Saturday, October 2, 2010

A Day in Paradise

Annika and Gabriel on the road to Paradise

Fall is here, and with fall comes the knowledge that snow will be coming to the mountains soon. The summer hiking season is almost over, and each year I feel an urgency to get up high one last time to soak up the sights. Yesterday was one of those gorgeous autumn days, warm and glowing in the mountains. Lacking a hiking partner, I decided to take the kids up to Mt. Rainier for exploration.

We stopped at Longmire for lunch, which we ate on the front porch of the lodge, Mt. Rainier framed nicely before us.

View of Mt. Rainier from Longmire

We had left behind the marine clouds of Puget Sound and entered the sunshine zone. The air was mild and fragrant. We poked into the little museum at Longmire, and looked at the taxidermy, native artifacts, and old photos.

The kids check out a giant tree cutting.

This tree was cut down in 1963. It was over 700 years old!

The kids examine stuffed animals.

Annika was anxious to get hiking, and Gabriel really wanted to visit the gift shop at Paradise, so we headed up the winding roads to the subalpine zone.

Paradise really lived up to its name yesterday. The Mountain was clear and bright above the lodge, with a backdrop of bluebird sky and fiery shrubs below.

Yes, it really felt like Paradise!

We were comfortable in t-shirts and shorts, though we could feel just a hint of crispness in the breeze. We walked through the interpretive exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, and made our obligatory visit to the gift shop. The kids both got a stuffed bird that makes a noise resembling its natural call. Having filled up their love tanks, I determined we better get a little walk started soon if we were going to do any before dark. We decided to try the Nisqually Glacier overlook trail, and were not disappointed. The views of The Mountain are incredible. Last time I was there, it was so foggy and snowy we weren’t able to see the Nisqually Glacier at all from the overlooks. But this day we had a clear view of geology in action.

View of the Nisqually Glacier

Sometimes I feel that trails like this don’t count as a real hike (indeed, we were about the only people with backpacks on this little paved section.)

But then I realize just how much the kids soak in during these little trips. And considering how much they complained about being tired and having sore muscles, I think I can safely count this one as a hike!

Hiker Annika

We observed animal paths, scat of various sorts, birds flitting in the trees (mostly juncos), and plants in their autumn splendor.

We talked about why it is so fragile in this area that they need to place signs telling people to stay out of the meadows. We saw tadpoles in a little pond, and looked at the animal tracks next to the pond.

The kids enjoyed the tadpoles

We talked about bears and volcanoes erupting, and watched 4 deer browsing the shrubs.

I think Annika was disappointed that we weren’t actually climbing up into the rocks and snow of the alpine zone. I have an idea she will be quite the adventurer when she gets older. But this trip I had to keep finding creative ways to get her to have energy – “Here’s a berry for energy! Have a drink of special energy water! It will make you strong and powerful! Let’s make it to the junction of the trails, and then we can rest and have a snack.” My kids really aren’t enthusiastic hikers in the afternoon. I know that I need to get an early start if I want them to go anywhere with me. It’s tough when the drive is so long to get to the trailhead, but someday I will learn how to make it work!

We were able to experience the sunset from up high before we headed for home.

The last rays of sun on the Mountain

My kids were so thrilled by being able to see the fog coming up the valley in the glow of the setting sun. They wanted to walk on it. As we wound our way back down from Paradise to Longmire, we came even with the top of the fog, then slid underneath it. It formed a layer above the trees, creating a quiet atmosphere for our last potty stop at Longmire before leaving the park. The kids were both exhausted by the time we got home, but they enjoyed their time on the mountain with their mom. One of the aspects I appreciate about these long drives with my children is the conversations we get into. Time opens up and I see glimpses of the workings of their minds in ways I don’t always see at home in our busy routines. We talked about atoms and the universe, the end of the world, spiritual questions of faith, the anniversary trip I took there with Daddy before the kids were born, science and vocabulary questions that pop up with the topics we are exploring. And we have a shared experience that bonds us closer together.

G and A at Reflection Lake

Trip “Stats”:

Hiking: about 1 ½ miles

Driving: hours and hours!

Potty stops: too numerous to count, including many side-of-the-road emergency stops (I need to get a porta-potty for the trunk for trips like this.)

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