Devastation and Glaciers – Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier WA


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North America » United States » Washington » Mt Rainier
October 15th 2014
Published: November 1st 2014
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According to MapQuest, the drive from Pasco WA to Randle WA would be just over 170 miles and just over 3 hours. It was raining when I awoke but weather.com predicted the rain would end about 9 AM so I took my dear sweet time preparing for departure and, even though I took advantage of some photo ops along the way, arrived at Shady Firs RV Park early afternoon. The park has lots of permanent/long term residents housed in the rear of the facility and a small RV park near the entrance. The park (and the laundry room) is clean, and the rate, which includes cable TV and Wi Fi, is very reasonable – particularly after the Passport America discount.

I really had only two main attractions on my agenda for the week – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument and Mount Rainier National Park. Both attractions are BIG and seeing all of either attraction in a single day isn’t practical. Since the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday looked good but the remainder of my stay was iffy at best, I decided to spend one day at each facility and see what the weather brought later in my stay.
There Are Lots Of Glacial Valleys In This Zip CodeThere Are Lots Of Glacial Valleys In This Zip CodeThere Are Lots Of Glacial Valleys In This Zip Code

The Drive from Pasco WA to Randle WA


Thursday morning, October 9, 2014 found me heading for the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station in Randle to have some road condition questions answered and to obtain a Northwest Forest Pass. The pass is required in Washington and Oregon for parking at many of the vistas in the national parks and the national forests and is quite reasonably priced, but, with my America the Beautiful Senior Pass, there was no fee. Since the road leading to the northeast vista of Mount Saint Helens (the closeest of the three monument access roads) is only about 3 miles west of the ranger station, I decided to visit her Windy Ridge Viewpoint first and save my drive through the southern side of Mount Rainier National Park for Friday.

I turned south on Forest Road (FR) 25. The entire route is paved but is in quite poor condition. The road SURFACE, for the most part, is fine; however, whether due to frost heave or to applying the asphalt over a poorly prepared ROADBED is to blame, there are numerous places where abrupt dips almost launched my 6,000+ pound pick-up truck into tomorrow. I had to drive the route at about half the posted
There Is Virtually No Room To Pull Off The Road On FR 25  There Is Virtually No Room To Pull Off The Road On FR 25  There Is Virtually No Room To Pull Off The Road On FR 25

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
speed limit because the shadows cast by the heavy canopy obscured (indeed, concealed in some cases) the imperfections. Even then, I was catapulted a couple of times. The roadway is so heavily forested that few “scenic” portions exist. The road is very lightly traveled and is narrow with virtually no shoulder so, where visibility was adequate in both directions, I merely stopped in the road to take a quick picture. There’s no guarantee, but it worked for me.

After 19 miles of “yee-haw,” I turned west on FR 99. Since there are only two ways to get to FR 99 (FR 25 north or south) and since FR 99 is a very good road in all respects, my bet is that most people visit the Windy Ridge Viewpoint from the south (a more direct route from I-5). I don’t know the road conditions south of FR 99, but there is a trailer/RV drop-off at Wakepish SnoPark about a mile west of the FR 25/FR 99 junction. I would HIGHLY recommend that those who venture onto FR 99 with an RV DO NOT approach FR 99 from the north.

From the FR 25/FR 99 junction, the drive to the
8:27 AM – A Bulging Mount Saint Helens8:27 AM – A Bulging Mount Saint Helens8:27 AM – A Bulging Mount Saint Helens

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
Windy Ridge Viewpoint is 16 miles. There are numerous pull-offs, many of which have informational or interpretive kiosks. I took advantage of these so I could concentrate on the unguarded, windy road perched precariously adjacent to some very steep you-don’t-wanna-go-theres. I stopped at the Bear Meadow Interpretive Site (11 miles northeast of Mount Saint Helens) where Gary Rosenquist brought some friends and family from Tacoma to camp and, hopefully, to see and photograph the predicted eruption. His photographs and account of the minutes just before, during and immediately after the eruption are riveting.

The closer I got to Mount Saint Helens, the more pronounced became the visible effects of the blast and the more profound became my comprehension of the magnitude of the invisible effects. Mount Saint Helens had been dormant since about 1850, but beginning about March 15, 1980 several small earthquakes indicated that magma might be moving below the volcano. On March 18, a shallow magnitude 4.2 earthquake signaled the end of the volcano's 123 years of hibernation, and, on March 27, a groundwater-derived steam explosion ejected rock from within the old summit crater to create a new 250 foot wide crater.

More earthquakes and a
8:32:33 AM – The Landslide Begins8:32:33 AM – The Landslide Begins8:32:33 AM – The Landslide Begins

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
series of steam explosions sent ash 10,000 to 11,000 feet into the air. Most of this ash fell within 3–12 miles of its vent, but some was carried 150 miles south to Bend OR or 285 miles east to Spokane WA. A total of about 10,000 earthquakes were recorded prior to the May 18 event with their frequency and intensity increasing from five jolts per day with a magnitude of 4 or greater in early April to 8 quakes per day the week prior to May 18.

Static electricity generated by the ash clouds rolling down the volcano sent out lightning bolts that were up to 2 miles long. Increasingly strong harmonic tremors were first detected on April 1, alarming geologists and prompting Governor Dixy Lee Ray to declare a state of emergency on April 3. Governor Ray issued an executive order on April 30 creating a "red zone" around the volcano – anyone caught in this zone without a pass faced a $500 fine or six months in prison. This precluded many cabin owners from visiting their property and saved an untold number of lives.

During the last week of April, a 1.5 mile diameter section of
8:32:59 AM – The Weakened Face Allows The Pressure To Be Released8:32:59 AM – The Weakened Face Allows The Pressure To Be Released8:32:59 AM – The Weakened Face Allows The Pressure To Be Released

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
Mount Saint Helens’ north face was displaced out at least 270 feet. For the rest of April and early May, this bulge grew by 5-6 feet per day; and, by mid-May, it extended more than 400 feet north. On April 30, geologists announced that sliding of the bulge area was the greatest immediate danger and that such a landslide might spark an eruption. Visible eruptions ceased on May 16, reduced the public interest and, consequently, the number of spectators in the area. Mounting public pressure then forced officials to allow 50 carloads of property owners to enter the danger zone on May 17 to gather whatever property they could carry. Another trip was scheduled for 10 AM the next day.

As May 18 dawned, United States Geological Survey (USGS) volcanologist David A. Johnston, who was stationed at an observation post approximately 6 miles north of the volcano, reported Mount Saint Helens' rate of bulge, sulfur dioxide emissions and ground temperature readings did not show any change from the pattern of the preceding month. At 8:32 AM, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake was recorded directly below the north slope. Johnston radioed the USGS, "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" Approximately 10 seconds
A Comeback With Stark Reminders Some 34 Years Later – Spirit LakeA Comeback With Stark Reminders Some 34 Years Later – Spirit LakeA Comeback With Stark Reminders Some 34 Years Later – Spirit Lake

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
after the shock, the bulging part of the volcano began to slide.

Travelling at 110 to 155 miles per hour, the largest landslide in recorded history moved across Spirit Lake's west arm. Part of it hit a 1,150 foot high ridge about 6 miles north. Some of the slide spilled over the ridge, but most of it moved 13 miles down the North Fork Toutle River filling its valley up to 600 feet deep with avalanche debris. An area of about 24 square miles was covered, with the total volume of the deposit at about 0.7 cubic miles. Most of Mount Saint Helens' former north side became a rubble deposit 17 miles long and averaging 150 feet thick.

Thousands of trees were torn from the surrounding hillside after Spirit Lake was sloshed 800 feet up the hillside. All the water in the lake was temporarily displaced by the landslide and 295 feet of avalanche debris was added to the old lakebed, raising its surface level by about 200 feet. As the water moved back into its basin, it pulled with it thousands of trees that had been felled by the wall of super-heated volcanic gas, searing ash and
Meta Lake Now Has Some FishMeta Lake Now Has Some FishMeta Lake Now Has Some Fish

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
rock.

When the earthquake caused the bulge to slide away from Mount Saint Helens, the weakened face yielded to the internal pressure, and the earth exploded. The eruption generated winds of 670 miles per hour with a temperature of 800 degrees F. An ash column rose 80,000 feet (15 miles) into the atmosphere and deposited ash in 11 U.S. states. At the same time; snow and ice from several glaciers melted, forming additional mudslides that reached as far as the Columbia River – nearly 50 miles to the southwest. Less-severe volcanic outbursts continued into the next day, only to be followed by other large, albeit not as destructive, eruptions later in 1980.

Fifty-seven people were killed, including geologist David A. Johnston. Luckily, the eruption happened on a Sunday and more than 300 loggers were not working in the area and also happened before the 10 AM time when the second group of property owner would be given access to the immediate area. Hundreds of square miles were reduced to wasteland, over a billion U.S. dollars in damage was done, thousands of game animals were obliterated and an untold number of birds and fish died directly or as a
In Places, FR 26 Is PrettyIn Places, FR 26 Is PrettyIn Places, FR 26 Is Pretty

Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
result of the event. Mount Saint Helens now sports a huge crater on her north side.

At the time of the eruption, the summit of the volcano was owned by Burlington Northern Railroad, but, afterward, the land passed to the United States Forest Service. The area has been preserved, as it was, in the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. By the way; Rosenquist, his party and his photographs survived only because the blast was deflected by local topography one mile short of his location. Scientists were able to reconstruct the motion of the landslide through Rosenquist’s photographs.

For my return to Randle, I opted to take FR 26. The sources I found warn that FR 26 is rough and narrow, recommend high clearance and four-wheel drive and advise to check locally for current road conditions – thus my stop at the Cowlitz Valley Ranger Station. There, I was told the road is narrow with pullouts but is paved the entire distance. My rocket scientist told me “recently paved” should equate to a smooth surface. That is not the case. Does Al Gore spell the name of the blacktop used in road construction A-S-S-F-A-U-L-T? How the governments (at all levels) allow such flagrant incompetence used to infuriate me, but I’ve grown accustomed over the years. It is what it is! FR 26 was constructed by the same folks who built FR 25 but is MUCH narrower. Still, it’s a nice change of scenery for the return trip, but I encountered a couple of Mario Andrettis that thought they were negotiating the streets of Monaco.

Mount Rainier, about 50 miles northeast of Mount Saint Helens as the proverbial crow goes, has been known by several names over the years, most of which have been derived from various Native American dialects. The map of the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 refers to it as "Mt. Regniere." George Vancouver, who became the first European to see the mountain in early May 1792, gave the Washington landmark its current name to honor his friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier.

The mountain is, as is Mount Saint Helens, a part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” The Ring of Fire is a 25,000 mile horseshoe shape feature ringing the Pacific Ocean that is a direct result of plate tectonics and is home to over 75% of the world's active and dormant
I Really Liked The Service StationI Really Liked The Service StationI Really Liked The Service Station

Longmire Area – Mount Rainier NP WA
volcanoes. With a summit elevation of 14,411 feet, Rainier is the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous states and is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. With 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent snowfields, Mount Rainier is the most ice laden peak in the lower 48 states. The summit is topped by two volcanic craters, each more than 1,000 feet in diameter. Geothermal heat from the volcano keeps areas of both crater rims free of snow and ice.

Although Mount Rainier is an active volcano, there is no evidence of an imminent eruption; however, an eruption could be devastating for all areas surrounding the volcano. If Mount Rainier were to erupt as powerfully as Mount Saint Helens did in 1980, the effect would be greater because of the larger amounts of glacial ice on the volcano when compared to Mount Saint Helens and because of the more densely populated areas surrounding the mountain.

Because of this large amount of glacial ice, Mount Rainier could produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River Valley. A lahar is a type of mudflow or debris flow composed of a slurry of pyroclastic material, rocky debris and water. The material flows down from a volcano, typically along a river valley. Lahars are extremely destructive – they can flow over 50 feet per second, can exceed 450 feet in depth and can destroy anything in their path. To protect the 150,000 residents of the Puyallup River Valley from future lahars, the USGS has installed a lahar warning system.

Mount Rainier National Park is B-I-G and hiking is one of the most popular activities in the park. To provide my readers with a reference point, the “Grand Poobah” of hikes in Mount Rainier is the Wonderland Trail which is a 93-mile circumnavigation of the base of the mountain. Built in 1915, the trail goes over many of the ridges of Mount Rainier for a cumulative 22,000 feet of elevation gain. An estimated 200 to 250 people a year complete the entire trail with several thousand more doing shorter sections of it. The average time taken to complete the entire trip is 10 to 14 days.

Of the five developed areas – Longmire, Paradise, Ohanapecosh, Sunrise, and Carbon/Mowich – I visited only Longmire and Paradise. Longmire served as Park headquarters when Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899. The site had previously served as James Longmire's homestead, lodging and mineral springs resort. All of Longmire is now designated a national historic district, and the original headquarters building houses a museum that tells the story of the early days of the park.

I began my trip at the Nisqually Entrance at the southwest corner of the park near Ashford, and my first stop was in Longmire. All of the buildings are interesting and the small museum has an array of nicely done exhibits. The most interesting feature, in my opinion, is the historic gas station complete with gravity pumps. I next happened upon Christine Falls which is, quite literally, a roadside attraction.

Further eastward, I spotted signage for Narada Falls and pulled into the parking area. I could easily see the babbling brook leading to the falls but could only get a partial view of the falls from above. Lungs to brain, “That’s a long way to the base.” Brain to lungs, “Come on, you can do it.” I took some photos and a movie. Somehow this techno-misfit got the smart phone flipped upside down so the water is flowing up the rock face when I watch the movie. Pretty interesting! I’ll have to stop by my local tech-guru store to try to get the image corrected but will have to remember that trick as a pretty interesting special effect! Oh, yes, it wasn’t that bad a climb back out of the chasm and was worth the effort.

I arrived at Paradise Area, took a few pictures, wandered through the gift shop and decided to have lunch at the café. That, my friend, was a bad mistake. The quality AND the price both were abhorrent! After buying what turned out to be a $9.00+ lunch meat Italian sandwich “plate” that was overpowered by everything except the meat, I had to buy a bag of chips and a drink. I truthfully was expecting fries but would have been content with chips. The drink I understand, and, if the sandwich would have been of good quality, I could have understood as well, but I ended up with a double whammy!

I made stops at Falls Creek and at the Grove of the Patriarchs before heading out the Stevens Canyon Entrance at the southeast corner of the park to return to Shady
One Last Look – For This Visit!One Last Look – For This Visit!One Last Look – For This Visit!

Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
Firs RV Park. It was a very nice day. Mount Rainier is awesome. Shouldda, wouldda, couldda quit one pack sooner or come when I still had the lung capacity to tackle the hiking opportunities that exist in the park. Mount Rainier’s a pretty special place.

I discovered the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad while researching the area and gave it a “we’ll see what the weather holds” endorsement. The price is a big secret on the web site, a relatively common practice, so I pretended to purchase a ticket to learn the cost. Sunday – three trains with no seats available. Saturday – two trains with no seats available and one train with one seat remaining. I bought it – two weeks before my arrival, thinking this might be a really great fall foliage viewing opportunity for the locals which caused the high demand. I also learned the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad has a museum in not-too-far-away Mineral WA which, essentially, is between the RV park and the depot. It was slightly puzzling that the museum is located several miles from the train depot, but stranger things have happened during The Great Adventure.

Saturday, October 10, 2014 I awoke
A Heisler Geared LocomotiveA Heisler Geared LocomotiveA Heisler Geared Locomotive

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum - Mineral WA
to a miserable day (as predicted for the past few days) – overcast, windy and chilly with intermittent sprinkles. Since I already had purchased my ticket, I was going to go for it anyway. With a 12 noon “will call” time at the railroad depot, I made the museum my morning stop. Shortly after I arrived, I learned that train enthusiasts from around the world had come to the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad for a photo ops day and, rather than being sold out, the trains with no seats available had been cancelled to accommodate the “special trains” that would deposit the photographers at sundry strategic locations along the route and then provide the photo shoot opportunity.

This museum is not your ordinary railroad museum in several respects. First, the focus is on logging and the railroading nuances required by the industry such as the dual-function “unit” in which one set of operators first used one end of the “unit” to pulled the felled trees to the railside, or “yarded the logs,” while other operators at the other end of the “unit” loaded the “yarded” logs onto adjacent railcars for transport.

Second, conventional steam locomotives have the pistons
Some Of The Gears For The Geared LocomotiveSome Of The Gears For The Geared LocomotiveSome Of The Gears For The Geared Locomotive

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum - Mineral WA
directly attached to the driving wheels without any gearing – we’ve all seen them in movies, one revolution of the driving wheels is equivalent to one revolution of the crank and thus two strokes of the piston (out and in). Simply put, given the lack of any variable-ratio transmission between the piston and the wheels, a compromise must be made between the desired torque and the desired maximum speed. That compromise (the desired amount of torque vs. the desired amount of speed) determines the radius of the driving wheels – a greater wheel radius provides more speed while more torque is generated by a smaller wheel radius.

Logging and other applications as well as railroads located in mountainous areas called for a low speed locomotive with the ability to set the heavily laden train in motion from a complete stop. As I noted, more torque can be generated by reducing the size of the driving wheels; however, there is a practical limit in this regard. The invented solution was a variable-ratio gearbox and, in turn, the geared locomotive. Since somebody always has to build a better mousetrap, three distinctly different designs evolved and the majority of geared locomotives were
One Of The Skid Houses Used In The Logging CampOne Of The Skid Houses Used In The Logging CampOne Of The Skid Houses Used In The Logging Camp

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum - Mineral WA
built to one of those configurations: the Shay locomotive, the Heisler locomotive and the Climax locomotive. The museum owns, has restored and displays all three types.

The final distinct difference that sets the museum apart is the noteworthy coverage given to logging camps. As the trees were harvested, the operations had to move. Logging camps were of two types. One type had the shacks build on skids to easily slide the house off a rail car and into position (aptly called skid shacks) and then to pull it back onto the rail car for the move to a new location. In the second instance, the shacks were built on and fixed to a rail car and transported as necessary. Some logging operations transported the men from a nearby town via railroad passenger cars. Four of the skid shacks at the museum are authentic.

The “flunky shack” or women’s quarters also gets coverage at the museum. Some of the loggers were married, but most were single and “flunkies” were hired by the logging companies to work in the kitchen and dining hall. The flunkies arose early to prepare the sack lunches the loggers took with them to the forest.
Here She Comes, Boys!Here She Comes, Boys!Here She Comes, Boys!

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA
Then breakfast was served to the loggers, and, finally, the flunkies could eat before clean-up and dishwashing began. After supper (served once the loggers long work day had ended), their time was free but most promptly retired to prepare for another early day. The museum is very interesting, but my experience at the facility was not over – not just yet.

I headed into Elbe and the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad depot. I got my ticket without any problems and walked to a nearby eatery for some lunch. I obeyed the, “Please Wait to be Seated” sign for about 5-7 minutes. During my wait, I thought about my experience at the Mount Rainier café the previous day and walked out to the truck to eat some of my survival cache (which was due to be rotated out for some “more recently manufactured” items anyway).

The train arrived, the passengers boarded and the trip began. I had chosen to sit in a car without window glass so I didn’t have to deal with reflections in my pictures. Although I hadn’t performed an exhaustive search, I hadn’t seen any railroad tracks along the local byways and was hoping for a trip through unspoiled terrain. Such was not the case. Indeed, for a great portion of the outbound trip, we travelled behind houses that are located between the tracks and the road. We all know Bill Gates doesn’t have a railroad line 150 feet from his back door, and, let’s be nice and say, attractively landscaped would not be part of the property description.

On my side of the outward-bound train, saplings and underbrush obscured almost any hope for a “scenic” trip; however, the culprits were deciduous for the most part and their leaves did provide a nice display. At one point the engineer slowed noticeably, and some people from Washington who had taken the trip several years previously said that Mount Rainier was visible from that location on a clear day.

After about 30 minutes, we arrived at, ta dah, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad Museum in Mineral! Unfortunately, that detail has been omitted from the web site – I hope an oversight for I can think lf no other logical reason. Since I had closely examined the artifacts of interest to me, I spent my time people-watching. The duration of the stop was not announced, but I’m
But You’ll Have To Back Up All the Way To Town!But You’ll Have To Back Up All the Way To Town!But You’ll Have To Back Up All the Way To Town!

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA
guessing it was 20-30 minutes and was sufficient for most people to be content with their museum experience. During our stop, the steam locomotive was uncoupled from the front of the train, and a California Zephyr era diesel-electric locomotive was coupled at the opposite end but BACKWARDS. I was concerned – the engineer would have to back the train all the way to Elbe.

About 10 minutes into the return trip, the first noteworthy rain of the day commenced and got harder and HARDER and H-A-R-D-E-R. The wind started blowing the rain into the compartment. Pretty soon the hail stones started falling. The storm, minus the hail, was still raging when we arrived at the station. I decided to endure the rain and head for the truck before the hail returned. I survived slightly wet but not melted! I have been on some very scenic train rides and some moderately scenic train rides, and, particularly on an overcast day when Mount Rainier is not visible, the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad is neither of those. Fortunately, I learned a lot about the railroad/logging interface at the museum, and the photographers along the route made the trip unique.

Sunday, Monday
And Then The Rains CameAnd Then The Rains CameAnd Then The Rains Came

Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA
and Tuesday were just as miserable as Saturday late afternoon – again, without the hail. Although I wanted more, I had two chamber of commerce days to visit Mount Saint Helens and Mount Rainier. I’m told it’s not uncommon for people to visit the park for a week-long vacation and never see the summit of Mount Rainier so I’ll just consider myself fortunate and will quit complaining RIGHT NOW. When I return to the area, I hope to explore at least parts of the other three sides of both landmarks.


Additional photos below
Photos: 46, Displayed: 38


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The Drive from Pasco WA to Randle WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Drive to Windy Ridge Vista – Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument WA
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Longmire Area – Mount Rainier NP WA
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Longmire Area – Mount Rainier NP WA
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Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
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Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
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Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
Falls CreekFalls Creek
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Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
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Nisqually to Stevens Canyon - Mount Rainier NP WA
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Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA
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Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA
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Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad - Elbe WA


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