Ipsut Pass being half as far, was ‘just a little bit further’, ‘maybe 3 more switchbacks ahead’ and the trail was ‘not too steep’ though ‘rocky and rooty,’ a description I rather enjoyed. I suggested to my husband that we stop asking ‘how much farther’ as it only disappointed us when the estimates proved inaccurate.

Still, the camaraderie with other hikers is what makes hiking fun and that was the easiest thing to say to one another.  One family coming down had two little girls, covered with dirt from the dusty trail, no more than five years of age, and cute as can be. They had come from Eunice Lake.

“How much further?” one of them asked us.

“You have a way to go to the bottom,” I replied having already learned the disappointment of bad estimates, “and actually we were going to ask you that very question!”

While we were chatting, she glanced at my watch and her eyes lit up as she exclaimed, “Oh what a beautiful watch!  A blue watch!  Blue is my favorite color!”

Charmed by her exuberance, I was almost tempted to give her the (cheap) watch.  She surely appreciated it more than I did.

As they moved on down the trail she hollered back to me, “I love your necklace!” and I had to laugh.

We continued on under the shade and cover of the woods, though one short section sent us into the brilliant sunshine and onto a ledge with craggy rocks above, where the trail overlooked the valley below.

Shortly afterwards we passed the cutoff to Eunice Lake, and arrived at Ipsut Pass,   a rocky area which dropped sharply below us where the Wonderland Trail continued on.

After a quick visit with a couple of backpackers who were taking the pass down to the Yellowstone Cliffs for the night, we headed back finding the way much faster and easier than coming up.

Back to the car and down the dusty, bumpy road we went, but not without a stop for another view and photo of the Mountain.

The long summer drought shows on her.  But it won’t be long until winter will return and the mountain will be covered with snow once again.

Looking forward to it.

~ Susanne

Sol Duc, Rialto Beach and Sequim

I promised to finish the story and so here we are, at Sol Duc Hot Springs, deep in the heart of Olympic National Park.

It rained overnight and we wake up to gray skies and drizzle.  It seems a good bet that more rain is on the way, so we decide to take a chance elsewhere and head for the rugged Washington coast.

We stop by Forks and it’s decision time as there really is a fork in the road:  head west or south?  South would take us to Hwy 101 and Kalaloch, the more traveled route and most popular beach in the Park.  Beautiful yes, but we’ve done it many times before.  West will take us on 110 and the promise of new, unexplored beaches. We opt to take the road less traveled and head west to Rialto Beach. We’re glad we did!

Rialto Beach!

How did we miss it all these years?  Where coastal forest spills onto the beach and ghost trees stand next to giant drift logs, making you feel you have entered someplace prehistoric.

Yes, it’s off the beaten path; in fact the road ends here; further travel north on the coast will be on foot only.  Equipped backpackers make that trek carefully, monitoring the weather and tides.

We walk the beach a mile or so under sunshine and clear skies, ever closer to the giant sea stacks off shore.

Afterwards we drive south to La Push and First Beach on the Quileute Indian Reservation for more rugged beauty.

In the end, we’re glad the dismal weather inspired us to seek out new places.  That’s what travel should be; a change from the familiar, a bending with the wind (or the rain in this case.) After our fill of the ocean it’s back to Sol Duc where we will make the short hike to the falls before dark, rain or shine.

Sol Duc Falls

Less than 2 miles round trip, it must be the easiest hike in the Park for the most payoff; a trail through old growth forest to one of the most beautiful and accessible falls in the State.  A very light rain accompanies us but only makes everything fresher.

Content with the day’s adventures, we head back to our cabin for a light dinner before turning in for the night.

And then there’s Sequim!

Our third day and it’s time to leave Olympic National Park and head home.  But we’re not done yet.  We have to pass through sunny Sequim and timed our trip to coincide with the Lavender Festival.  Sequim is a lovely community in the rain shadow of the Olympics, receiving an average of 16 inches of rain per year.  In the last twenty years dairy farms have been given over to lavender farms, making the area a top grower and home to the largest lavender festival in North America. Did I mention that I love lavender?  We take in the street fair and stop by several farms to enjoy the festivities there, but especially the lavender.

This may be too much lavender for some but I can’t seem to get enough of the wonderful herb’s fragrance and gorgeous color. To me, lavender makes everything better, even a trip to the Olympics.

Thanks for following along.

~  Susanne

The Many Faces of Mt Rainier, or 4th of July Part 2

In the last post I told you of our 4th of July adventure at Mt Rainier National Park, which included a ridge hike at Sunrise and a forest hike through the Grove of the Patriarchs on the Ohanapecosh River.   I will complete the story with the second half of our day and a much shorter but lovely walk at Box Canyon and a stop by one of the most famous views of the Mountain at Reflection Lakes.

After our hike at the Grove, we continued south and west on the Stevens Canyon Road.  Neither of us can remember taking this way before so we enjoyed fresh and new vistas of Mt Rainier.  Oh yes we did!

Box Canyon

Here we stopped to walk the short trail to view the deep canyon carved by the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River. The area also reveals what is left behind when a glacier retreats:  polished slabs of rock where lichens and mosses slowly take root, eventually decomposing into soil to support new forest.    Brilliant blue delphiniums also blanketed the area.

It’s hard to realize the depth here, but the rushing water is 180 feet below.

Continuing on the Stevens Canyon road, we were led to the beautiful sub alpine Reflection Lake, which proved true to its name.

After a full day, we exited through Longmire on the southwest side of the mountain, passed through small towns on our way home watching the firework displays around us, and eventually settled for our final picture of Mt. Rainier under sunset hues.

Home again, home again.

~ Susanne

Sunrise at Mt Rainier

Sunrise at Mt. Rainier but no need to get up early for I speak of the Sunrise side of the Mountain and not the time of day!  I hope you are not tired of Mt Rainier but the 4th of July proved a perfect time to visit again while others swarmed more local parks below for firework displays. This may have been one of our best trips ever, as we covered more of the Park in a single day, enjoying 3 short but amazing hikes and incredible views of the mountain from all sides.

Normally we take the southwest entrance at Longmire into the National Park as it’s open year round. But this time we entered on the northeast side at the White River entrance headed for Sunrise, and it turns out, many new vistas!

We got our first surprise at an overlook where we had great views of the lesser known, but equally beautiful Mt. Adams.  The poor thing came up short as the second highest mountain in the state at 12,281 feet and so lives in the shadow of its more famous neighbor. It’s not easy being number 2.  Still isn’t it a beauty?

Sunrise

We arrived at the Sunrise Visitor Center at 6,400 feet, the highest point in the Park reachable by car. Here we found close up views of Emmons Glacier, the largest American glacier outside of Alaska, and source of the White River.

Of the many hikes available in the area we chose the 2 mile Silver Forest Trail, with continuous views of the mountain and meadows full of wildflowers, all under brilliant sunshine.  It didn’t seem fair to get so much for so little effort!

After lunch we headed down towards Stevens Canyon and the Grove of the Patriarchs for an easy hike through old growth forest.   The trail took us along the Ohanapecosh River and across a suspension bridge (one at a time, according to the sign.)

After a short walk on the other side, we were in an island of ancient Western red-cedar, Douglas-fir, and Western hemlock, some of them, a thousand years old.  We walked quietly among these giants, marveling at their size and beauty.

After leaving the trail, we continued on Stevens Canyon Road, stopping by Box Canyon and beautiful Reflection Lakes.  But this is running long so I will save that for Part 2 of my 4th of July Rainier adventures.

See you soon.

~  Susanne

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.