Washington State: day eight
12.07.2017 - 12.07.2017
Another national park to explore
Looking towards the mountain
Today began much as yesterday had ended, or at least, where it had ended - in the Copper Creek Inn's restaurant. We had a good breakfast of eggs and hash browns, spoiled only by what was easily the worst coffee we have had on this trip. As the birthplace of modern coffee culture (aka Starbucks), Seattle and more generally Washington State are well supplied with coffee shops and even espresso drive-ins, and we had been spoiled up to this point with some excellent brews. I had forgotten just how weak and tasteless US coffee could be.
The morning light on the forested slopes near the Inn was beautiful, so a few photos were called for before we loaded the car and drove the couple of miles east to the entrance to Mount Rainier National Park.
Mount Rainier National Park
Having paid our fee ($25) we started our explorations with a brief stop at Kautz Creek where a short trail leads to a viewpoint of the mountain and an information board describing the impact on this landscape of a major mud slide in 1947.
View of Mount Rainier from Kautz Creek
Our next stop was at Christine Falls a few miles east of the Longmire Visitor complex (which we had decided to skip in favour of more time at Paradise). Here you can take a few steps down to a view of the falls framed by the road bridge you have just crossed.
Waterfalls are best seen in motion, so I took a short video, trying to capture the rainbow that danced in the spray.
But Paradise was our main destination for the day. This area of the park lies on the south side of Mount Rainier itself, at a height of 5,400 feet, and is only open in summer.
Visiting in the second week of July we still encountered snow on the ground here and that isn’t unusual, as it is normally snow-free only from mid July to September. The National Park Service claim it is “the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly”, with an average of 643 inches (53.6 feet or 16.3 metres) of snow a year.
Snow in Paradise
It is famous for its wildflower meadows and owes its name to these – when the daughter-in-law of explorer James Longmire (who lends his name to another area of the park) first saw this spot, she is said to have exclaimed, "Oh, what a paradise!"
This is understandably one of the most popular areas of the park to visit and we wanted to arrive quite early as I had heard it could get very crowded - to the point that sometimes parking there is impossible. Although already busy at about 9.30, we found a parking place in the lower car park easily enough and set off on our first walk of the day, on the Nisqually Vista Trail.
Start of the trail
This 1.2 mile walk is described as 'easy' but with the various mobility issues I had been having felt like a bit of a challenge, especially as snow still covered the trail in places. But I managed it, and was very pleased that I did, as it was a wonderful walk.
Snow on the trail
There were perhaps fewer wild flowers than I had expected, as there was still too much snow for many of them to have bloomed yet, but those we did see (primarily the delicate Avalanche Lily, always the first to flower) were beautiful.
And the views of the glacier once reached were awesome. It is one of the largest on Mount Rainier and has retreated and advanced several times, though the general trend, according to the NPS, has been retreat. From the viewpoint we could see the point where glacier becomes mountain stream, and also a waterfall on the far side of the valley.
From the Nisqually Vista
The walk took us considerably longer than the 45 minutes the park website suggests - partly because I had to take the snowy stretches slowly but mainly because we stopped to take so many photos. We also met a couple of rangers at one point, who stopped to tell us something about the various flowers and give us a descriptive leaflet on them, which proved very helpful. I do love the US National Parks system!
This trail is a loop, so it brought us back to the spot where we had started in the lower car park. Returning to the car we drove up to the main parking lot near the visitor centre, which was by now (after 11.00) very full. We decided that as we had a reservation for the night at the Paradise Inn right next door we would ask if we could park there, despite being well before check-in time. Yes, that was no problem, so we displayed the permit they gave us and walked down to the visitor centre.
Visitor Centre flying the Stars and Stripes
We went in there to use the facilities and check out the exhibits, and then bought an early lunch from the self-service café which we ate at one of the outside tables overlooking some of the other mountains in the range. We were so lucky with the weather here (as we had been at Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic NP a few days earlier). Some people visit Mount Rainier and never actually see the mountain owing to bad weather and low cloud (something we were to experience ourselves very soon …)
After lunch we watched the 20 minute film shown twice hourly in the theatre (which had some great views and was very informative, I thought). By now I was somewhat rested and decided that it would be a shame not to do one more walk as we would be unlikely ever to be in this wonderful spot again. So we took the other easy-rated trail, a 'there and back' walk of .5 mile each way to Myrtle Falls.
This is described as wheelchair accessible, with help, and for the most part was even easier going than the morning's walk, especially as here there was almost no snow on the trail. We saw a much wider variety of wild flowers here - avalanche lilies again but also magenta paintbrush, lupine, pink and white heathers, beargrass (one of my favourites), glacier lilies, pasqueflower (my other favourite, I think), arnica, valerian - and almost certainly more that I have since forgotten. Wonderful!
Magenta paintbrush and glacier lily
Mount Rainier with pasque flowers
The trail ends at the falls and here I would challenge the 'wheelchair accessible' description, as to see the falls properly you have to descend about 20 steep steps. To be honest though, I was more impressed by the views along the way than by the falls, so you wouldn't be missing out too much if you couldn't get down to them. To me, the upper section of the falls, which can be viewed from the path itself, looked just as pretty in its way, with snow still on the ground around it and Mount Rainier towering above.
Upper Myrtle Falls
Lower Myrtle Falls
We retraced our steps and just as we got back to the start of the trail we were lucky to encounter a deer who seemed relatively unfazed by the groups of people stopping to photograph him as he ate, although after a while the exclamation of an excited child did spook him and he bounded away.
And here's another video, shot at various points on this trail, including with the deer:
We rewarded ourselves for our efforts (well, my efforts - Chris found both walks very easy) with ice creams. Once we had finished these it was time to check into the Inn so we headed over there to do just that.
Paradise Inn is around 100 years old, having been built in 1916 to accommodate travellers to Mount Rainier who wanted somewhere more comfortable to stay than the camp that preceded it. The Inn’s website describes it in those early days:
“The Paradise Inn opened for business in July 1917 with thirty-seven guest rooms and a dining capacity for four hundred guests. Platform tent structures were built behind the Inn to house additional guests and meals were announced when the dining room manager blew a whistle from the back porch.”
The Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains barely changed in appearance from the 1920s. The main room with its massive timber frame is particularly impressive. The sense of history that pervades it extends however to the facilities - there are no TVs, no wifi, no mobile phone signals - you are completely isolated from the world.
Much of the accommodation here is in the original rooms which are on the small side (though bigger than Jennie's Sleeping Room at Copper Creek, where we had stayed last night). Those in the main building, where we were, don't have en suite facilities and the cost reflects that, though a stay here isn't a budget option - the relative isolation of this spot must push up their costs, while its popularity ensures that there are enough people willing to pay. We definitely felt it was worth it as this is a rather special place to stay.
Dinner in the restaurant here is also not cheap - in fact it was probably the dearest meal we had on this trip but it was pretty good. We shared Dungeness crab cakes to start with, then I had the salmon which came with a blackberry and ginger sauce and small roasted potatoes, all of which were good, and vegetables which were less so, being over-cooked. Chris had the burger which was cooked medium rare as he had asked and was very good. I managed to fit in a dessert of poached pear, with a bit of assistance from Chris. Our bill, with a bottle of porter for Chris and glass of white wine for me, was $105 without service.
We got a second drink from the café to enjoy in the main room of the lodge, from where I popped out a couple of times to take photos of the mountains which had a slight pink tinge from the sunset.
Sunset on the mountains
I also took some photos of a few of the 60 lampshades which are a particular feature of the lodge - each depicting a flower, tree or shrub that grows in the national park. A fitting reminder of the flowers we had seen out on the trails.
We went to bed eager to see more of the mountain tomorrow …