Mt. Rainier

Wow, what a view

Wednesday my friend L and I did something we’d been wanting to do for a long time.  We went up to Crystal Mountain Ski Area, and we rode the gondola, which is open to sightseers in the off-season.  It cost twenty bucks, but it was worth every penny.  I really had no idea how far we’d be able to see from up there.  I’d been to Crystal to ski several times, but that was fifteen years ago, and even then I’d never gotten that high on the mountain (the easiest trail down from the top of the gondola is intermediate, and I never got much beyond high beginner trails the entire decade or so that I skied regularly).

Anyway, the day was about as clear and dry as it gets in the Pacific Northwest (and hot — 90+F in the lowlands, which broke records for this time of year, and in the upper 70sF even at almost 7000 feet at the top of the gondola), and the views ranged from Mt. Adams, clear down by the Columbia River, all the way to Mt. Baker, all the way up by the Canadian border.  And Mt. Rainier looked as if a person could reach out and touch it.

The only view even slightly obscured was down towards Puget Sound, where haze hovered over the water, blocking our view of the Olympics and of the cities down there (I bet the nighttime view in clear weather of those cities must be absolutely amazing).

There’s a fancy restaurant up at the top of the gondola, but it was beyond our price range, so we’d packed a picnic (actually, we’d bought our picnic at a Subway on the way), and we had plenty of chipmunk company while we ate.

All in all, it was a seriously spectacular trip.  If you happen to be in this part of the world on a clear day, don’t miss it.

Mount Rainier from the top of the Crystal Mountain gondola.  That's the White River down below.

Mount Rainier from the top of the Crystal Mountain gondola. That’s the White River down below.

That shadowy curve above the crags is Mt. St. Helens.

That shadowy curve above the crags is Mt. St. Helens.

Mt. Adams, and the tubs of flowers on the path to the restaurant.

Mt. Adams, and the tubs of flowers on the path to the restaurant.

Welcome to Crystal Mountain, elevation 6872 feet.

Welcome to Crystal Mountain, elevation 6872 feet.

That little white triangle on the horizon towards the righthand edge of the photo is Mt. Baker.

That little white triangle on the horizon almost dead center is Mt. Baker.

Lunch company.

Lunch company.

Really brave lunch company.

Really brave lunch company.

Headed back down the gondola.  Taken through the clear cover, so please excuse the reflections.

Headed back down the gondola. Taken through the clear cover, so please excuse the reflections.

Just a reminder, the Time in Yellowstone series: Repeating History, True Gold, and Finding Home, and the story “Homesick” (including chapters from all three novels, and only 99 cents for the e-version), are now available as ebooks on Amazon and Smashwords, and Repeating History is now available as a paper book from Amazon and CreateSpace, with the other books coming in paper editions very soon.

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Categories: "Homesick", animals, books, exploring, Finding Home, flowers, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, parks, Repeating History, travel, True Gold, weather | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

salt water and gardens

Point Defiance Park is one of the most beautiful places in Tacoma, Washington, and that’s saying a lot.  It’s a huge city park (708 acres) on a point sticking out into Puget Sound, with a zoo, a waterfront promenade and beach, a replica of a historic fort, extensive gardens, and expanses of old-growth forest laced with hiking trails.

I had a meeting in Tacoma yesterday afternoon, and afterwards I decided to go walk the promenade, enjoy the gardens, and take some photos.  Here’s a selection:

An iconic western Washington view -- the Pt. Defiance-Vashon Island ferry making its run.

An iconic western Washington view — the Pt. Defiance-Vashon Island ferry making its run across Puget Sound.

Shaded in the foreground to the right is the waterfront promenade walk at Pt. Defiance.  In the background is Mt. Rainier.

Shaded in the foreground to the right is the waterfront promenade walk at Pt. Defiance. In the background is Mt. Rainier.

It's the time of year for dahlias, and the dahlia test garden at Pt. Defiance is in full bloom.  This is my favorite kind of dahlia, known as a ball dahlia.

It’s the time of year for dahlias, and the dahlia test garden at Pt. Defiance is in full bloom. This is my favorite kind of dahlia, known as a ball dahlia.

This dahlia looks like a peppermint stick.

This dahlia looks like a peppermint stick.

These white dahlias were bigger than my outspread hand.  Some of the dahlias on display were bigger than my head.

These white dahlias were bigger than my outspread hand. Some of the dahlias on display were bigger than my head.

One of a dozen rows of dahlias in the test garden.

One of a dozen rows of dahlias in the test garden.

This pretty walkway lined with yellow rudbeckias and green hostas, among others, is near the dahlia garden.

This pretty walkway lined with yellow rudbeckias, white Japanese anemones and hostas in lots of shades of green, is near the dahlia garden.

Pt. Defiance also has a huge rose garden, which is still going strong now in late August.  I don't know what kind these are, but they're profuse.

Pt. Defiance also has a huge rose garden, which is still going strong now in late August. I don’t know what kind these are, but they’re profuse.

This is my favorite color of rose, kind of an orangey salmon.

This is my favorite color of rose, kind of an orangey salmon.

And here's a view of part of the rose garden with its gazebo, which is popular for summer weddings, and for good reason.

And here’s a view of part of the rose garden with its gazebo, which is popular for summer weddings, and for good reason.

Categories: flowers, hiking, Mt. Rainier, outdoors, parks, plants | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My 20th? annual trip to Sunrise

Actually, it may be my 19th.  I moved here twenty years ago this month, but I don’t remember if I went up there that year.  I know I’ve gone up there twice in a summer at least twice, so does that count?

I love both Paradise and Hurricane Ridge, and I’ve been to a lot of other wonderful wildflower hunting places (including Yellowstone, which doesn’t seem like a likely place to find a lot of wildflowers but most certainly is, and an incredible little state park in Indiana called Clifty Falls, which is absolutely amazing in April), but my favorite wildflower hunting grounds of all time are at Sunrise at Mt. Rainier National Park.

The Mountain from Sunrise.

The Mountain (as it’s referred to locally) from Sunrise.

This year I was slightly late getting up there — my beloved alpine phlox was all but over except in a few favored places — but I still managed to rack up 36 different kinds of flowers.  That’s my best total this summer!

One of the really neat things that the rangers do up at Sunrise (and at Hurricane Ridge) is put little signs near clumps of blooming plants that tell you what they are.  I also have a couple of ID books, and I take photos of everything I see, so I can examine them better when I get home.

Here’s a sampling of what I saw today:

Pink and one yellow monkeyflower on the road to Sunrise.

Pink and one yellow monkeyflower on the road to Sunrise.

Small-flowered penstemons (their name as well as an accurate description).

Small-flowered penstemons (their name as well as an accurate description).

Partridge foot.  I don't think I've ever ID'd this one before.

Partridge foot. I don’t think I’ve ever ID’d this one before.

Subalpine daisies (genus Erigeron).

Subalpine daisies (genus Erigeron) and one of those nifty park service signs.

Magenta paintbrush -- see, they're not endemic to the Olympics!

Magenta paintbrush — see, they’re not endemic to the Olympics!

A clump of scarlet paintbrush in a field of subalpine daisies.

A clump of scarlet paintbrush in a field of subalpine daisies.

Jacob's ladder, aka Polemonium.  One of its relatives is a self-inflicted weed in my garden.

Jacob’s ladder, aka Polemonium. One of its relatives is a self-inflicted weed in my garden.

A field of sickletop lousewort (what a horrible name to inflict on a perfectly nice wildflower!), in a damp spot where it's happiest.

A field of sickletop lousewort (what a horrible name to inflict on a perfectly nice wildflower!), in a damp spot where it’s happiest.

Elephantella.  The flower book calls it elephant head, which is an accurate description of the flowers, but I grew up calling it elephantella.

Elephantella. The flower book calls it elephant head, which is an accurate description of the flowers, but I grew up calling it elephantella.

Dwarf alpine lupine at Sunrise Camp.

Dwarf alpine lupine at Sunrise Camp.

White rhododendron, which doesn't look much like a regular rhody to me.

White rhododendron, which doesn’t look much like a regular rhody to me.

Cusick's speedwell, whose formal name is Veronica.  I didn't see Betty.

Cusick’s speedwell, whose formal name is Veronica. I didn’t see Betty [g].

 And here’s the list, pretty much in the order I saw them:

Monkeyflowers (Mimulus), pink and yellow

Small-flowered penstemon

Pearly everlastings

Broad-leaved and dwarf lupines

American bistort

Potentilla

Gray’s lovage

Thread-leaved sandwort

Common yarrow

Partridge foot

Subalpine daisy

Cascade aster

Pale agoseris

Fan-leaved cinquefoil

Pasqueflower seedheads

False hellebore

Sitka valerian

Spreading phlox

Paintbrush, scarlet and magenta

Polemonium (Jacob’s ladder)

Broadleaved arnica

One lonely Columbian tiger lily

Sickletop lousewort

Elephantella

Beargrass

Harebells

Pink heather

White rhododendron

Cusick’s speedwell

Mertensia

Newberry’s knotweed

Mountain ash

Pussy-toes

Oh, and I saw a bear!  In all the times I’ve gone hiking up at Sunrise, this is the first time I’ve seen a bear.  It was at the Sunrise Camp, which is an ex-auto camp that’s been turned into a backpacker’s camp about a mile and a half behind Sunrise visitor center.  There were about twenty of us watching it browse from a safe distance when I was there.  It obviously knew we were there, and it equally obviously couldn’t have cared less.  It was a bit closer to the trail than I was comfortable with, so instead of making my usual loop, I went back the way I came, along by Shadow Lake.

The first bear I've ever seen at Sunrise -- the ranger had me fill out a report when I went into the visitor center to tell her about it like the sign says to.

The first bear (photo taken with the zoom) I’ve ever seen at Sunrise — the ranger had me fill out a report when I went into the visitor center to tell her about it like the sign says to.

And I saw this bird.  It’s got some blue on its back and rust on its front, and it’s about 6-8″ long, maybe?

A bird I'm hoping my friend will ID for me.

A bird I’m hoping my friend Katrina will ID for me.

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, hiking, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, parks, plants, travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

counting wildflower species

Can be quite the process on Mt. Rainier this time of year [g].  I spent the day up at Paradise (including a short jaunt down to Stevens Canyon) today, and counted 28 wildflower species that I could identify, and at least one that wasn’t in my book.  Not bad when you consider that there were still two and three-foot snowdrifts around and about at Paradise.  Instead of showing you the usual tourist pictures of the mountain for this trip, I thought I’d pull a Katrina (a birder friend who posts lists with accompanying photos) and show you some of what I saw.

Avalanche lilies -- if you time it just right, you can see literally fields of these at Paradise.  I did time it right this year.

Avalanche lilies — if you time it just right, you can see literally fields of these at Paradise. I did time it right this year.

One of the few I haven't been able to ID yet.  This was a woodland flower near where I stopped to photograph the Columbia tiger lily, between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire.

One of the few I haven’t been able to ID yet. This was a woodland flower near where I stopped to photograph the Columbia tiger lily, between the Nisqually entrance and Longmire.

I must have passed three or four clumps of these Columbia tiger lilies before I found one in a place safe to photograph without running the risk of getting hit by a car.  Thse were growing down near Longmire.

I must have passed three or four clumps of these Columbia tiger lilies before I found one in a place safe to photograph without running the risk of getting hit by a car. These were growing down near Longmire.

One of the two kinds of penstemons -- these are Davidson's penstemons, and I found them on the Stevens Canyon road.

One of the two kinds of penstemons — these are Davidson’s penstemons, and I found them on the Stevens Canyon road.

Rosy spirea.  This is all over the place at Paradise, and was just starting to bloom.

Rosy spirea. This is all over the place at Paradise, and was just starting to bloom.

Alpine phlox, my favorite wildflower, growing out of a crack in the rocks on the Paradise loop road.

Alpine phlox, my favorite wildflower, growing out of a crack in the rocks on the Paradise loop road.

Spring beauties on the trail to Myrtle Falls at Paradise.  They were growing some distance away on the hillside, but I did my best.

Spring beauties on the trail to Myrtle Falls at Paradise. They were growing some distance away on the hillside, but I did my best.

Jeffrey's shooting stars along the Stevens Canyon road at the Snow Lake trailhead.

Jeffrey’s shooting stars along the Stevens Canyon road at the Snow Lake trailhead.

Beargrass! on the Stevens Canyon Road.  I think this is the first time I've ever seen beargrass at Mt. Rainier.  I normally associate it with Glacier National Park.

Beargrass! on the Stevens Canyon Road. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen beargrass at Mt. Rainier. I normally associate it with Glacier National Park.

Red heather along the steps down to the Myrtle Falls overlook.

Red heather along the steps down to the Myrtle Falls overlook.

A patch of glacier lilies (glacier lilies are yellow, avalanche liles are white, otherwise they're basically identical -- repeat until memorized [wry g].

A patch of glacier lilies (glacier lilies are yellow, avalanche liles are white, otherwise they’re basically identical — repeat until memorized [wry g].

Potentilla along the trail at Paradise.

Potentilla along the trail at Paradise.

Part of a huge patch of mertensia along the road almost to Paradise.

Part of a huge patch of mertensia along the road almost to Paradise.

I love summer, and mountain wildflowers are a big part of the reason why.

Oh, and here’s the list of everything I saw today that I could identify:

Goatsbeard

Mertensia

Potentilla

Avalanche lilies (white)

Glacier lilies (yellow)

Violets

Pasqueflowers

Spring beauties

Red heather

Mountain ash

Alpine phlox

Sitka valerian

Mountain bistort

Columbia red columbines

Beargrass

Serviceberry

Pink spirea

Jeffrey’s shooting stars

Two kinds of penstemon, Davidson’s and one not in my book

Lupine

Two kinds of paintbrush (magenta and scarlet)

Clover

Veronica

Columbia tiger lily

Cow parsnips

Ocean spray

Oh, and one more thing, or, rather, two.  I saw a dipper at Myrtle Falls (at least I think it was a dipper — it was too far away for a formal ID, but it was acting very much like a dipper, which is pretty distinctive, at least I’ve never seen any other kind of bird that dives into pools just above waterfalls).  And a pika skittered across the trail in front of me on my way back from Myrtle Falls.  He was too fast to get a photo.  But you can hear the pikas everywhere up there this time of year.  They sound very odd.

That’s it.  I think [g].  It was a gorgeous day in Paradise, what can I say?

Categories: animals, birds, exploring, highways, hiking, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, parks, plants, travel, weather | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

34F at 500 feet, 64F at 5400 feet

Or, to put it in non-American terms, the high temperature for yesterday was 1dC at my home at 470 feet/143 meters altitude in the Puget Sound lowlands, and almost 18dC at Paradise at 5400 feet/1646 meters on Mt. Rainier.

The cause of this?  The technical term is temperature inversion.  If you want to know more about it, you can read this entry in Cliff Mass’s weather blog.  He’s a meteorology professor at the University of Washington and an expert on Pacific Northwest weather, and writes an interesting and entertaining blog.

But to this layperson, what it means is that my neighborhood has looked like this for most of the last two weeks:

My neighborhood in the fog yesterday.

My neighborhood in the fog yesterday.

So my friend L and I decided to go up to Paradise, which literally was a paradise in comparison, yesterday.

We got to Longmire, at 2700 feet, late in the morning.  It was already clear there, but still pretty cold, and more snow than I’ve seen there in most winter visits I’ve made (we had a lot of precipitation — rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains — in December).  However, there was some evidence of melting and freezing in the form of these icicles hanging off the museum roof.

Icicles at Longmire

Icicles at Longmire

The gas station at Longmire is no longer functional, but contains an exhibit about the changing modes of transportation in the park in its 100+ years of existence.  It was actually colder inside the building than out, so we didn’t linger there.

Antique gas station and transportation museum at Longmire.

Antique gas station and transportation museum at Longmire.

The melting and freezing resulted in some seriously beautiful ice crystal formations, too.  The crystals on this rock were almost an inch long, and the expanses of them on the snowbanks looked almost like fur.

Ice crystals on rock.

Ice crystals on rock.

Snow covered in crystals at Longmire.

Snow covered in crystals at Longmire.

After wandering around Longmire for a little while, we headed on up to Paradise.  The road from the Nisqually Entrance to Longmire had been more than a bit slippery — plowed but icy — and I’d been a bit concerned about going on, but another effect of the temperature inversion was that the higher we went, the better the road conditions were.  By the time we got halfway to Paradise, it was bare and dry most of the way, if hemmed in by plowed snowbanks higher than the car.

Plowed road at Paradise.

Plowed road at Paradise.

We ate lunch at the visitor center, then went out and walked around one of the several snowcatted trails.  The one we took went around behind Paradise Inn, which is closed in the winter.  The cornices and other wind-blown snow formations were spectacular.  The sun beamed down and it was warm enough that a jacket was almost too much.  Just absolutely glorious.  I could feel the funk I’d been in since we’d first gotten socked in just evaporate.  It was wonderful.

Sledding at Paradise.

Sledding at Paradise.

Paradise Inn half-buried in snow.

Paradise Inn half-buried in snow.

The Mountain, as we refer to it in this part of the world.

The Mountain, as we refer to it in this part of the world.

The Mountain behind the Inn, and the snowcatted trail.

The Mountain behind the Inn, and the snowcatted trail.

It was very hard to come back down to the gloom when the day was over.

But it was one of the best things I’ve done so far this year.  I love living two hours from Paradise.

Categories: exploring, hiking, history, Mt. Rainier, museums, national parks, outdoors, parks, weather | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Never too late for wildflowers

 It’s summer still, barely.  At this latitude (a little over 47 degrees north) in late August, we’ve already gone from a peak of sixteen hours of daylight at the summer solstice, to about fourteen hours and losing minutes by the day.  Headed towards Christmas, and barely eight gloomy hours, alas.

 But it’s still summer now, and while I thought I was going to be too late this year for my annual wildflower pilgrimage to Sunrise  on Mt. Rainier, happily I was not.

 It was a gorgeous day.  It was only supposed to get to 59dF at Sunrise’s 6400 foot altitude, but it went well into the sixties.  It was also supposed to be overcast most of the day, and I suspect it was at sea level, but since Sunrise is on the east side of the Mountain, there was plenty of blue to go along with the gray.

 Because I was late getting up there this year, I even got to see two new-to-me kinds of wildflowers, a yellow spire called rainiera , and two varieties of the sadly-named lousewort, which are much prettier than the name would make you think.  The smaller white lousewort looks from a distance, almost like a cream-colored lupine.  The taller lousewort is lemon yellow.  Both are in the same genus as one of my favorite flowers, elephantella.

 Asters were everywhere, and lupine was still blooming in great blue pools.  I love lupine, especially the variations of color from almost white to dark reddish and bluish purple.  This time I saw one with stripes, which I haven’t seen often.  The phlox was all but over, but there were a few patches still blooming.  The yellow daisy arnica was still going strong, as was the paintbrush, from almost pink through red to orange.  The other usual suspects, bistort and pearly everlastings, were still out, too.

 The Mountain played hide-and-seek with the clouds most of the afternoon, but I did get some good glimpses as I walked the almost three miles of one of my alltime favorite trails, down the service road past the backpacker camp, and around by Shadow Lake.

 The fog began to roll in as I climbed into my car.  Altogether perfect timing.  I’m so glad it wasn’t too late for wildflowers.

 Where is your favorite place to go wildflower hunting?

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Categories: exploring, hiking, Mt. Rainier, national parks, outdoors, plants, travel, weather | Tags: , | 4 Comments

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