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Where to park your body

One of the best things about staying in the Park at a National Park is that you get to hear late night Ranger talks without having a late night drive back to the hotel. We’ve done that before, so we don’t want to do it again. Of course, if it’s a smallish NP, it doesn’t matter. But a Mt. Rainier or Yellowstone or Olympic – you need to stay onsite to make the best of your time.

Susan writing postcards by the fireplace.

We heard some great Ranger talks, hosted in the very large lodge lobby.One talk was on area wildflowers. The Ranger said she was from rural Illinois and said the only flower she ever saw while growing up was (next slide, please) a corn stalk. “That’s why I moved.” If you get to the lobby at the right time, there’s also free tea and cookies. We saw the tray and cups, so we know.

The lobby, taken from the fireplace.

We had a shared hall bath at the Paradise Inn.  During the night, I’d see people come and go from the bath or the shower in brilliant white bathrobes. I realized that if we had asked at the desk, we probably could have gotten a robe, if the desk clerk had told us of that option. Or maybe they were for rent. Either way, when I needed to go down the hall, I’d get fully dressed.

A robe would have been much more convenient. As we were packing to leave, we opened the closets and drawers to make sure we were leaving nothing behind. Actually, we never unpacked our clothes – just lived out of the suitcase for a couple of days, but it is a habit we’ve developed over the years. Always check the closet, the back of the bathroom door, check under the bed, etc. There, in the top drawer of the dresser, was a robe and bath shoes. You have not, because you open not.

We stayed at Paradise Inn. It has hosted guests for 93 years. That made me wonder how many people had slept in my room over that many years. With a May-September season, about 270 days times 93 – that’s about 25,000 people. The stories these walls could tell.

Paradise Inn

The walls of the PI are paper thin, by the way. It’s like sleeping in a room with a sheet between you and the adjoining guests. You can hear every word of every conversation, which is very entertaining. A couple of men were staying in the room next door our first night. They were planning to scale the mountain and were discussing strategy, including whether their leader’s strategy was the right one.

Paradise is not as large as you might think.

The second night was an older couple with Northern accents. In the morning, they were packed up to leave when their alarm clock went off. “Beep-beep, beep-beep, beep-beep…” “Uh oh,” she said. “What is that?” he said. “My alarm clock. It’s packed away. What should we do?” “What if we just let it ring for a while?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “How long will it ring if you don’t turn it off? Five minutes? We can wait five minutes if we need to.” (In the background, the alarm is ringing faster and more insistent.) “But I’m afraid that will drain the battery.” (Long pause as the alarm rings. Then, the alarm stops.) “There,” he says, “let’s go now.” I was laughing so hard it was difficult to remain snoopily quiet.

Today, we hiked and hiked and hiked. According to my pedometer, we walked 27,280 steps. That is, 12.01 miles. According to Susan’s pedometer, we walked 25,108 steps or 10.7 miles. We didn’t have that much difference in our walking today. One of our pedometers is obviously off. I hope it’s hers.An emotional sight for a geologist park ranger.

 Our first hike was with a Park Ranger who loved, loved, loved rocks. This was a glacier hike. As we were hiking on top of eight feet of snow, she told us how the glaciers carved into these mountains to make U-shaped valleys. You can observe large cuts and smooth patches on many rocks here, evidence of glacial erosion. We stopped by one very large rock with a large hole in it. It had been tossed from a volcano. The hole was evidence of a gas bubble. She siad this was the largest specimen of this she’d ever seen. She cried when she first saw it. Like I said, she loves rocks.

The weather was terrible for a hike if you hoped to see more than a few yards ahead of you. It was cold, misty, foggy, stereo-typical PNW weather. It was July 5, but it didn’t feel like it. When we got to the glacier viewpoint, we had a great view of fog – a close-up view. So, we headed back down the trail. If nothing else, we got some really good exercise and we got to see a hole in a rock that brings tears to certain geologists.

After hiking several trails on the western side of Mt. Rainier, we drove to the eastern side to walk a few trails. As we were driving, the sky cleared and as we rounded a hairpin curve, there was Mt. Rainier. Massive! It really is breathtaking. We pulled off to join a group of fellow admirers with their cameras and binoculars out. I took several pictures.

We talked with another couple who were setting up their tripod and camera and then a scope. We watched hikers and skiers on the mountain – even with multiple magnification, they were dots in the brilliant white snowscape. Someone else in the group pointed out a mountain goat sitting in a snowfield on another ridge of the mountain. With my binoculars, it looked like a little hump of snow. With my new friend’s you could make out the outline of a goat, but with the scope you could see that it was a bearded goat, sitting contentedly unaware that he was the subject of a dozen eyes, a cloud of witnesses.

At the overlook, we were a community, mutually in awe of the mountain’s beauty and sharing with one another our stories of seeing (or not) the mountain and then pointing out features others may have missed. We all left at separate times to go on with our personal journeys, but our journeys were made the richer having shared it with a community of strangers.

Holy Hiking

I love to hike. You wouldn’t know that to look at an inventory of my hiking gear. I have hiking shoes I bought at Kohl’s, a book bag once used by the boys in school, and really ordinary clothes. I know there are specialized products in each of these categories – and if I were going on a multi-week or even a multi-day hike I may want to look into those products. But the fact is, you need very little to hike. Yet, you get so much out of it – fresh air, exercise, inspiration. Hiking is a cheap date with God.

Susan, with her walking sticks, has an obviously more extravagant lifestyle than I.

The rumored mountain

Mt. Rainier is known for two things: its size and its invisibility. As we were driving toward Seattle from the north (after touring the world’s largest building – which houses the Boering airplane manufacturing plant), we rounded a turn to see the cityscape and were amazed by this huge white mountain hovering over the city. We’d been in town for two days and had not seen it at all. It was stunning. I was driving in the midst of traffic with no way to turn off and take a picture. By the time we got to our exit, the mountain was gone, covered again by its clouds.

Susan and I were in Seattle for a couple of days. We were blessed with a beautiful day to visit the zoo. It is regarded as one of the best in the country. We go to a lot of zoos and we totally agree with that assessment. It has great use of space, both for the animals and the people. It has a good balance in another way, too.

Some zoos I go to feel like a political rally. You are bombarded at every site with information on how humans are ruining the earth. I know we humans create problems for plants and animals (and other people), and I understand that a zoo has some responsibility to point this out in some ways. I’ve seen this done effectively. I remember a bird show at one zoo  in which a toucan had been trained to pick up a tin can and put it into a recycling bin. The point made by the trainer – “If you save a tin can, you save a toucan.” It was an entertaining, clear and memorable demonstration.

But sometimes I leave a zoo depressed, which I don’t think is a zoo’s purpose. A zoo should make me celebrate the variety of life in the Creation, inform me of how people are trying to make life better for the Creation and inspire me to join them in bettering our world. I do want to know about ways I can make life better. I don’t want to be hammered with methods designed to make me feel guilt or hounded with an agenda at every exhibit. I go to a zoo to see animals.

We were surprised at Seattle's Space Needlethe Seattle weather. We came prepared to expect the worst – long, dreary, drizzling days. The sky is often overcast and in the morning it was frequently misty, but most of the time we had fair to great weather. We spent all day out at the Seattle zoo, a morning on a walking tour of part of the city and other miscellaneous times walking around town, but never got the rain we were expecting. Granted, this is the beginning of summer, so it is more like a dry season here.

On the elevator down from the Space Needle, the elevator operator asked the group of us if we had any questions about the Space Needle or Seattle she could answer. One person commented, “I thought it always rained in Seattle?” ‘That’s just what we tell everyone, so no one else will move here,” she said.

Seattle from the Space Needle