To my sheer and utter delight, I was finally able to cross Seattle off of my bucket list this past October, and with it came my first venture into the Pacific Northwest. Despite my usual lack of interest in the great outdoors, it seemed almost mandatory to incorporate some sort of nature into my itinerary, as that portion of the U.S. is known for its spectacular mountains, coastline, and forest terrain.
Being the closest in proximity and highly recommended, my husband and I decided we would take a full-day tour of Mount Rainier National Park. Because we live in Houston, (where Autumn is as mythical as unicorns and Bigfoot) we were pretty excited to experience colorful leaves and temperatures lower than 90 degrees.
We were picked up from our downtown hotel at 7:00am sharp in a small shuttle bus with about twelve other people. Our guide, Joe, was jolly and personable, with a surplus of knowledge that kept everyone entertained during the hour-long drive to the park.
A little before we got there, Joe pulled over just past a set of train tracks and had us all exit the bus. He told us that if his timing was right, we were moments away from seeing the train pass.
I had never seen a passenger train up close before, (unless you count the Hogwarts Express at Universal Studios) so I was in total awe when it came barreling toward us. This train was a lot cooler than the loud, graffiti-covered cargo trains that pass by my house back home.
Once inside the park, we again pulled off the road and onto a piece of property that acted as sort of a deer sanctuary. There were covered feeders and plenty of shade for the family of deer that gathered there. Although I am quite accustomed to seeing a fair share of deer in Texas, it made me really happy to see them in such a safe and nurturing place, free from hunters.
We made several other pit stops on our way up the mountain, each site even more beautiful than the last. We were fortunate to be there during a mild October, which allowed us easy access to many different creeks, falls, and paths that would typically be closed off for winter.
The further we ascended, the more ice and snow we began to trudge through. I was thankful that the snow boots I found for my husband on Amazon were proving to be an excellent investment, as he needed double the traction to assist me during my various icy wipe-outs. (I may have paid a little more attention to what my boots looked like than how well they would hold up in the snow…lessen learned.)
After slipping and sliding all over the place, I was both relieved and excited to finally reach an area of the park where we all were able to stop for a moment and take in the truly breathtaking view of Mount Rainier. The sight of the mountaintop being reflected across such a flat body of water was incredibly calming, and the whole thing reminded me of the type of scenes I used to look at in my dad’s National Geographic magazines as a kid. It was almost surreal to be in the midst of such beautiful scenery. The pictures simply don’t do it justice.
As it turns out, our tour guide was also an expert at making bird calls and was even able to get a lot of them to land on his fingertips. The Disney princess in me was exploding with excitement, but obviously Cinderella must have practiced a bit to get those birds to help her with her housework because they were only interested in Joe’s chirping and anyone offering up Cheetos.
After a quick stop for lunch at the visitor’s center in Paradise, (and several snowballs to the head, via my loving husband) we started our decent back down to where we started. We were not far from one of the entrances to the park when Joe pulled over for what ended up being my favorite stop. We entered a small opening into the woods that lead us to some of the tallest trees I have ever seen.
Most of the trees in these lowland forests rose over 200 feet tall, ranging all the way up to 850 years old. There were also many standing dead trees and what are called “nurse” logs, that provide shelter for numerous animals and are ideal sprout spots for young plants. These eventually decompose into new soil, forming a beautiful circle of life.
I still wouldn’t call myself a full-fledged nature enthusiast, but this tour definitely had an impact on me. I would certainly be open to touring there again, (or any other park for that matter) especially considering we only saw a fraction of everything there is to see. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to visit such an awe-inspiring place, and I have to give a large amount of credit to our incredible guide, Joe. That sort of natural beauty is something I hope everyone gets to experience at least once in their lifetime.