Update 4: July 6, 2006

Scorecard: 76 days; 7,203 miles (RV: 4,344, Car: 2,859); 6 states; 10 National Parks; 2,203 photos.
Mount Rainier National Park: June 13-18, 2006 (Location 14 on the Map)

With Oregon in the rear-view mirror, we returned to the road and arrived at my most-anticipated stop on the western leg of our trip: Mount Rainier National Park. I’ve been told in the past that many people visit Mount Rainier and never get to see the mountain due to the rain and clouds. In the many trips I’ve made in the past, I’ve always experienced exceptional weather. Not so this time.

It seems we were constantly changing into and out of raingear, trying to stay protected from the persistent drizzle, fog, and rain. We were here earlier in the season than I had been on my trips in the past, and after a few days we began to think we had joined that group of people who never get to see the mountain. I spent most of my time telling Susan how beautiful the mountain is, and she spent most of her time wondering if I knew what I was talking about.

I had come to love this park and this mountain during several previous visits. I had climbed to the summit twice, and I had hiked the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around the mountain on three different occasions. So I felt I had a good knowledge of what we should see and where we should go during our visit. But the weather and the heavy snow pack conspired to keep us relegated to the lower-elevation areas of the southern part of the park. As we do in all of the parks we visit, we did a lot of hiking. Because of the rain and the glacial melt, the rivers and waterfalls were running strong, so at least we got to see some of the park’s beauty.

One day when we were staying dry in the visitor’s center at Paradise, we overheard a conversation between a ranger and a couple of young women. No doubt they were some of the many people who had heard the rumor that an actual mountain existed nearby, and were curious to find out if the rumor was true. The secret, it seemed, was to visit the area around 6:30 pm, when for some reason unknown to us, the clouds were in the habit of clearing long enough to see the mountain. Sure enough, when we returned later that evening, we were rewarded with the view you see at the end of our Mount Rainier photos. At least Susan believes me now.

For photos from Mount Rainier National Park, Click Here
Olympic National Park: June 18-22, 2006 (Location 15 on the Map)

We spent four nights in Port Angeles, outside of the park. We learned quickly that for a park this immense, that would not be enough time. There are several distinct environments and climatic zones in the park, including the Pacific coast, six- and seven-thousand-foot glaciated peaks, sub-alpine areas and even a rainforest. We saw as much as we could, on foot as always. We had a very enjoyable time.

New bird from this area: Pigeon Guillemot. (We're not exactly doing too well in the birding department).

For photos from Olympic National Park, Click Here
North Cascades National Park: June 23-27, 2006 (Location 17 on the Map)

Next it was on to North Cascades, an area I didn’t know much about prior to the trip. We stayed near Winthrop, a quirky little town with an interesting mix of old-time ranchers and new age earthy folks. Due to the proximity of hiking and climbing to the town, we’ve decided to add this to our list of possible places to settle down after the trip. There aren’t any jobs, but they have really good ice cream, so that’s something!

We mixed it up a bit and went on a bike ride in addition to our hikes. I even put in a 16-mile trip on my bike, and realized why it is that full-time bike riders spend so much money on those fancy bike seats!

For photos from North Cascades National Park, Click Here
Glacier National Park: June 29-July 5, 2006 (Location 19 on the Map)

Glacier turned out to be our favorite park so far. The glaciers have almost died off (one estimate says they’ll be gone by 2030), but the landscape that they’ve left behind is truly spectacular, with incredibly steep peaks towering above beautifully sculpted valleys. We spent six nights camped in the park, and could happily have spent another week. The pictures in our gallery only scratch the surface of what we saw, and we saw only a small fraction of the park.

Almost as remarkable as the beauty of the park were the interesting people we encountered. It’s now the height of tourist season, and we saw a nice cross-section of America represented in the park. There was the woman hiking in front of us wearing a small bikini top and shorts. Not really a big deal, but she was clearly drawing attention to herself and away from the other scenery. There was the guy smoking a cigarette as he hiked the trail. We saw a guy wearing no shirt, posing so his girlfriend could take a picture of him in front of the waterfall. We passed a woman on the trail who not only was obscenely perfumed, but was carrying a cup of gourmet coffee, complete with one of those little cardboard doodads protecting her hand from getting burned. As we returned down the trail from one of our longer hikes, we surprised a woman who had decided to relieve herself right at the edge of the trail. Not a few feet off the trail; right at the edge. I suspect that since one of our next parks is one of the most popular in the US, we will likely see a lot more of these kinds of people.

For photos from Glacier National Park, Click Here

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