People like us visit Mt. St. Helens to contemplate what happened there and what could happen again at any of the volcanos in the northwest. People like us visit Mt. Rainier, because it is so spectacularly beautiful. People much younger and fitter than us visit Mt. Rainier to climb its icy terraces and occasionally someone loses his life making this attempt. This national park has more glaciers than any other park in the lower 48. Rainier has been a national park since 1899, and with it location midway between the large metro areas of Seattle and Portland, is in danger of being loved to death just as Rocky Mountain NP is. When we arrived in Paradise, the aptly named visitor center at the summit, even my handicapped parking pass wasn't sufficient and we had to join many other folks parked on the shoulder of the narrow road approaching the lodge. The parking lot was totally full.
Rainier has a very short season. Many of its roads are socked in with snow until well into the summer and we hear that it's going to snow there again tomorrow. We saw lots of tall grass laying flat against the ground, looking like the snow that had been pressing it down just melted yesterday. A ranger told us that some years if you spent a month at Paradise, you could see the spring flowers bloom and the fall colors burst forth all within that month. We missed those flowers, but the fall colors on the hillside below the mountain were breathtaking today. We felt so lucky to have such a warm, sunny day. We're read that even on nice days the top of the mountain can be socked in with fog as the warm air below hits the icy air around the summit. We stopped to admire a stream filled with milky white water, which indicates that it is glacial melt. I thought longingly of the parka I left in the car nearby as the icy water gurgled by, but by the time we got to Paradise, sandals and short sleeves were all we needed.
At the lower elevations we drove through thick pine forests that looked like a fire or a pine beetle infestation had not been here for millennia. And that wonderful piney smell! The trees stood so tall that it felt like we were in a narrow pine canyon. The trees also stand near the road, a fact that bothered me much more today than it has in past visits. We've been thinking a lot about forest fires lately, and if one did get started it could jump the road, trapping those at the top of the mountain without difficulty.
Rain/snow is in the forecast for tomorrow as temperatures drop 20º. It must be time to turn south again.