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Glacier N.P. & Pacific Northwest

by Kathy 17. February 2011 15:49

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<< Washington—Dry Falls


Washington—Mt. Rainier National Park

Mt. Rainier National Park is dominated by a massive, glacier covered mountain. Rising 14,410 feet into the air, Mt. Rainier—an active volcano—is impressive in its stark majesty.

A narrow, 2-lane road winds through the park along the eastern and southern edges. We entered from the eastern side, over Chinook Pass (5,432 feet):

We could not have asked for a better day to visit—the sky was a brilliant blue, which provided the perfect background for the snowy peak of Mt. Rainier.

After an initial tantalizing view of Mt. Rainier, some sweeping switchbacks immediately dropped us into a canyon. The peaks around us had their own beauty:

As we descended, Mt. Rainier dipped behind the surrounding mountains and then disappeared completely.

However, we were treated to other snowy peaks rising above the trees:

Looking back, we could see our road, slicing across the top of the mountain, near the tree line:

The park had occasional small tunnels, but we didn’t have any problems with the RV fitting through:

Continuing south, we had a peaceful drive, with tree-covered mountains on both sides:

In the southeastern corner of the park was the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center.

Genevieve made a beeline to the information desk to get a Jr. Ranger booklet; she was keen on earning another park badge. Here she is, booklet in hand, next to a model of Mt. Rainier that showed all of the glaciers and the hiking trails around the mountain:

We were astounded to learn that Mt. Rainier is adorned with 26 glaciers!

(After visiting Glacier National Park, where we had only spied a few glaciers from a distance, we felt like we had hit the jackpot here!)

Around the edges of the model were various rocks. We learned that Mt. Rainier has a lot of andesite, a rock with colors of grey, green and red:

Andesite was once ocean mud that was pressed deep into the hot earth and then thrust upward in molten form, where it became blended with other rocks.

Next to the andesite was a glob of pumice, which was once spewed from Mt. Rainier in lava form about 1500 years ago.

The lava dried quickly and trapped many air bubbles inside, making the pumice rock so lightweight that it can float in water!

Leaving the visitor’s center, we turned west at the Stevens Canyon Entrance:

Less than a mile down the road was the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail, a 1.5 mile loop that would lead us through an old-growth forest with gigantic trees.

The start of the trail:

Genevieve was able to complete some of her Jr. Ranger assignments by reading all of the information on the numerous trailside exhibits.

The trail ran next to the Ohanapecosh River, and the moist conditions were perfect for the Western Redcedar trees that grew in abundance along the bank:

Older Western Redcedar trees, such as the one Genevieve and Sebastian are touching below, tend to spread out along the base in a form of buttressing:

Lumpy (and intriguing) fungi grew on some of the damp tree trunks:

A branch of the trail extended all of the way to Cayuse Pass, near where we had first entered the park this morning; however, we took the lower fork that led to the Grove of the Patriarchs.

Our path crossed over the Ohanapecosh River on a swinging bridge:

Adding to the sense of adventure and element of “danger” with a wobbly bridge, a sign recommended that only one person cross at a time:

Sebastian patiently waited his turn and was thrilled to have the bridge all to himself:

The water below was not very deep:

After crossing the bridge, we were now on a small island. The forest here grew from the ashes of an older forest that burned down 1000 years ago.  This grove is an example of the forests that once covered most of western Washington. Some of the Western Redcedar and Douglas Fir trees on the island were 1000 years old, with heights of 200 feet—hence the name “Grove of the Patriarchs.”

Sebastian, next to a giant:

The trees here have a shallow root system, and we passed quite a few toppled trees. Here is Genevieve next to an extra-large one.

A peek inside the trunk:

Here are the ends of two giants that fell during the winter of 1970:

Scientists speculate that the roots of the two trees may have been intertwined; so when the wind blew one tree over, the falling motion plucked up the roots of the second tree and caused it to fall in the opposite direction.

More intertwined trees, above ground:

A pair of 1000-year old Douglas Firs were magnificent:

We learned that only the outer 9 to 10 inches of the twin trunks are living; the cores are rotten. One treetop has also been lost to the wind, and the other is dead:

With just enough foliage left to provide them with the bare minimum of food to stay alive, these trees are still surviving.

More photos of trees in the Grove:

We arrived back at the bridge:

Just in time for the mid-morning traffic jam of hikers!

With only one person across at a time, and some people walking very slowly, getting back across took a bit of time. But in such magnificent surroundings, we didn’t mind the wait.

Back on the trail:

On the return hike, we noticed small details that we had overlooked before, such as the beautiful swirls and patterns on this trunk:

And this spider in her web:

On the road again, we headed for an area of the park called Paradise, at the base of Mt. Rainier. As we twisted and turned along the road, we were treated to brief views, like snapshots, of the snowy mountain:

It was exciting to see the peak getting closer and closer.

More tunnels:

The cracked and crumbling rocks along the road looked as if they could break free at any second:

The logs and rocks that had been deposited willy-nilly in the stream beds spoke of how turbulent the rushing water must be during storms:

On the mountain ahead, we could see our road making a long upward zig-zag:

Here is a view from that mountain road, looking back at where we had just been:

The road was not just a means of getting from one place in the park to another. Instead, it had been designed as “an experience” through the park, and it certainly was. We loved it!

The small, roadside lakes were very pretty. Here is Louise Lake:

And Reflection Lakes lived up to their name!

Crossing over Paradise River:

Getting close to Mt. Rainier!

The area known as Paradise has some great hiking trails, as well as grand views and meadows full of colorful wildflowers. It receives more visitors than any other place in the park. When we arrived at the visitor’s center, the parking lot was overflowing, so we parked along the exit road and hiked back.

On the way, we passed Paradise Inn, a park hotel that is open only in the summer:

The Paradise visitor’s center was completed in 2008:

The tall ceilings gave the interior a light, airy feeling.

The lower level had information desks, a model of the park, and some lounge areas with comfy sofas and chairs.  Can you find Ben and the kids below?

The upper level had a variety of interactive and informative exhibits on volcanic activity, plantlife, animal adaptations, debris flows, the Nisqually tribe that once lived here, and other subjects:

After checking out the exhibits, we ventured outside for some hiking. A number of trails led from the visitor’s center up toward the slopes of Mt. Rainier. Since we had already taken a hike this morning, we opted for one of the shorter loops—the Nasqually Vista Trail, a 1.2 mile path that provided an good view of the Nasqually Glacier.

The path threaded its way through fields of wildflowers:

The melting snow and glaciers cascaded down the mountain in beautiful waterfalls:

The glacier overlook gave us a magnificent view of Nasqually Glacier—the brown, dirt/rock covered hump below, with a tunnel from which water is flowing:

We had expected the glacier to be white, but we learned that rocks fall and accumulate on the glacier’s surface during the summer, completely disguising it. The winter snows, however, will cover the glacier and turn it white once again.

An exhibit photo at the lookout point had labels to explain what we were seeing, e.g., the Icefall, Crevasse, and Glacier Covered by Debris:

We were amazed to learn that the glacier is constantly moving—generally too slow for the human eye to discern. Snow that falls at the peak can take centuries to work its way down the mountain to the glacier’s terminus. The Icefall is where the glacier is moving down a cliff-face, accelerating to a rapid speed of 3 feet per day in the summer.

Here is a closer view of the icy surface of the mountain:

While viewing the glacier, we met a wonderful couple named Jean and Steve:

Steve had climbed to the summit of Mt. Rainier 30 years ago. The trek had taken two days; to reach the top, he had left at 1:00 a.m. and arrived at the summit at 9:00 a.m. He explained that the early start was required because once the sun rises, the snow starts melting and rocks start falling, creating dangerous climbing conditions.

We later learned that each year about 9000 people attempt to summit Mr. Rainier, but only half actually make it due to weather conditions and other factors.

Heading back to the visitor’s center, the path led us through some tall trees.

These trees only have a 2-month growing season due to the harsh freezing temperatures and snow during most of the year.

A large rock had a cubbyhole that provided the perfect resting spot for Sebastian:

A rocky stream:

The kids couldn’t wait to show me this spider:

(They know how much I love those 8-legged creepy crawlies!)

At the visitor's center, Genevieve presented her completed Jr. Ranger booklet to Ranger Casey Overturf.  He reviewed her assignments and talked with her about various things that she had learned.

He seemed to really care about both the park and the people who visit. We liked him immensely. Genevieve was beaming when he complimented her on the thoroughness of her work. He then swore her in as a Jr. Ranger.

Genevieve immediately pinned her new badge to her shirt:

Leaving the Paradise area, our road looped across the valley to the other side:

Looking back to the visitor center area, where we had parked on the slanted exit road:

We were astonished by the sheer volume of rock that the glacier had carved away and deposited--now being carried downstream by melting snow and ice.

The glaciers, through their slow and seemingly unnoticeable movement, were grinding down this incredible mountain.

To the end, Mr. Rainier impressed us. We hadn’t quite known what to expect—perhaps we thought we were going to see “just another pretty mountain.” Instead, we found giant 1000-year old trees, glaciers galore, and a beauty that still takes our breath away.

Additional Information About Mt. Rainier National Park:

Link to National Park Service website on Mt. Rainier National Park. 

Link to directions. 

Link to map of Mt. Rainier National Park. 

Back to Glacier National Park & Pacific Northwest Index Page

<< Washington—Dry Falls

Comments (5) -

2/17/2011 10:10:36 PM #


i love that picture of genevieve on the trail in the wildflowers.  i have a picture of myself just a few years younger than her on that same trail at the same time of year.  it was on one of our big cousin trips and at one point the ranger came along and asked me to smell the flowers so he could get a picture for the amphitheater show that night - which i thought would make me famous.  i was very tickled - probably why i remember that day so vividly.  anyhoo, hearkening back makes me feel good.  thanks for the trip down memory lane.  

ps: on that same trip we did mt. st. helena - with the eruption only a few years earlier - the devastation was overwhelming and staggering.  i remember every footfall of that hike up to the peak over the lake, which was filled with logs and everything was covered in a thick ash and completely colorless.  

ps2: i guess you can tell it was one of my favorite trips.  sorry for going on and on.

becky United States | Reply

2/18/2011 8:57:07 AM #


Becky, we're glad to have provided a skip down memory lane for you!  We had no idea that Mt. Rainier would be so amazing--it looks like you felt the same way. I'd love to see the photo that the ranger took of you.

Kathy United States | Reply

6/7/2011 2:25:01 PM #


Like Becky- I was remembering our week long camping trips there during summers with the cousins. Lots of good memories! And how fun it was to be one of the "big girls" who could hike from place to place and the little kids had to drive.

Polly United States | Reply

2/22/2011 6:16:19 AM #


Thanks for the report!  Now I am off to Hawaii!  Or at least your report on Hawaii!lol


Donnie United States | Reply

2/22/2011 6:55:23 AM #


As always, Donnie, it's good to have you along. Hope you enjoy Hawaii--and you don't even have to bring your sunscreen!

Kathy United States | Reply

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Anais Nin