Monday, October 06, 2008

Autumn in Paradise

I'm going to reveal a little about myself to you all in this here blogpost. . . . I Love Fall!

There are so many things about this season that I cherish. I love the changing colors of leaves, the smell of cinnamon baking together with apples in a pie, the smooth, creaminess of butternut squash soup (one of my favorite fall dishes).... and what better time to go for a hike then on a chilly day in October - wrapped in a fleece, wool hat and gloves, with few people around, it's hard to not enjoy these types of days. The latter is how I spent last Sunday, walking among fall foliage, listening to the birds overhead retreating south for the winter (they don't know what they're missing!) and the occasional rustle of branches as the deer grazed the final savory green bits before they too head down hill into the depths of the forests, protected for a while from the incoming nordic weather. My goal was simple - scout out the first half of the hike to Muir for the blog and report back to all our adoring fans (that's you) and be done. But my hike offered so many beautiful views and such a dynamic experience I couldn't leave it at a simple "Snowfield & Camp Muir Update".

So much is happening this Autumn at Paradise, it's hard to keep up -- every week is something new. Last week the old Jackson Visitor Center was closed, after almost 40 years in service to the public. Now this Friday is the "Grand Opening" of the NEW Visitor Center, also dedicated to Henry M. Jackson, the famed Washington state Senator. The dedication ceremony is open to the public and begins at 3:00 pm. Everyone is welcome to join us, along with some distinguished guests that include the Secretary of the Interior, our Regional Director and representatives from several local tribes, in celebrating this momentous occasion. The doors of the visitor center open to the public at 10 am on Friday. Building tours will be held at noon, 1:00 and 2:00 pm, leading up to the dedication ceremony, which starts off with the cutting of ribbon and finishes with the cutting of cake. If you have to miss the festivities, no worries, the new JVC will be operational on weekends from 10 am until 5 pm. Check the Park's most up to date Tahoma News for events and additional operational hours during the holiday season.

On Sunday, though, I cared little for the built infrastructure, being more interested in my natural surroundings. I have been away for several weeks and am amazed at the dramatic changes on the Mountain. I found it difficult to put my camera away; clicking away at the flora adorned in yellow, gold and fire-engine reds; the lush green of grasses and fluorescent moss sticking to small snow-melt falls; and surprisingly, an active amount of fauna foraging for food, also enjoying the beautiful day. Bears have been a common sight up at Paradise, but they usually are easy to scare and often flee once spotted. However, on my way down I noticed a group of visitors and several rangers eyeing a young cub that was fearlessly gorging himself within view of the Paradise Inn (And many spectators!). The cub's multi-colored hair was fitting, giving off a retro look, as though this capricious young cub had purposely highlighted his hair blond and spiked it up in defiance. The presence of law enforcement was a sign that the National Park takes their policy on NOT feeding wildlife very seriously, which is a ticketable offense at Mount Rainier and carries a fine of up to $100. View animals from a distance and please DO NOT feed them.
~ Keep Wildlife Wild! ~

Not only was I able to enjoy the splendors of Autumn, but I also received a glimpse of Winter - not far away it seems. Recent precipitation brought snow above tree line, creating a stark contrast on the hillsides; a white band above and green below. Within a mile or so of Paradise you can walk from Fall into Winter, it's quite an amazing experience really. Snow coated the ground from well below Panorama Point and then up, covering the recently turned red leaves of shrubs and lingering flowers that managed to keep their petals this long.

On my descent, several folks inquired as to the 'views'. Hikers may not have seen Mount Rainier on Sunday, but there was plenty more out there to enjoy, you just need to take the time and look. I only wish I had been going further along up the trail to Camp Muir. Conditions there this weekend were snowy and windy, but many times the clouds parted above, exposing a starlit sky and tranquil surroundings. With few climbers going up this time of year, anyone in search of some peace and quiet and a way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, will enjoy the solace at 10,000 feet. Just be prepared for some cooler weather and snow. Check out recent conditions posted about the Disappointment Cleaver route.

Enjoy the photos posted in the blog, better yet, come on out to see it all for yourself.