Mount Rainier – September 7 and 8

As I mentioned in the previous post, we left Prospect, Oregon at about 10:00, headed for Glenoma, Washington, which is near Mount Rainier National Park. We decided to take an easterly route, on some of Oregon’s scenic roads, rather than taking the shortest route back to Interstate 5. We took Oregon 62 to 230, to 97, to 26, which we followed to I-205 which merges into I-5 just north of Portland. That worked out well for us, and the roads (particularly at the beginning of the drive) were really a treat. They were mostly two-lane, but very well maintained and easily navigable in the big rig. Mostly, we went through wide open spaces, so there were very few traffic lights, and the speed limits were mostly 55 or 65. We hit some pretty heavy traffic when we got close to Portland, which cleared up magically after crossing the Columbia River into Washington, for no discernible reason – no big merging traffic, no reduction in lanes, no construction, no traffic incident. Just one minute going 10 mph and the next up to 65. There must be some traffic movement theory that explains it, but I can’t think of any rational explanation.

In Washington, we followed I-5 to Washington 12, which goes right to Glenoma. There we stayed at Taidnapam Park, which is a good-sized park that includes a campground. It is owned and operated by Tacoma Power (I’m not sure why they’re in the campground business, but apparently they own three others, too). The drive was exactly 400 miles (7288 on the odometer), and since we got there at about 6:00, the office was closed. Therese had called them from the road, and they told her to just pick a site and stop by the next day after 9:00 am to finish the registration process. It was the first place we’ve stayed that let you pick a site rather than assigning it, and we picked a nice back-in site, 271.

Taidnapam RV Park Campsite

The neighboring campers were even more friendly than usual, and the “camp hosts” (campers from the local area that keep an eye on things in exchange for free camping) came by and wanted to see the inside of the Dutch Star. Therese talked to them for quite a while, while Barry talked to a retired trucker who happened by on a bicycle keeping up with his two grandsons. He had lots of big-rig driving advice. We asked the locals whether we should pick Mount Rainier or Mount Saint Helens to visit, since we would only be able to get to one of them, and they unanimously suggested Mount Rainier.

Accordingly, at 9:30 on Friday morning, we drove to Nisqually entrance on the southwest corner of Mount Rainier National Park. The trip took approximately an hour, with a one-way-at-a-time construction delay thrown in. Unfortunately, there were low clouds as we proceeded to the first point of interest, the Longmire museum. That is where some of the historic buildings are located, including a small museum. Outside the museum is a eight-foot diameter, 700 year-old Douglass Fir slab, with rings identifying the years of various historic events.

700 year old Douglas Fir slab at Longmire Museum

The museum mostly covered the type of wildlife that is found in the park. It was staffed by a helpful NPS lady who suggested we stop at the Paradise visitor center to learn more about the park, and that we take a hike at the Grove of the Patriarchs, and old-growth forest area within the park.

Also at the Longmire center was an old gas station (no longer in use). The gas pumps were interesting, particularly to collectors of such things, like my eccentric brother Ray.

Old gas station at the National Park Inn

At the Paradise Visitor Center, we saw a well-made 20-minute video about the park and its eponymous mountain. Glaciers form when more snow falls each year than melts, and the snowpack gets so heavy that the form of the frozen snow changes and solidifies as it is increasingly crushed by newer snow. Mount Rainier is home to the most glaciers in the lower 48, and in fact, the cumulative weight of the glaciers on Mount Rainier is more than all the other glaciers in the continental US combined.

None of which you could prove by us, however, as we didn’t see glacier one, nor the top three quarters of the 14,500 foot Mount Rainier all day. The low clouds (right down to ground level as fog in some areas) prevented those spectacular views. However, there was still quite a bit to see and we enjoyed the day thoroughly. We took a three-mile hike on the Skyline trail, starting at the Paradise Visitor Center.

Foggy walk on the Paradise Visitor Center Skyline Trail

The fog was pretty dense, so we couldn’t see any of the panoramic scenery, so we contented ourselves with studying and photographing the local flora and fauna along the trail.

Red Berries along Skyline Trail
Blue Flowers along Skyline Trail
Flowers along Skyline Trail
Mop Head Flower along Skyline Trail
White and yellow flowers, with bee
Marmot (look at center of picture)

The Skyline Trail passes the Sluiskin Falls, over which a healthy flow of water was falling.

Sluiskin Falls

There were a few times when the fog lifted enough to tease us with some scenery, but it was still a disappointing showing, continuing the trend from Crater Lake. At least it was healthy moisture rather than smoke.

Glacier path, across a canyon, through the mist,

The roads through the park are lined by evergreen forests, and are very pleasant. We found a perfect spot for a picnic lunch at Box Canyon.

Picnic at Box Canyon, Mount Rainier

We stopped at a number of scenic lookouts along the road. It would have been spectacular if it wasn’t for those pesky clouds.

Reflection Lake, reflecting fog.
Mist lifting a little, but not enough
Tunnel (glad we were in Jeep instead of Dutch Star)

The Grove of the Patriarchs nature trail was beautiful. It goes about two miles, and as the ranger had told us, goes through an old growth forest of Western Cedars, Douglas Firs, and Western Hemlock.

Matriarch at Grove of the Patriarchs

About halfway, there is a cool suspension bridge over Olallie Creek.

Suspension Bridge, Grove of the Patriarchs Trail

Most of the waterways we saw in the park were quite greyish, which is caused by “glacier flour”, a fine powder that comes from the glacier movement (which can be up to a foot per month in the summer) grinding rocks together. However, Olallie Creek comes from snow melt in a glacier-free area of the mountain, and was crystal clear. Near the creek were a few Alders, the only deciduous trees that thrive in the prevailing climate.

Olallie Creek at Grove of the Patriarchs

On the far side of the creek, there is a raised boardwalk trail that winds through the largest of the Patriarchs – the oldest of the trees.

Old Western Cedar
Fallen Douglas Fir

After the hike, we continued on the Steven Canyons Road all the way to the east side of the park, where it intersects Washington Route 123 inside the park. There, having learned from the video that Mount Rainier (along with other Cascade Mountains) is so large as to block the prevailing winds from the west, causing updrafts which condense the moisture in the warmer air to form clouds and give Seattle its characteristic wet weather, we followed 123 north, hoping that we might get a glimpse of the mountain from the comparatively dry east side.

All that weather theory did not pan out, and we had no better luck on that side. Fortunately, we bought another postcard of what we would have seen, and here is a picture of that:

Mount Rainier (picture of postcard)

Or, of course, you can enter a google search for “Mount Rainier pictures” and pick from any of the thousands of results that you get, all of which are superior to the pictures we got.

We were stopped on our northward path by the closure of Route 123 at Cayuse Pass, due to yet another forest fire on the northeast side of the park. At least we didn’t get smoke from it, due to the prevailing westerly winds. We knew that before we went to the park, so we turned around and headed south on 123, passing Silver Falls and the Ohanapecosh Park entrance, and took that route back to the campground.

There was serious road construction on 123 also, with another one-way section and half hour wait. We got back to the campground about 6:00, and tried to get some news about Hurricane Irma’s projected path. There is no Wifi at Taidnapam park, and AT&T cellular coverage was nonexistent. Luckily my iPad is Verizon, from which we were able to eke out at least one bar, sometimes two, of LTE data. (BTW, if you plan on travelling out west, don’t count on AT&T, it seems like they don’t even bother to try out here). The news on Hurricane Irma was looking worse and worse for Naples. The newest track projections were for the storm to continue moving west longer than the earlier models suggested, making it more likely to hit Florida’s southwest coast. And the hurricane was so large that the counter-clockwise winds would still cause a storm surge on Florida’s southeast coast.

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