Seven miles from the Nisqually Entrance to Mount Rainier National Park is the Longmire Historic District, the park’s oldest developed area. Today we check it out and stroll along the .7 mile Trail of the Shadows encircling the meadow.
In 1883 James Longmire, dubbed a pioneer from the east, an explorer of the west, and a local mountain guide, successfully climbed Mt. Rainier at the age of 63.
plaque on trail
On this same journey he discovered geothermal mineral springs in the meadow near its base. Excitedly he announced to his family that he had found his fortune. (plaque on trail)
This is how James Longmire’s grandson, Len, explains this discovery:
plaque on trail
Longmire and his sons cleared a rough trail through the forest from their home in Yelms, over 50 miles away from the meadow where he found the mineral springs. At the end of this trail he opened the Longmire Medical Springs Resort in 1890.
Yikes! That’s very ambitious! And you guessed it, visitors arrived via this trail.
Below is an advertisement from a Tacoma newspaper in 1890 promoting the Resort and claims of the mineral water’s healthful benefits:
plaque on trail
According to the same plaque, the alleged healing powers of these mineral springs attracted many people to soak in the warm water and drink the cold tonic from the earth. These are soda springs, rich in sodium bicarbonate, known as baking soda, and often prescribed as an antacid.
So, before Mount Rainier was established as a National Park in 1899 and before the road to Paradise was built in 1910, people came by horseback to stay at Longmire Medical Springs Resort. Guests paid $8 per week for board and treatment. They stayed in a 2-story hotel, 20 feet by 30 feet, with 5 sleeping rooms upstairs. Soaking in the springs and taking a sulphur plunge bath were recommended. Rubs and massages were specialties of the house. (plaque on trail)
Here’s the remains of one of the original soaking tubs:
And this is an enclosed spring known as “Iron Mike” because of its rusty reddish pigment referred to as “mineral paint”:
Water flowing down the nearby stream…
…and water rising up through this mineral spring both originate high above the meadow from snowmelt and rainfall. From the upper slopes, water percolates through the earth’s crust into the mountain. Geothermal heat, supplied by magma deep within the mountain, warms the water. The hot water travels underground through cracks. It eventually mixes with shallow, cold groundwater before it reappears above ground at the spring.
Hot water dissolves iron as it circulates past underground rocks. Iron oxidizes or rusts when it is exposed to the air, and the resulting iron oxy-hydroxides deposit a reddish pigment along the spring channel. (plaque on trail)
James Longmire’s eldest son, Eclaine, and his wife Martha were the proprietors of the Resort during its heyday in the early 1900s:
plaque on trail
Yes, that’s the same Martha who exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!” upon first seeing the lush meadows and carpets of wildflowers in what is now Paradise Valley.
Today there are no geothermal mineral springs to soak in, but there presence is still evident.
Bubbles of carbon dioxide gas can be seen and heard. (When the underground water table is low in drier seasons, fewer bubbles are seen or heard on the surface.)
Sometimes the “rotten egg” odor of sulfur is present when hydrogen sulfide gas escapes into the air. (plaque on trail)
I didn’t smell this here but back in California on the Oasis Preserve, the water under the boardwalk smells strongly of this gas.
Here’s a little spring that is actually bubbling. The reddish brown color in the water occurs when iron in the water mixes with oxygen molecules from the air. (plaque on trail)
As you can tell, this self-guiding loop trail recounts this area’s history. But it is also a lush nature trail, uncrowded and off the well beaten paths of the more popular and challenging trails.
Signs along the way identify exquisite plants living in the wild:
Uprooted trees create complicated sculptures.
And offer great photographic opportunities. Can you tell where I captured this close-up below from the picture above?
More tree and root sculptures…
And, don’t forget to look up!
Devil’s Club… and yes, that’s horsetail…
More giant devil’s club bordering a trickling stream…
Some interesting facts about common horsetail, skunk cabbage, and devil’s club…
According to a plaque on the trail, entitled Rooted in Time, common horsetail has adapted and survived for millions of years, here and around the world. It is often referred to as a “living fossil”. Tree-sized horsetail-type fossils reveal that through millennia, the species has not significantly changed in shape, only in height.
Common horsetail shares this wet streambank with 2 other giant-leafed prehistoric-looking plants: skunk cabbage and devil’s club. Their historic significance has endured for centuries as valuable medicinal sources for Native Americans. These plants were used as tools and occasional food sources.
Common horsetail is known for its hair-cleansing properties and as a cure for diarrhea. Skunk cabbage roots were boiled and the liquid drunk to clear the bladder and purify the blood. A mash of skunk cabbage leaves had a soothing effect on headaches, cuts, fevers, and chest pain. Devil’s club is a significant plant to Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest. Roots, bark, and spines were steeped or infused as a treatment for many ailments from colds to arthritis, ulcers, and especially diabetes.
In 1899 Mt. Rainier was established as a National Park, however, since James Longmire’s health resort was built on land he patented as a mining claim, his family continued to add buildings on the property. His son, Eclaine, built more guest cabins, bath houses, and expanded the original rustic 2-story hotel calling it the Longmire Springs Hotel.
The newly formed park management had little say in how the hotel looked or how the enterprise was run. Over the years there were arguments over appearances and operations so the park offered to buy the land and buildings in 1902. The Longmires refused.
To introduce competition, the park leased the land across the road from the health resort to the Tacoma & Eastern Railroad Company which proceeded to build its own more elegant hotel. The National Park Inn opened in 1906. (nps.org)
After the death of Eclaine Longmire, the family began leasing their land to the Longmire Springs Hotel Company. (Evidently this entity had previously purchased the buildings on the property.) The Longmire Springs Hotel Company constructed some new buildings, including a 2-story Inn Annex.
In 1916 the Rainier National Park Company (RNPC) was formed and started buying buildings on the Longmire property. The RNPC purchased the Longmire Springs Hotel and the Inn Annex. The company also purchased the National Park Inn and moved the Annex across the road next to the National Park Inn where the two buildings were operated as one hotel. (nps.org)
In 1926 the original National Park Inn burned down and was not rebuilt. The Inn Annex became today’s National Park Inn.
Meanwhile, lab tests confirmed that the mineral springs were not medicinal and the RNPC stopped advertising the Longmire hotel as a health resort.
In 1939 the National Park Service bought out the Longmires. Today all that remains of the health resort is the stonework around a few springs and the reconstructed cabin of Elcaine Longmire.
We turn around and head back 3 miles toward the Nisqually Entrance and stop for another short hike before returning to the RV. According to Your Guide to the National Parks, a 2012 publication by Michael Joseph Oswald, there is a 2 mile round trip (out and back) self-guiding trail along Kautz Creek. Actually, the trail continues another 4.5 miles where it intersects with the Wonderland Trail, making it an 11 mile round trip adventure.
A short spur trail leads to a view of the creek and several plaques explaining the changing landscape of this area.
Kautz Creek and its namesake glacier were named for Army Lieutenant August V. Kautz who made the first attempt to summit Mt. Rainier in 1857. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful but this creek that bears his name is famous for the spectacular mudflow of October 1947. (visitrainier.com)
Six inches of rain fell upon the mountain in a few hours and wreaked havoc to this area. One mile of ice collapsed from the Kautz glacier discharging a flood of meltwater, rock, and debris which rushed down the stream bed. Forty-eight million cubic yards of earth and rock were moved during several flows burying the park road to the Longmire area beneath 20-50 feet of mud. (shannontech.com)
Trees are less dense here as the scoured forest slowly started regrowing in the buried areas. And, in 2006, a record amount of rainfall caused more damaging debris flows, one of which rerouted Kautz Creek. Coming to a stop at a high and narrow point in the creek bed, the debris flow dammed the creek, diverted the water, and carved a new course through the forest.
Since 2001, park scientists have recorded an increasing number of smaller debris flows linked to climate change. (plaque on spur trail)
So, we look for the 2-mile round trip self-guiding trail. But all we find is a vaguely marked trail parallel to the creek. We decide to hike out for 15-25 minutes and turn around, not sure what to expect. Well actually that’s not true. Doesn’t self-guiding imply markers or plaques along the way? Not here.
But it’s not disappointing…
We discover Dull Oregon-Grape…
And this unusual flowering stalk with low growing variegated leaves…
An inchworm climbing up an invisible thread…
This amazing uprooted tree…
Fuzzy wuzzy trees…
Apparently we turned around too soon, but who knew?
According to visitrainier.com, we were on the first mile of trail alongside the graveled former creek bed. After about 1.1 mile we would have come to a log-bridged crossing of Kautz Creek, the turnaround for hikers out for a short and easy excursion.
We should have done our homework first…