Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day 15: Mount Rainier National Park

This morning we had a long drive to Mount Rainier. Before arriving at the actual park we first stopped at the Columbia River Gorge, where we could see the large lava flows of basalt rocks that have formed the Columbia Plateau. Signs warned us to watch for rattlesnakes, which seemed appropriate because the landscape really reminded me of the desolate Death Valley from the first days of our trip.

However, the landscape quickly changed as we neared the park. Lush green forests filled with towering conifers and low-lying ferns occupied the landscape that was backdropped by snowcapped mountains and the monolithic volcano--Mt. Rainier. Once we arrived at the park, our first stop was for a picnic at White River, and then to a scenic lookout to view one of the volcanoes 26 glaciers, which have carved the pointed horns of the mountains and rounded valleys below. Despite the warm air and rather hot sun, the snow is so deep here that it never gets a chance to melt.

Then we stopped at Sunrise Point to catch a great view of the largest volcano in the lower 48. Mt. Rainier is still an active volcano today, and although it's last true eruption was somewhere between 500-600 years ago, a minor steam eruption occurred in 1963. A volcano is considered active as long as it has erupted in the last 5,000 years (or since man has had the ability to write).

Next we began the long drive to Mt Saint Helens, but sadly we had to turn around when we found that both roads leading into the park from the East were closed (we don't really know why). This meant we had to stay at a different hotel than originally planned (losing some money because they would not refund the reservations).  We will attempt to enter the park from the West tomorrow morning. Wish us luck!

We did get to see this guy today peaking up mischievously over a snow mound:

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