Away from the Maddening Crowd


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:

Deer Fern…

Dull Oregon-Grape…

Skunk Cabbage…

Uprooted trees create complicated sculptures.

And offer great photographic opportunities. Can you tell where I captured this close-up below from the picture above?

Common Horsetail…


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.

For example…

 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. (

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. (

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.

Kautz Creek

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. (

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. (

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…

Tree sculptures…

Shroom fungi…

Apparently we turned around too soon, but who knew?

According to, 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…

Rivers, Waterfalls, and Ice

Mount Rainier’s Dynamic Trio…

Yesterday was a strenuous day… sorry, that’s my new favorite adjective. Today is a kinder, gentler day in the National Park. We drive along the scenic forested road toward Paradise, but not quite, and stop at some of the pullouts we missed to read plaques, take pictures, and hardly hike at all. (I’m just being honest…)

First Stop… a glacial river

The picture below is a streambed of the Nisqually River. It is constantly being reworked by water flowing from the Nisqually Glacier. Heavy winter snow and rain, along with spring run-off, rearrange these channels annually. Glacial rivers deposit sediment on the floor of the streambed, creating high spots that divert water and cause the river to wind and braid across its bed. (National Park plaque)

In winter the glacier moves very little and the river runs clear. But in the spring the glacier melts and speeds up, loading the river with fine rock sediment ground from the glacier’s bed. These scoured particles are called glacial flour and give the waters a cloudy milky-white color in spring and summer.  (National Park plaque)

Christine Falls

This 69 foot waterfall is right off the road. A bridge spans the lower drop.

We park and take a short trail down to the 37-foot lower tier.

We return to our car and carefully walk along the road to the other side of the bridge for a view of the upper 32-foot drop.

The falls were named for Christine Van Trump, the daughter of Philemon Beecher Van Trump, a pioneering mountaineer. He is best known for making the first ascent of Mount Rainier in 1870 with General Hazard Stevens.

In 1889, nine-year-old Christine accompanied her father on an ascent of Mt. Rainier as far as her strength would allow. She made it to the 10,000-foot level. ( and

Nisqually River

The Nisqually Glacier is the source of this river with the same name. Emptying into the Puget Sound, the river is approximately 81 miles long. It drains part of the Cascade Range  southeast of Tacoma, WA, including the southern slope of Mt. Rainer. (

The Nisqually Glacier is one of the larger glaciers on Mt. Rainier. It is also the most accessible and studied glaciers. Since 1918, Nisqually’s terminal point has been measured annually. ( and

The glaciers on Mt. Rainier reached their greatest extent down the valley in the 1850s. courtesy of United States Geologic Survey, 2012

The 1850s are considered a part of the Little Ice Age (LIA). This term was introduced into scientific literature by Francois E. Matthes in 1939.

Matthes (1874-1948) was a geologist and an expert in topographic mapping, glaciers, and climate change. His maps coincided with the development of our American West National Parks.

The Little Ice Age has been conventionally defined as the period from the 16th to 19th Centuries. However, an alternative timespan, from 1300-1850, is preferred by other experts.

The NASA Earth Observatory, the principal source of satellite imagery and information pertaining to climate and environment,  notes 3 particularly cold intervals: one beginning about 1650, another about 1770, and the last in 1850, all separated by intervals of slight warming.

At the end of the Little Ice Age, the glaciers on Mt. Rainer began a slow retreat. After 1920 the rate of shrinkage sped up. In the 100 years between 1850 and 1950, Mt. Rainier has lost about a quarter of its glaciers. (

Ricksetter Point Road… a one-Way Side Spur

Several pull-offs provide spectacular views of some of Mt. Rainier’s 25 glaciers.

According to the roadside plaque, Mt. Rainier, is a dynamic mountain, shaped by fire and ice. During the past 500,000 years lava from thousands of volcanic eruptions flowed and cooled. The gray and reddish rock are what’s left of those lava flows.

Large glaciers enveloped Mt.Rainier during these eruptions to develop the terrain. While still hot, lava pooled against the edges of converging glaciers. Cooled molten material built up between glaciers to create the present-day ridges.

From left to right, the following glaciers are visible from the vantage point of these 2 pictures: Pyramid, Success, Kautz, Van Trump, Wilson, and Nisqually.

Eruptions of lava and ash built the cone while glaciers, rivers, landslides, and mudflows acted to destroy it. Similar activity is certain to occur in the future. (National Park plaque)

Narada Falls

This is another popular waterfall right off the highway. A large picnic/parking area makes it easily accessible.

According to, Frederick Gordon Plummer named the falls in 1893 after the branch name of the Narada Theosophical Society of Tacoma. Narada is a Sanskrit name of the son of Lord Brahma, a devotee of Lord Vishnu. (National Park plaque)

The Theosophical Society in America:

  • has a vision of wholeness that inspires a fellowship united in study, meditation, and service
  • has a mission of encouraging open-minded inquiry into world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts in order to understand the wisdom of ages, respect the unity of all life, and help people explore spiritual self-transformation
  • has an ethic holding that our every action, feeling, and thought affect all other beings and that each of us is capable of and responsible for contributing to the benefit of the whole (

The Society was founded in 1875 in New York City by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the first Russian woman to be naturalized as an American citizen. She traveled all over the world searching for the reason for human existence. Her writings brought the spiritual wisdom of the East and the ancient Western mysteries to the modern world.

Colonel Henry S. Olcott, lawyer, journalist, and veteran of the Civil War, became the first president of the Society. He related the wisdom of the Eastern and Western cultures, applied it to everyday life and built the Society into an international organization. (

Here’s a picture from the parking lot. The stone highway bridge is overhead.

As we walk cross over the bridge, I take a pic of the Paradise River rippling through the rocks…

…before falling off the edge.

The waterfall drops in 2 tiers.

A short but very steep trail leads down to the base where the entire 168 foot waterfall is visible.

Snowfields and inactive glaciers melt into water in the Paradise Valley, forming the Paradise River. The river runs clear because it originates from snowfields, not debris-laden active glaciers that turn the water milky. (National Park plaque)

Now, it’s just a step, stumble, and shuffle (with a huff and a puff) back up again!

Mt. Rainier

It’s Skyline Time

Mount Rainier is an active volcano, however, its last confirmed eruption was about 1,000 years ago.

It is part of the “Ring of Fire”, the string of active volcanoes that  encircles the Pacific Ocean in a horseshoe shape.

At 14,411 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest peak in the Cascades, the mountain range of active volcanoes that stretch from British Columbia to northern  California. Volcanic activity built Rainier, but glaciers shaped it.

Did you know that true glaciers consist of at least 3 layers? These layers are pure snow, mixed snow and ice, and pure ice. We already know, from learning about Mt. Olympus, that glaciers form because winter snowfall surpasses summer snowmelt.

More than 35 square miles of glaciers radiate from the summit of Mt. Rainier, giving it the distinction of having the largest collection of glaciers on its slopes in the contiguous United States. (There goes that word “contiguous” again…) (

Our home base for the next 3 days is Rocky Point Campground on Lake Alder outside of a little town called Elbe, about 15 miles from the southwest Nisqually Entrance to the National Park.

The picture below is on the road to Paradise.

Yes, Paradise can be found right here at Mt. Rainier, 19 miles east of the Nisqually Entrance.

It sits more than a mile above sea level and averages 643 inches of snowfall annually. (

There are no gardens or apple trees but there are hiking trails, meadows of flowers, 2 huge parking lots, a Visitors Center, and an historic inn. And it’s crowded!

The best views of Mt. Rainier are here. We get a sneak peek of the peak along the road…

Luckily we are able to find a place to park so we can hike the signature 5.5 mile Skyline Loop Trail.

Subalpine wildflowers escort us to the trailhead leading to a myriad of hiking experiences. So, I have to stop and “smell.”

Rosy Spirea…

Mountain Bog Gentian…

Scarlet Paintbrush…

Broadleaf Arnica…

A wee bit after 11:00 we start up the steps leading to all the trails.

Not quite sure as to how committed we are to completing the Skyline Loop Trail, we start up a rather steep .25 mile paved path to Myrtle Falls.

It’s crowded as we descend to the viewpoint. We scoot in, take a quick picture, and head back up to the bridge overlooking the falls.

I discover a type of Lousewort

…and a Pasqueflower Seedhead

The beginning of Myrtle Falls slopes through this pristine meadow.

Then it plunges down the other side of the bridge.

After crossing over the bridge, we come to a fork in the trail. Heading right takes us on the Skyline Loop Trail. Heading left takes us on the Golden Gate Trail. Daniel Boone Jeff suggests we go left because the Golden Gate Trail intersects the Skyline Loop Trail and shaves off a mile.

So off we go!

Who knew the next mile would become a continual ascent!

Oh wait, did I forget to mention that the Skyline Loop Trail gains an elevation of 1700 feet and is classified as strenuous?

So… shaving off a mile really means a steeper uphill climb to the top!

I try and stop and enjoy the flowers along the way. Oh, who am I kidding? I will stop for any opportunity to catch my breath!

I linger awhile, capturing this pic of a Magenta Paintbrush and the collection of dewdrops on Lupine Leaves.

More short breaks capturing mountains and meadows…

Marmot Crossing…

We cross this stream and enjoy this little guy or gal.

Even marmots stop to smell the wildflowers!

And then decide to grab some for a nibble…

Mt. Rainier rises before us as we cross this peaceful stream.

My pictures don’t look so steep… But believe me pictures can be deceiving!

More Pasquale Seedhead… in a field of Lupine

Pink Mountain Heather

Another marmot..

Glacial waterfalls…

Here we are switching back and forth and going up and up.

Coiled-beak Lousewort…

Waterfalls get closer.

We look back to see how far we have traversed.

And finally, an endpoint is in sight!

We certainly gained some elevation.

This marmot entertains us with a plop in the dirt

Until he’s had enough…

Thinking we’ve reached the top of the loop, I look forward to circling around the corner and heading back down.

I know, what am I thinking? The altitude has made me loopy! A few minutes later, Mt. Rainier and the intersection of Golden Gate and Skyline loom ahead. The top of the Loop is still a mile away!

Jeff is fine with turning back, but I just can’t let this hike defeat me, even though my water supply is running low and the trail is still climbing up.

Sluggishly I resign myself to place one foot in front of the other and continue up, resting when I need to and taking pictures to document my progress.

But I still enjoy the precious moments along the way.

Did I mention how strenuous this trail is?

I don’t tell Jeff that I am afraid I really won’t make it to the top and back in one piece. I ration my water and slowly trudge ahead and upward, no longer feeling ashamed of letting younger fitter hikers pass us by. Did I mention how strenuous this is?

We make friends with other hikers taking breaks and encourage each other.

Finally, I hear the words I have been waiting for, “You’re almost there,” from from 2 young women descending our ascent. They point out a switchback with a snowy backdrop. They promise me it’s not far, but it looks like forever away from me. I see people up there on the trail but they look like giant ants. Apparently the trail levels off where the giant ants are. Did I mention how strenuous this trail is?

We did! I did it! We reach the tall snowdrift. No, we don’t have to climb it. We just pass by.

It’s not quite 1:30 and this is as close up and personal I will ever be with Mt. Rainier. Clouds hamper the view, but those ice patches are glaciers.

Then the clouds scatter. I wish my camera could pick up the blue tint on the ice rivers.

We made it! I did it! Wow!

A short spur trail intersects to Pebble Creek, but I for one, am done going up.

We head back down the other side of the loop after turning this steep corner. It’s downhill now all the way, but it’s still a little over 2 miles until we reach the beginning of the trailhead.

Sunny skies are busting through the clouds.

The river below is from the Nisqually Glacier.

My energy refreshed, it’s my turn to encourage the tired huffing hikers as they ascend our descent. Descent, what a comforting word! Did I mention how strenuous this hike is? I turn around and remember.

I capture the blue ice from the Nisqually Glacier.

Plush meadows lie below.

So many trails intersect this western side of the Skyline Loop.

Mt. Rainier still has my back.

The trail down is not as steep as the Golden Gate cut-off. There are viewpoints and rest stops interspersed along the way, allowing time to catch one’s breath and take beautiful pictures.

This side of the loop is carpeted with meadows of colorful wildflowers.

Actually, that’s how Paradise got its name. Before becoming a National Park, James Longmire discovered a mineral springs in the area and built a hotel on the spot. When his wife, Martha, first saw Paradise Valley in the summer and all the lush meadows blanketed in wildflowers, she exclaimed, “Oh, what a paradise!” and the name stuck. (

The scenery is too magical for words.

Western Columbine…

We should have hiked up on this trail. I think it would have been a less severe climb. But it doesn’t matter now. All this eye candy almost makes me forget how strenuous the first half of the hike was.

A field of Coiled-beak and Bracted Lousewort

Everywhere we turn, Mt. Rainier and the blue Nisqually Glacier pops into view. There’s my Jeff following a group of happy hikers going down, not up. Look closely to the bottom left of this photo, right above the snowdrift and big rocks. That’s where we are headed.

This little guy has been posing since I spotted him or her. I really didn’t expect him to strike the pose for this long!

Rosy Spirea…

Another awesome view…

A field of Broadleaf Lupine and Beargrass (the white wildflowers)…

Scarlet Paintbrush joins the party of wildflowers.

A final glance at Mt. Rainier…

This truly is Paradise! (going down…)

Did I mention how strenuous this hike was?

Whale Waiting

Thar She Blows!

Port Angeles is a premier whale watching destination, so Jeff and I splurge on a whale watching tour with Island Adventures. (I know, even fidgety Jeff commits to spending 4-5 hours on a boat!)

The Strait of Juan de Fuca is home to hundreds of humpback whales who choose these waters as their summer feeding grounds. After facing extinction in the early 1900s, protective measures have helped humpback populations to rebound. Pods of orcas are also known to frequent this area. (Island Adventures brochure)

We arrive early and enjoy the port.

The Island Explorer 4 is our whale watching vessel. It is 85 feet long, 22 feet wide and its cruise speed is 16 knots. Upper and lower viewing decks, flushing toilets, a snack bar serving beer and wine, and indoor heated seating fulfills every passenger’s needs. To ensure a quality experience, the boat is only booked to 2/3 capacity.

Island Adventures is a member of the Pacific Whale Watching Association, a group of nearly 30 whale watching companies throughout Washington and British Columbia that encourage responsible whale watch practices. The PWWA members utilize a combination of hydrophone recordings, shore-based sightings, reports from many types of vessels, an encrypted radio channel, and a private online sightings network to locate whales in the area. (Island Adventures brochure and Wildlife Viewing Guide)

A captain, a galley/deckhand, and a senior deckhand/naturalist work together to provide us with the highest chances of viewing whales in the wild.

As a matter of fact, the Island Adventures Company guarantees whale sightings on every trip. The brochure states (not in fine print)… “If you do not see a whale (orca, minke, gray, or humpback) with us, you can come again for FREE, for life, on any tour until you do.”

We pull away from the dock at Port Angeles at 9:30…

and head into the Salish Sea. Salish Sea? Let me explain.

The Salish Sea is the name for a network of inland coastal waterways in Washington and British Columbia. It begins in the west at the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and includes the waters between the northern end of the Strait of Georgia in Canada and the southern end of Puget Sound.

The term “Salish Sea” was first coined 1989 by marine biologist Bert Webber. His goal was to make it easier to protect the region’s many waterways by giving them a single name. Webber chose the name in honor of the Coast Salish peoples. In 2009 the name was officially adopted by both the Canadian and U. S. governments. In total, the Salish Sea covers nearly 7,000 square miles. (Wildlife Viewing Guide)

We pass the 13th District Coast Guard Air Station.

This Air Station was commissioned on June 1, 1935, becoming the first permanent Coast Guard Air Station on the Pacific Coast. (

Seals and sea lions relax on the banks but it’s too cloudy to see them through my camera lens.

Several fishing boats stay in calmer waters as our vessel makes waves.

Renee, our onboard Naturalist explains that it’s easier to spot a whale on a cloudy day and that whale watching is really “whale waiting.”

We spot salmon jumping in the water. Renee presents us with a “handy” way to remember the 5 kinds of salmon in the Pacific Northwest:

Chum rhymes with thumb. Sockeye… think of the index finger pointing at you. The middle finger is the tallest so think of King as being the biggest. Silver, also called Coho, is for the ring finger. And Pink is self-explanatory with the pinky finger.

Thar she blows! … A hubbub arises and we spot our first humpback whale at 11:01…

We are so close that we can hear the noise from the spout!

The captain explains that humpbacks can stay submerged for up to 15 minutes before resurfacing again. But the average time is 5-7 minutes.

The whale starts the dive…

And there are the flukes!


A smaller raft of whale watchers shares our excitement.

As we wait for our next whale encounter I escape into the clouds. Is it a dragon or a swan? Whatever it is, it is soon gone.

Another humpback visits us.

The picture below shows the whale’s footprint left behind.

And another…

Now’s a good time to explain responsible whale watching practices. By slowing down in the presence of whales and maintaining respectful distances, Island Adventures gives its passengers the opportunity to observe these animals without altering their natural behaviors. Local, state, and federal regulations dictate safe distances and approach speeds.

Island Adventures Wildlife Viewing Guide

I stop taking pics of every whale we see and start enjoying the experience more. I borrow binoculars for spectacular close-ups.

I walk around the boat and schmooze with our fellow whale fans. I meet a group from Kent, Ohio, the namesake university where I studied for my Masters in Library Information Science.

I meet a traveling photographer, a family from England, a science teacher and her family, a girl who got seasick, and a 14-year-old boy who needed to sleep.

I also meet a man from the local NPR station recording a podcast and interviewing passengers.

My favorite new acquaintances are 2 women who work together in Olympia, Washington. The whale tour is a 60th birthday gift from the one to the other.

Oh, and since I am wearing my Cape Blanco Lighthouse windbreaker, a man approaches me and asks about Oregon’s most westerly lighthouse with plans to visit someday.

And then, at 1:06… Orca!

There’s 2…

I like this picture. The lighthouse at Race Rock parallels the orca’s dorsal fin.

And there are more…

A half an hour later we approach Race Rocks, a 1.2 square mile collection of protected rocks and reefs a few miles southwest of Victoria, British Columbia.

The reserve is a haulout for hundreds of seals and sea lions and is the breeding ground for northern elephant seals.

The Race Rocks Light was lit on December 26, 1860 and was continuously manned by keepers until it was fully automated in 1997. (Wildlife Viewing Guide)

Camouflaged on the steps are northern elephant seals.

It’s been a long, active, and successful morning and afternoon. We head back to Port Angeles with memories, pictures, and new knowledge.

High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 3

Olympic National Park

Today we visit the high peaks.

The Olympic Mountain Range is a cluster of rugged mountain ridges surrounded by meadows, lakes, and steep forested-slopes. In all directions mountains and valleys radiate from the 7,980 foot summit of Mt. Olympus like spokes on a wheel. (

Hurricane Ridge, at nearly a mile above sea level, is the easiest place to view the mountains. From the entrance to the National Park in Port Angeles, the drive to the Ridge is 17 miles one way.

As we ascend, an overcast day becomes obstructed with clouds. We stop at a few overlooks and see absolutely nothing. It’s almost like we are blinded by snow! We wonder if we will ever see Mt. Olympus, even at the end of Hurricane Ridge Road.

Then, all of a sudden, we burst through to sunny blue skies! The clouds are below us now and there stands Mt. Olympus named for the mythical home of the Greek gods by English sea captain John Meares in 1788.

Abundant snow and cool summers create the ideal conditions for Pacific Northwest glaciers. A healthy glacier receives enough snow in winter to offset its summer melt. But now this sustaining snow more often falls as rain. From the 1970s to 2010 the Olympic Mountain glaciers lost over 30 percent of their surface area. (plaque at Hurricane Ridge)

Life at Hurricane Ridge is shaped by wind and snow. Winds gusting over 75 miles per hour pound the ridge, hence the nickname “Hurricane.” As much as 30-35 feet of snow falls here annually. (

Unfortunately the Hurricane Hill Trail is closed for repairs and mountain goat capture activities. So, we enjoy looping together 3 smaller nature hikes suggested at a trailhead outside the Visitor Center:

The Cirque Rim Trail winds along the ridge. A plaque explains that a cirque is a bowl-shaped amphitheater scooped out of a hillside by a glacier:

During daylight thaw, snow and ice seeped into rock cracks, refroze and expanded at night, and fractured the slope. Gradually the glacier steepened and cut into the rock creating a round open indention.

I try and capture the cirque with my camera, but you will just have to take my word for it, that this is a picture of it.

According to the sign at the trailhead, it’s possible to see views of Port Angeles, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada at this overlook… Not today!

We climb up the steep High Ridge Trail into an alpine setting.

A short spur trail leads up to Sunrise Point.

As we descend from Sunrise Point, notice the trail sloping down to the left. That trail is the Klahhane Ridge Trail. The first 2.8 miles leads to the junction with the Klahhane Switchback Trail. An additional mile on the Switchback Trail climbs 800 feet to Klahhane Ridge. Did I forget to mention that the 3.8 total miles is one way? Oops…

We descend only to ascend again before making our way back down the High Ridge Trail.

We cut through the short Big Meadow Trail that leads us back to the trailhead and Visitor Center.

During summer, wildflowers carpet the subalpine meadows spreading softly before a backdrop of rugged peaks and glaciers. Lucky for us, there are signs along these nature trails that identify most of these.

These clusters of tiny white flowers on dissected leaves are called Partridgefeet. Since this plant thrives on bare ground, it is valuable for revegetating areas damaged by stray footsteps. (But that is no excuse for stepping off the marked trails!)

Broadleaf Lupine are pretty in pink and purple and are relatives of the pea family. Bacteria in their roots convert nitrogen from the air into minerals for the soil. They are a natural fertilizer for themselves and neighboring wildflowers.

Harebell is also called “Bluebells-of-Scotland.” This belle of a bell  is one of the few flowers that decorate these mountain meadows in late summer.

Reminding me of couscous, these tiny Pearly Everlasting flowers are enclosed in a kind of husk, called a bract, that look like petals. They are able to withstand the elements and are unappealing to animals.

Mountain Owl-Clover is a small annual flower that manages to grow in these mountains. Their pink color is a showy bract. The actual flower is an inconspicuous small tube.

Western Wormwood is related to sagebrush. I rubbed the silky leaves between my fingers, and sure enough, they smelled like sage!

I really like this lichen called Ghost Beard Lichen. These wispy, pale green threads fasten to the boughs of firs yet take nothing from the tree. They produce their own food and thrive on the humidity of the trees.

According to, this white daisy-looking wonder is Parry’s Catchfly, also known as Parry’s Silene.

According to my sleuthing skills, this sunny yellow brilliance is a Woolly Sunflower. It contains specially adapted plant hairs or “wool” which protects it from the harsh alpine climate.

This has to be Pearly Everlasting gone to seed… or maybe still blooming?

I think these lavender lovelies are either Alpine Aster or Cascade Aster.

This low growing groundcover is Spreading Phlox.

It’s time for one last pic of Mt. Olympus before we say goodbye and return to Port Angeles and Sequim.

We start our descent into sunshine and beautiful blue skies.

And then, wait for it…

Yep, pull-outs are still smothered in clouds…

At this next pull-out, however, Doe the deer tamely walks up to a visitor who has her hand outstretched.

I mean this woman could pet the deer!

And me? Just look how close I get!

Since there is nothing to view from the overlook, I turn around and look across the road. A plaque explains that what I am looking at is volcanic rock. But how can this be since there are no volcanoes in the Olympic Mountains?

I’m glad you asked that question and I’ll try to make sense of what I am reading…

Eons ago underwater eruptions occurred in the Pacific Ocean and formed pillow-shaped structures of lava from the movement of magma onto the surface of the earth.  The rocks in this valley across the street were formed from sediments blasted onto the ocean floor.

Both kinds of rock were rafted toward North America by ocean floor movement, then uplifted and tilted by powerful  forces.

Traveling down to sea level…

Oh, say can you see Canada and the volcanic peaks of the Cascade Mountains? No…

A little more mist…

And we are below the clouds again…

Purple Haze

Lavender Love from Laurel

Sequim is the Lavender Capital of North America. How this came to be is an interesting story.

The city of Sequim, the village of Dungeness, and the valley in between were once a major dairy region. During the 1930s and 1940s, there was a pea industry here. A mini-oil boom took place from 1955-1957. Logging, sawmills, and mining were also important to the local economy.

As the dairy industry eventually declined, Sequim and the Dungeness Valley had to reinvent itself. In early 1995, the Sequim 2000 Committee began meeting to consider ways to boost the economy and encourage tourism.

After researching various options, the group discovered that the soils and microclimate of this area were ideal for growing a purple flowering herb known for its calming scent and wide variety of uses. July 1996 saw the first harvest of lavender, planted in 1995, and the concept of “agritourism” took off.

Today more than 2 dozen lavender farms and lavender-related businesses adorn the Sequim-Dungeness Valley with their subtlety fragrant scent and purple haze. (Olympic Peninsula Summer Visitors Guide 2019)

We visit Purple Haze Lavender Farm, a 12-acre certified organic farm in the Dungeness Valley.

A landscape of gardens, orchards, ponds, wetlands, and buildings are incorporated into the beauty and design of its lavender fields.

Purple Haze grows over 15,000 plants of more than 50 varieties. In July lavender is harvested by hand. (

Chickens, rabbits, and peacocks live among the rows of lavender. When we arrive I talk to the owner as she pulls a round carrot out of the soil to feed the bunnies.

We walk around these beautiful gardens completely mesmerized by the flowers, plants, and setting.

Please visit the Purple Haze website to find out so much more about lavender and its uses. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it!

(My name is Laurel and I love lavender.)

Dungeness Spit

The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is home to one of the world’s largest natural sand spits.

A spit is a coastal landform composed of beach material that projects out to sea. It has 2 ends. The one connected to the mainland is called the proximal end and the one jutting out into the water is called the distal end. (

Waves, breaking at an angle to the shoreline, create a longshore current that moves parallel to the shore. These large angled swells sweep the shoreline with great force and push water and sediment down the length of the beach in one direction. This movement of sediment is called beach drift. (

As these crashing waves lose their energy, they can no longer carry a full load of sediment with them as backwash. What they leave behind is deposited in a long bar-like feature called a spit. (

A short trail leads through a forest to a bluff overlooking the Dungeness Spit.

Orange “chicken of the woods” shelf fungus brighten our way.

This display along the trail is my very favorite…

Come on world! Wake up! It’s time to be kind to Mother Earth or we will poison her. There’s a 4th R needed here… RE-THINK how we treat her. Change habits for our habitat!

Here’s a bird’s eye view of the spit from the bluff.

The Dungeness Spit is 5.5 miles long and is growing at a rate of about 13 feet per year. At its highest point, the Spit is only 15 feet above sea level.

A steep hill leads down to the Spit trail.

Near the tip of the Spit, a 10.2 mile out and back trek, is the New Dungeness Lighthouse. This was the first lighthouse on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and has operated continuously since its lard oil lamp was lit in December of 1857.

The New Dungeness Lighthouse Keeper Program allows families and friends a rare opportunity to be “lighthouse keepers” for a week. Keepers perform duties such as raising and lowering the flag, watering and mowing when needed, polishing the brass in the tower, and most importantly greeting visitors. (

Since we’re not prepared for an 11 mile hike today, we turn back after exploring and experiencing this amazing coastal land formation.

The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is a place for wildlife and people by both protecting critical habitat and providing viewing opportunities. Some recreational activities are allowed only in selected areas during certain times of the year. (pamphlet from the Refuge)

The Far West

Cape Flattery

I used to think that Cape Blanco on the southern coast of Oregon was the most westerly point of the contiguous United States. But when I started doing tours for the Cape Blanco Lighthouse, I discovered that Cape Flattery in Washington actually deserves this distinction. To verify this fact I went to and compared the longitudinal degrees of both capes. Cape Blanco measures 124.564 degrees west and Cape Flattery measures 124.714 degrees west… just a few feet difference.

Today we set out on a scenic road trip that will take us to the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States. And it just happens to be on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, not far from where we are staying.

Our first stop is Clallam Bay, the farthest north we can travel before heading west. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

No such luck today…

The Clallam River empties into the Bay where it then makes it way into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

On the western end of the Bay sits another seafront town, Sekiu. A plaque at the overlook explains the importance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca as both a shipping lane and a passageway for marine animals. Orcas swim through and some gray whales take a detour through the Strait as they migrate along the coast. A small resident population of humpback whales remain near shore year round. At any rate, both the fishing population and the whale population enjoy the abundance of chinook salmon during spawning season. (plaque at overlook)

In it’s past, Sekiu has been the site of a salmon cannery, a factory that extracted leather tanning solution from hemlock tree bark, a commercial fishing port, a residential center for timber workers, and a port for shipping timber to regional mills.

In the 1930s fishing regulations restricted commercial fishing to areas that were more than 3 miles away from the mouth of rivers. Seiku’s commercial fishery eventually was replaced with recreational fishing. (plaque at overlook)

The next stop on our way to Cape Flattery is Neah Bay, a census designated area of 2.4 square miles on the Makah Reservation. The name “Neah” refers to the Makah Chief Dee-ah, pronounced Neah in a now extinct language once spoken by the Klallam peoples. Archaeological research suggests that Makah people have inhabited Neah Bay for more than 3,800 years.(

According to, the name Makah was attributed to the Tribe by neighboring tribes. It means “people generous with food” in the Salish language.

The indigenous Makah held a vast territory of inland and coastal territory bordered by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. Until historic times, 5 permanent villages existed along the shore of the most northwesterly point of what is now the Olympic Peninsula. The villages were composed of large cedar plank longhouses where many members of an extended family lived. Cultural practices, called tupat, varied from family to family. Thus, even today, Makah families, and not the tribe as a whole, “own” their varied songs, dances, stories, land/ocean resources, and cultural information. (

In 1970 tidal erosion exposed a group of 500-year-old homes in Ozette, 15 miles south of Neah Bay, that had been perfectly preserved in an ancient mudslide. Over 55,000 artifacts were discovered. The Makah share this rich legacy at a museum at the Makah Cultural and Research Center. (museum brochures)

Since Cape Flattery is on the Tribal Reservation, a $10 annual recreational permit issued by the Makah is required.  

The 3/4 mile trail (one way) leads through a lush forest.

Three observation decks offer views of the Pacific Ocean, The Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Vancouver Island (on a clear day).

I spy with my little eye mussels, barnacles, a sea star, and purple flowers growing out of the right side of the cavern rock.

The trail ends at the third observation deck which has to be accessed by climbing several steep rungs on a wooden ladder.

We are now standing on a 60- foot high cliff at the farthest northwesterly point in the lower 48 states. Tattoosh Island and Lighthouse are just across from us.

The lighthouse marks the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a deep and wide passage from the open Pacific Ocean to Puget Sound at Point Wilson. Tatoosh Island is an important center for intertidal studies, including climate change and ocean acidification research. (Olympic Peninsula Visitors Guide, Summer 2019)  (We all know how that’s going these days… Don’t get me started!)

I walk under the observation deck to take this next picture. It’s a sheer drop into the ocean. Just one misstep is all it would take.

It’s time to head back. And time for a few more pics.

What a wonderful day! The only regret I have is that we did not spend time at the Makah Museum.

High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 2

Olympic National Park

The 3 unique environments of Olympic NP—mountains, forest, and coast—can all be accessed off Highway 101.

Today we explore a tiny part of the more than 73 miles of wild coastal beaches that run north to south from Shi Shi Beach to South Beach.

Rialto Beach

Rialto Beach is a public beach in Clallum County in the Olympic Peninsula. It is located near the mouth of the Quillayute River adjacent to Mora Campground in the Olympic National Park.

This beach and coastal forest is noted for its pounding waves, rocky shore, giant drift logs, and sea stacks.

It’s minus tide today and we walk along the beach for 1.5 miles one way toward our destination… a sea-carved arch called Hole in the Wall.

Walk with me and enjoy…

We study the tidal pools and discover sea anemones…

Sea stars…

Limpets in their shell, clinging to the rocks…

More sea anemones…

Seaweed and kelp…


Small mussels…

We arrive at the Hole in the Wall.

After taking pictures and treading the rocks, we start back and retrace our steps for another 1.5 miles.

I love the picture below. This hiker says it all with his pose!

Forest and drift…

The Quileute Reservation

Today these Native Americans live within 1 square mile in La Push. But thousands of winters ago the Quileute and the ghosts of their ancestors flourished in the territory which originally stretched from the Pacific beaches along the rain forest rivers to the glaciers of Mt. Olympus. Their ancient mythic stories recount the days when animals were still people and they challenged kwalla, the mighty whale. Creation legends involve bayak, the trickster raven, who placed the sun in the sky. They believe their peoples were changed from wolves by a wandering Transformer. (

Hmmm… I wonder if Stephenie Meyer knew about this when she chose Forks as the setting for the Twilight series…

The Quileute language is still spoken by the elders and children are taught the basics of this complex language at the Tribal School.

I stopped into this general store below and heard the spoken language myself. It is a mix of clicking sounds and epiglottal oral consonant stops. It is 1 of only 5 languages in the world with no nasal sounds, such as m or n.

The Quileute Language is known for its tongue twisting strings of consonants with words that run off the page. For example, kitlayakwokwilkwolasstaxasalas means “Those are the people who think that I am the one who is going to Forks.” (

The Quillayute River blocks access from Rialto Beach to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Beaches.

Beach One is part of the Quileute Indian Reservation and was a setting in the movie version of the Twilight series.

Beach Two is part of the Olympic National Park, along with Beach Three.

We stop, pull over, park, and head down the .7 one way trail to the beach.

It’s quite beautiful with the nurse logs sculpting the roots and the various shades and textures of green moss, lichens, and air plants.

The trail dead ends into an obstacle course of drift logs. We scramble through a short ways.

And take a few pics of the beach. Notice the pirate flag near the tent and another sea-carved arch.

We’re ready to return and call it a day.

Did I mention that it’s pretty much uphill all the way back? It’s a good thing that I can stop now and then to take an interesting picture. (What? I never said anything about catching my breath!)

I watch as a woman, holding this slug with chopsticks, gently places it into the shrubs. She tells me she found it on the road…

A few of our treasures from Rialto Beach…

High Peaks, Lush Forest, and Wild Coast… Part 1

Olympic National Park

Precipitation, elevation, and diversity are the hallmarks of Olympic National Park. Encompassing nearly a million acres, the park protects a vast wilderness, thousands of years of human history, and several distinctly different ecosystems, including glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests, and over 70 miles of wild coastline. (

Today we explore a lush forest.

Hoh Rain Forest

This Part of Olympic National Park is located on the western side of the park, thirteen miles south of Forks and then seventeen miles east.

Driving into the NP, we follow the Hoh River.

A canopy of spruces, firs, and hemlocks salute us.

There are 3 trails…

The Mosses and Spruce trails are short loops and combined equal about 2 miles. The River trail is 17 miles plus, one way and is very popular with backpackers.

Unlike a tropical rain forest, the Hoh Rain Forest is coniferous. (plaque on trail)

Hall of Mosses Loop

Enter a world of sparkling sprinkled sun, giant trees dripping with beards, trunks shaggy with clubmoss and licorice ferns, moldering logs supporting new growth, and lettuce lichen lying under your feet.

The “Holy Mosses Trail”, my nickname for the Hall of Mosses, ascends a bank to a higher river terrace and an older part of the rain forest. (plaque on trail)

The upper reach of these conifers may well be over 200 feet.

Here’s how to identify these giant trees according to a plaque on the trail:

Now, let me translate. The needles on a Sitka spruce grow all around the branch. Western hemlocks have drooping tops. The Douglas-fir has a thick, red-brown, deeply furrowed bark. (And you are correct, the diagram of the pine cones on the plaque is not very helpful unless you are looking at the branches…)

I can’t believe my eyes sometimes! All these roots tangled in knots and branches draped in green moss amaze me.

Here’s a great picture of dappled sunlight piercing the forest.

Moss-covered trees contort into forest monsters.

This root looks like a serpent to me.

Heavy beards of clubmoss attach to boughs but feed only on air and light. The rain forest atmosphere provides enough moisture and wind-borne nutrients.

Some trees, such as big leaf maples, support denser clusters of lichens and hanging air plants or mosses, called epiphytes. (plaque on trail)

When a large tree falls, it provides the environment to support new growth. Hemlock and spruce seedlings, for example, cannot survive on the tangled forest floor. Decaying tree trunks, called nurselogs, provide warmth and protection and allow the seedlings to absorb the minerals and moisture needed to grow and mature. (plaque on trail)

Even after their young roots reach the soil, the new trees look like they are standing on stilts as the nurselog molders away.

This spruce looks ghostly with its hairy limbs and burls. The burls are actually bumpy growths due to insect damage or a tree virus.

Mother Nature has a talent for decorating and landscaping the forest…

And some visitors add their whimsical touches as well…

I notice a woman hunched over this indentation of trees and a nursed root. Wondering what she finds so interesting that she needs to take a picture, I walk up to her and then break out in a smile. She has placed Barbie’s boyfriend, a Ken doll, into this little cavern. Apparently she takes Ken with her on her adventures and makes him pose for pictures, just like some people use gnomes or flat Stanleys or candy peeps 🐥. I ask her permission to take this picture.

This fallen spruce tree trunk is 190 feet long! Sitka spruces grow an average of 220 feet tall. (plaque on trail)

Spruce Trail Loop

This trail stands on top of a former riverbank and represents a younger forest with more open areas. Douglas-firs cannot reproduce in deep shade. Here they have enough light to grow old. (plaque on trail)

A banana slug slithers across our path and into the ferns, herbs, mosses, and shrubs.

Shelf fungus fruits on a dying spruce trunk. Shhh… I’m not sure the tree knows it’s dying yet…

Do you recognize the effect of nurselogs here?

This Sitka spruce bark is unique. According to Jeff, Sitka spruce wood makes great guitars…. especially the soundboard for acoustic guitars.

The tree branches bogged down with moss still look like haunted creatures on this trail too.

This is Taft Creek. In the late fall and winter Coho salmon spawn in the stream gravels. The fry emerge in spring and feed in the river for a year before swimming to the sea. Surviving salmon return as 3-year-olds to spawn and die.

Over 130 wildlife species thrive off salmon. Their carcasses decompose and nourish the forest.

Salmon are just one example of how the mountains, forests, and seas are united. (plaque on trail)

Back on the Spruce Trail…

The western hemlock below is actually composed of several individuals. Originally many seedlings took root on a rotting stump, or nurselog. The seedlings near the edge grew roots down the sides of the stump and reached ground first. Eventually the soil-rooted hemlocks crowded out the others and joined together, giving the appearance of a single tree. (plaque on trail)

This colonnade of Sitka spruce and western hemlock used to straddle the remains of its nurselog. Their buttressed roots now support standing trees. (plaque on trail)

A tiny brook trickles across the trail.

And we complete the Spruce Trail Loop…

Hoh River Trail

As we head back to the Visitor Center, we decide to take the Hoh River Trail for a short out-and-back.

A hairy monster with burls…

As Jeff and I return from the Hoh River Trail, I hear an unusual sound and stop in my tracks. Jeff notices the source of the sound, and to my amazement, a pileated woodpecker pecks away on my immediate left. I have never been so close to a woodpecker before!

As we leave the Hoh Rain Forest and head back to Highway 101, we notice a pile-up of cars parked along the Hoh River. I spot a brown animal in the water and tell Jeff to stop and pull over. That’s when we both realize why all the other cars are stopped here… elk.

What a great day!