Rounding Tahoma

On the day in question, it was going to be hotter than blue blazes in the Seattle area. For my purposes, that’s about 90 degrees. I know that my Southern friends will scoff at that, but remember, we don’t have air conditioning. I was anticipating misery, so I began casting about for ways to beat the heat.

My husband and I decided that the best way of doing that would be to go to higher altitudes. Specifically, we planned to go to Mount Rainier National Park. We are lucky that this gorgeous mountain is but a day drip away for us.

Mount Rainier is called Tahoma by the Native Americans in this area. I think that’s a much better name.  Tahoma is 14,410 feet high, which means it’s the tallest peak in the Cascade Range. People have been visiting this mountain for more than 9,000 years. It became a national park in 1899.

We decided on this day that it would be fun to circumnavigate the entire mountain. This meant that we’d have to use roads that were quite often outside the park itself. But the views were spectacular regardless, and we got to visit some very enchanting small towns along the way.

Our first stop was for ice cream in the little town of Greenwater. We also got to check out a couple statues of Bigfoot. This made me wonder if the plural of Bigfoot is Bigfoots or Bigfeet. I don’t suppose this question will loom large in my life, but it was something to think about rather than feeling guilty about eating ice cream.

Next, we entered the park and headed toward the Sunrise Visitor Center. The State of Washington’s highest paved highway ends there at 6400 feet. Needless to say, we were treated to several switchbacks along the way, and the roadsides were blanketed by a variety of colorful subalpine wildflowers. We also encountered the fascinating remnants of some columnar lava, and enjoyed the glacier-clad slopes in the distance. We got to see Emmons Glacier, the largest American glacier outside of Alaska.

We had packed a picnic lunch, and enjoyed that in the Sunrise picnic area. Two million people visit this national park each year, but we had the picnic area pretty much to ourselves. We adhered to strict social distancing and mask guidelines whenever we saw another human. Mostly, we were surrounded by flowers, and got to watch some chipmunks play. I relished the peace and quiet.

I was a little sad that I wasn’t able to obtain a stamp for my National Parks Passport, because the ranger station was closed. But the gift shop was open, so we were able to add another fridge magnet to our collection. Yay!

After that, we headed south along the east side of the park. We were smack dab in the middle of nowhere, without even a hint of cell phone signal, when we came across a family standing beside their broken down car. They wrote down contact information for a relative, along with their membership number for AAA, and asked if we could please contact that relative as soon as we got a cell signal, and have him call a tow truck. We said we would. We also took a picture of where we thought he was located, more or less, on a map, because needless to say, there were no intersections or addresses to be had.

It took us about a half hour to get a signal and make contact, and we texted the map photo as well. By then it was about 6:30 pm, and we knew that this would be no quick rescue. At that elevation it would be quite cold when the sun went down, so we worried about them. We asked the relative to contact us and let us know they made it out safe. And in fact, they didn’t get home until around midnight. So that must have been a really rotten day for that poor family.

But for us, it was shaping up to be a lovely day indeed. We were getting to see Tahoma from all angles. It’s a formidable mountain. Here’s a quote from the national park brochure we received at the entrance:

“Mount Ranier is an active volcano. Active steam vents, periodic earth tremors, and historic eruptions provide evidence that Mount Rainier is sleeping, not dead.”

Steam still escapes from its summit. I’ve seen it from Seattle. It’s not a gigantic, eruptive plume. It’s just a gentle mist that wafts from the top at unexpected moments. It reminds me of the power of nature.

We stopped for dinner at the little town of Packwood. There are a few restaurants there that rely on the tourist trade, a museum, and an outfitter for outdoor pursuits. That’s about it. I don’t even remember if there’s a stop light. This town relies on gigantic swap meets twice a year, on Memorial Day and Labor Day, for the bulk of their income, and those swap meets have been cancelled due to the pandemic. I have no idea how this town will survive. The elk seem to still like visiting it, though. They were everywhere.

From there we entered the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was fun to see all the different people camping along the creeks. Personally, I’ve never camped outside of an official campground, because I like having an actual bathroom, but camping rough seems to be the thing to do in this area. It certainly is a bucolic setting.

We arrived home late in the evening, having successfully driven all the way around Tahoma. When we pulled into our driveway, we discovered that we had driven 214 miles. I cannot get over the beauty and variety of this state and this country. I feel so lucky to live here.

All the photos below were taken on our journey. Enjoy them. And I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Of all the fire mountains, which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.” John Muir

Cultivate an attitude of gratitude! Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

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