Exploring Northwest US and Canada: Week 4, Day 24, Mount Rainier


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Published: July 15th 2018
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8/3 The Alexander’s Lodge and Inn included breakfast (7am to 9:30am) we chose the 7am to get on the mountain early. The breakfast was all self serve. Coffee, tea, and apple juice were at a table station. You help yourself to bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs and cooked potatoes in steamer trays. Yogurt, hard boiled eggs, a waffle maker, bagels, toast and English muffins were also available but there was no visible staff. There was plenty to eat but not the quality I had expected thinking we would be at an inn with a restaurant, a chef would be on staff here. It turns out it was not that kind of inn. This breakfast was no different than a major motel chain breakfast.

We left Alexander Lodge around 8:15am for Mount Rainier National Park entering from the Nisqually Entrance at an elevation of 2023 feet. We had clear sailing with no construction stops (but we discovered construction tie ups later in the afternoon). I do think my parents who loved to travel and loved nature had an influence in the morning's wonderful, mostly clear views of Mt Rainier along the road up to Paradise. Even with stops to photograph Narada Falls and Christine Falls along the way we arrived at Paradise (elevation 5400 feet) early enough to find a parking space (the lot filled very quickly making us realize how important an early arrival was!) A Sooty Grouse was running around in the Paradise parking lot looking for his own special spot.

Mount Rainier, an active volcano that has been dormant for about 150 years, is on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range. It was named as a park in 1899. With its snow capped peak at an elevation of 14,410 feet, it is higher than the surrounding mountains, creating dramatic vistas from almost anywhere around the mountain. With only two and a half days to explore this region we decided to focus on Longmire, Paradise, Stevens Canyon, Box Canyon and the Grove of the Patriarchs giving us as broad an experience in our limited time as possible.

Thankfully the haze and smoke was far less intense at Paradise this morning than it was last night, making our early morning hike enjoyable, although there were warning signs in the Visitor Center saying “People with sensitive heart or lungs should avoid strenuous activity due to smokey conditions”). At least they didn’t say “elderly people” as we have been hearing in the news. We trudged on. Slowly. We began our hike from the granite steps to the the Nisqually Vista Trail. It was readily apparent that the combination of altitude, smoke, colds and sad to say, our ages, made any hike laborious. Unfortunately, like much of the roads and trails in the park, as we got further into our hike, we discovered the Vista Trail was closed for construction, so instead of hiking this iconic mountain meadow, we hiked the Deadhorse Creek Trail (I thought Dave was the dead horse, the smoke and his cold were really getting to him). We followed Deadhorse along the shorter Moraine Trail. The mountain meadows we did see were loaded with all kinds of flowers in bloom especially Mountain Arnica, Pearly Everlasting, Fireweed, subalpine daisies, Corn Lily (false hellebore), Pink Mountain Heather, Magenta Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, Avalanche Lily, Glacier Lily, and, although we did have some flower views with snow capped Rainier in the background, I was not able to get THE iconic shot from Nisqually Vista Trail.

Dave sat down on a bench to rest while I hiked up to see the spectacular 72 foot high Myrtle Falls with its beautiful iconic views. Snow covered Mount Rainier made an impressive backdrop along with vibrantly colored meadows at its base and, together with Myrtle Falls, is one of the most photographed locations in the park. The falls drop down a steep gorge carved by Edith Creek and flow year round. With warnings for people like us with breathing issues and heart problems it was better Dave did stop. The walk, although not terribly steep, was a bit more of an incline than this huffing and puffing flatlander is used to and so was a strain for me in this heat, as well as for those of us who also had "smog colds". Although I wanted to continue on the Skyline Trail, I knew I had reached my limit and so turned around.

I collected Dave at the Paradise Inn and we picked up our car to drive down to Longmire's National Park Inn for lunch. With the road construction in midday full force, compared to free sailing in the morning, we had several 15-25 minute stops on the way down Valley Road to Longmire arriving for lunch around 1:30pm. Grateful for the air conditioned dining room and a place to sit down I ordered a small bowl of spicy vegetable soup while Dave had a tiny cup of the soup and a very small salad. It was not very good and at $20 for the small portioned lunch I thought it was a bit expensive.

By comparison to Paradise, it was very hot and smoky down at Longmire. The heat took a lot out of us (94 degrees!) so we sat in the shade on the lodge porch rocking chairs overlooking Mt Rainier to rest and try to capture the few little breezes there were on the shady porch. Dave got restless so I reluctantly left my porch rocker to walk the 1/2 mile Shadow Trail across from the National Park Lodge with Dave. It was a bit cooler under the tall trees but there were no real breezes and we quickly got very tired from hiking in the oppressive heat. I tried to photograph a black tailed doe eating skunk cabbage and cedar leaves in the woodland shade but it was too dark and she wouldn’t come close enough to make the shot. The heat had done me in so I talked Dave into going back to the (hot) car in the shade for a nap and for time pass as we waited for the return up to Paradise.

Dave, refreshed from his nap, drove us back up to Paradise around 5pm. It was much hazier than this morning and last night but at least the construction crew had left and so had most of the park visitors which meant an easier drive up and parking spots! (Even though the signs said ‘lot full’). It was a bit cooler up at Paradise than down in Longmire so we were refreshed in the cooler air. The Paradise Inn is so much nicer than the Longmire National Park Inn and having seen the Paradise Inn the night before, the grand lobby beckoned us to come back to relax in the inviting rustic lobby and listen to the piano player who added greatly to the ambiance with his light and sweet tunes. I will say if you are interested in staying here, book early! I tried to book more than 6 months in advance and as they say, there was no room in the inn.

Dinner at Paradise Inn Dining Room!

Hungry, but not wanting to be the first people in the dining room we waited until a few other people went in for dinner. We chose a table by the window facing the mountains but more importantly on the shady side of the room. I started with a delicious Lavender Thyme Lemon Drop drink (Wild Roots Vodka, Lavender and thyme infused simple syrup, fresh squeezed lemon, Lavender sugar rim). Dave had a glass of Riesling. We shared a Roasted Beet salad with Parmesan chips, carrot butter, mustard seeds, baby kale with a balsamic reduction. For dinner we shared a Ruby Red pan seared trout with walnut brown butter, seasoned brown rice and roasted cauliflower and broccoli. Absolutely one of the best meals of this trip, and that's saying a lot! Since we split our main course we had room for dessert. We split a delicious fresh blackberry pie that was perfect, not overly sweet, accompanied with a generous scoop of home made vanilla and Huckleberry ice cream. Paradise is indeed close to heaven. While we were waiting for our check a server passed us with the biggest burger I have ever seen with tomato, lettuce and onion rings AND fries. HUGE! but our dinner I am sure was by far the best.

The smoke had settled in the valley where we found the skies had turned a choking rusty red down in Ashford. We drove 5 miles into town to fill up on gas for tomorrow (great idea since there are no gas opportunities heading east in the park). It was a pleasant 68 degrees outside down in Ashford but when we got back to our room it was a stifling 80 degrees! The AC had totally malfunctioned. I tried unsuccessfully to call for help and ended up having to email for service. I will say the repairman came promptly and agreed we had a problem. An hour later we were finally comfortable and I could begin to prepare our plans for the next day. Meanwhile Dave was asleep while the air conditioner hummed away.

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