May 10, 2012

Majestic Mount Rainier

If I ever had any doubt, I am now convinced that virtually every mountain road in the West is scenic.  At least the ones we’ve driven have been so.  Yesterday morning we left the Yakima Valley, where we had stayed last night, and made our way back over the Cascade Range toward Mount Rainier National Park. 

Highway 12 is known as the White Pass Scenic Byway, and it winds its way through national forests and beside beautiful mountain lakes on its way to White Pass at 4,500 feet in elevation.  Once again, we were in snow country, and we passed a ski resort that had just closed for the season.  A thundering waterfall caught my eye, and ear, and we stopped for a closer look.  It required hiking through a foot of snow to reach the viewing platform but it was well worth it.

View from White Pass Scenic Byway
Our gorgeous weather of the past few days began to change as we crossed to the “wet” side of the Cascade Range.  A few sprinkles of rain, some clouds and much cooler temperatures greeted us as we descended from White Pass.  We arrived at Mount Rainier National Park in the middle of the afternoon and drove through a dense, green forest to Longmire, the oldest developed area in the park. 

Longmire is the home of the National Park Inn, one of two historic lodges in the park.  The inn is open all year, and we stopped in for blackberry cobbler and coffee to warm us on a chilly day.  The front lawn of the inn is a perfect spot for viewing Mount Rainier.  Although the mountain was mostly obscured by clouds, it was still a magnificent sight.  

That's Mount Rainier Behind the Clouds
National Park Inn
Mount Rainier is the third tallest mountain peak in the lower forty-eight states and is so impressive because it dominates the horizon, with nothing else around it.  Like other mountains in the Cascade Range, Mount Rainier is an active volcano and has the potential to erupt again.  Rainier is known for the record amounts of snowfall it receives, as well as its twenty-five glaciers.

Today we returned to Mount Rainier National Park on an absolutely gorgeous day. Although it was still quite cold, the sky was blue, and there were few clouds to block our view of the mountain.  We were very lucky to have such amazing weather.  So many people visit the park and are never able to see Mount Rainier.  For much of the year it’s hidden by rain clouds or snow.  That was not the case today.

Mount Rainier Was Out!
We took advantage of the weather and drove the scenic park road to Paradise, the most visited area in the park.  Along the way, we encountered gushing waterfalls, historic stone bridges and progressively higher snowbanks.  

The Road to Paradise Was Designed to Maximize Views of Mount Rainier
Christine Falls
Historic Stone Bridge

Although Paradise is known for its wildflower meadows, this time of year it’s covered with massive amounts of snow.  Snowshoe walks are still a popular way to explore the mountain, but we decided to forego the winter sports and just admire the view.  We viewed the exhibits at the new visitor center and it was interesting to compare the contemporary, interactive approach to these exhibits with the “show and tell” style that we saw at the small museum at Longmire.   

That's a Lot of Snow!
Paradise Inn Still Buried in Snow
The Longmire museum is actually one of the few in the national park system to preserve its “historic” exhibits.  Many of the exhibits at Longmire were actually created by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.  Charlie the Cougar was the highlight, and we learned that the park’s first naturalist was responsible for stuffing Charlie.  It was his first and only attempt at taxidermy. 

The Longmire museum is one of the buildings in Longmire Village known for its rustic style of architecture.  We toured the village and saw how the park’s architects used local materials, expert craftsmanship and bold forms to create a style that blended in with its surroundings.  The park’s original administration building and the community center are two outstanding examples of this rustic architectural style.  Even a historic gas station was designed to harmonize with the wilderness setting.

Administration Building Is a Classic Example of Rustic Architecture
Even Gas Stations Can Be Designed in the Rustic Style
Nisqually Suspension Bridge at Longmire Village
One of these day’s I’ll return to Mount Rainier National Park in the summer when all of the roads and lodges are open and the wildflowers are blooming.  For now, I’ll remember how dramatic the park looked in the snow and nice it was to virtually have the park to ourselves.


  1. Spectacular! I love all the stone work at the admin building. Glad you had a clear view of the mountain the whole time. Same thing happened to us at Denali - 5 days of views and just dumb luck! :-) LV

    1. LV, Wow! Being able to see Denali for that many days is amazing! That must have been a spectacular sight. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to see Rainier. Sarah

  2. Beautiful photos. Great views. It is hard for me to understand there is still snow in some places. Love A

    1. A, Thank you. Isn't it amazing how much snow we're still encountering? Some of the roads in these places won't even be open until the middle of the summer! Sarah