“…the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountaintop wanderings.” ~ John Muir 1889
We had seen some lovely wildflowers in our travels this summer but nothing prepared me for Mt. Rainier National Park’s subalpine meadows bursting with color. Trails were lined with multiple varieties of flowers, as if a master gardener had lovingly selected and planted each. Every path we stepped onto seemed to be more colorful than the last, a grand mosaic of diversity.
Pungent smell of living trees and soil surrounded us. Air so pure and sweet that our lungs eagerly expanded to drink in the delicious nectar.
The glacier lily, aka yellow avalanche lily, may be one of the most resilient of wildflowers growing on the slopes of Mt. Rainier. It can generate its own heat, melt a hole in the snow, and poke through the snowmelt, giving it a distinct advantage over the other meadow plants that must await the melting snow. In all our wanderings I was not able to find this beautiful little flower.
Snow dominates much of the landscape here, blanketing the earth for several months at a time. Many of the evergreen trees have a contorted shape, twisted by ice and wind. These subalpine trees grow very slowly and are called krummholz, German name for “twisted wood”.
Paths were spongy, carpeted by countless layers of fir needles and bark. Lichen and miniscule mosses attached themselves to everything that stood still – fallen logs, stately Douglas fir, Western hemlock, and river-polished boulders. Tiny fir trees begin life here in this fertile soil, fallen trees acting as nurseries, adding to the varied shades of green seen along the trails. Heavily scented forests intoxicate, while the roaring rivers busily rush to their terminus, simple, magical experiences found in nature.
The sound of running water can be heard throughout the park, sometimes soothing, sometimes almost deafening, always rushing to get to an unknown destination. Waterfalls are plentiful due to snow and glacial runoff, and misty spray dances as sunlight caresses water droplets, sparkling like jewels, no two waterfalls alike, each uniquely their own.
Other than the sounds of whistling marmots heard almost non-stop, this is the only little bit of wildlife that we spotted, and he was certainly a cute little guy.
Mt. Rainier speaks to the vastness of a world intense with growth and birth. It was the perfect time to experience this wonder, the season of life between the sleeping winter and autumn’s move towards dormancy.
Next Up: The Wild, Rugged Olympic Peninsula