Mt. Rainier’s Hidden Beauty

One of the best things about receiving a gift of a book like Plants and Animals of Mount Rainier and the Cascades is that it makes you realize how many flowers you have never seen, or, at least, have never taken a picture of. That, in turn, encourages you to start paying more attention than you have before. None of the flowers pictured here standout like the flowers in the previous entry. Several of them are found at lower elevations in dense forest and are easy to overlook unless you are looking for them.

Although this Mountain Daisy was easy to identify, it was a single flower in a bed of lupine and Indian Paintbrush.

Mountain Daisy

Sometimes you find plants/flowers you’ve never seen before, but instead of identifying them quickly you’re left wondering if they’re really what you think they might be. For instance, looking through the book I thought this was probably a Pine Sap, a flower I’m sure I’ve never seen before.

 Pine Sap?

This looked quite different from the picture in the book, but an online search revealed a photo that looked exactly like this, so if whoever posted it identified it correctly it must be a Pine Sap.

I had some of the same problems identifying this flower. These are salal flowers, as noted by Mike and Brighid.

I’ve seen this flower


quite a few times before but didn’t remember it was called Penstemon until I looked it up in the book. If I look it up three more times I might remember its name when I see it again.

I might have seen this flower before

 Sitka Valeria

but i’m sure I’ve never heard the name Sitka Valerian before.

I also discovered this very small flower (the picture is at least two times its actual size)

by a hot springs, but was unable to find it in the book, or anywhere else for that matter.

Beginning flower-watching reminds me of beginning birdwatching where you spend more time trying to find the name of species than you do actually finding them. Still, it adds another dimension to something I love doing so it’s hard to complain.

The Wildflowers of Mt Rainier

After visiting Paradise Park on Mount Rainier in 1888 John Muir wrote, "Gardens of Eden filled knee-deep with fresh, lovely flowers of every hue, the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."

Those of us lucky enough to live in Washington State long ago learned to time an annual visit to the mountain when the wildflowers are most apt to be in bloom for there is, indeed, something magical in the juxtaposition of snow fields and fields of brilliant wildflowers,


and my favorite flower happens to be Indian Paintbrush, a flower I’ve only seen growing in the Cascades.

 Indian Paintbrush

Personally, I’ve always identified Rainier’s wildflowers with the legendary Hanging Gardens of Babylon because of the way they cling to the rock cliffs like this patch of Lupine,


these Phlox and Gentians,

Phlox and Gentians

or this Heather that seems to be holding back this rock slide.


Rainier is beautiful any time of year, but it is hard to imagine a more beautiful place when the wildflowers are in full bloom. No wonder nearly 2 million people a year visit Mt. Rainier National Park.

Mt Rainier’s Sunrise

Leslie and I spent much of last week up on Mount Rainier. On Saturday we took Ted and Leslie’s friend Hao

Hao and Leslie

who’s visiting from Shanghai to Sunrise because it’s undoubtably the most spectacular spot in Western Washington.

We were rewarded with a bright, sunny, surprisingly hot, day on the mountain.

Mount Rainier

The Indian Paintbrush,

Indian Paintbrush



along with many other flowers covered the meadows, even outnumbering the visitors.

Apparently in Hao’s honor we were greeted by local residents, like this Hoary Marmot.

Hoary Marmot

We ended up making the full loop around the mountain, even managing a stop at one of Leslie’s favorite viewpoints, Box Canyon,

 Box Canyon

before ending our day at the Wild Berry Restaurant in Ashford.

Beautiful weather, stunning views, strenuous exercise, great food, and good company. Days don’t get any better than this.

Walking Mt. Rainier

I don’t know anyone who lives in Western Washington who doesn’t love the sight of Mt. Rainier. You always enjoy seeing the mountain, even in your car. You get out of your car to experience the subtle beauty of wildflowers that carpet the mountainside as you climb up beyond the visitor’s center.


On the way down you stroll through fields of purple asters (though the climb UP is anything but a stroll 🙂

field of wild asters

You walk wayside trails to fully experience waterfalls crossed unnoticed on the highway.

waterfall on Mt. Rainier

You hike mile-long trails to discover creeks plunging down the mountainside, waterfalls hidden by old-growth forests.

Carter Falls

If you ask someone if he knows how far the falls is, you may even meet a Belgium-born nuclear scientist with a GPS that can tell you it’s precisely 70 meters ahead.

hiker on trail

If you hike very long, you’re also sure to meet curious local residents,

Gray Jay

that will land if you hold out your hand to them,

a bird in hand

even without food to offer.

I climb the mountain to find my own little piece of heaven here on earth.

Mt. Rainier

Leslie had a day off in the middle of last week and the sun was shining, so we decided to drive to Mount Rainier for the day. Looking back at some of the shots I was amazed at how different Mount Rainier looks from different angles, even when they are all taken from the southern side of the mountain.

For instance, here’s a shot from the Nisqually River, showing how wide the river sometimes gets during Spring flooding.

Rainier from Nisqually River

There are many pull-outs on the way to Paradise where you can get long shots of the mountain.

Mt. Rainier

This shot from Alta Vista above the visitor’s center shows the mountain rising above us,

Mt. Rainier

but when we climbed to Panorama Point, 6800 feet, the mountain didn’t seem quite as high, though my huffing and puffing indicated otherwise.

Rainier and Nisqually Glacier

The Nisqually Glacier trailing to the south somehow made the mountain seem less high than it really was.

All you need to do to re-establish how high you really are is to turn around, look to the south

Looking South from Paradise

and realize that even at this height you’re higher than almost all the mountains in the Cascades

Coming off the mountain, looking down at the Nisqually River where you began your climb brings the day full circle.

Nisqually River in the Distance

Unless You Look Down

If you can take your eyes off the mountain long enough, you will soon discover that the flowers are equally breathtaking. The new Visitor’s Center had a display of mountain flowers, and I was particularly struck by how far phlox, a rather dainty flower at first glance, roots penetrated the soil, making it possible to grow in places other flowers can’t. Needless to say, on this trip I saw phlox everyone,


though I’m not sure I ever noticed them before.

Of course, it’s impossible to look at flowers closely like these Asters

Bee on Aster

without also noticing the insects that thrive on them. On this day, the bees seemed to drawn to the purple flowers, whether Asters or Jacob’s Ladder.

Jacob's Ladder

In sheer numbers, the bees far outnumbered the butterflies,

Butterfly on Aster

but this butterfly, an Edith’s Checkerspot, I think, seemed everywhere I looked.

Best of all, the Indian Paintbrush was magnificent, whether the passionate pink variety that dominated lower altitudes,

Indian Paintbrush

or the lovely orange varieties that dominated at higher altitudes.

Indian Paintbrush

Everywhere Is Up

From the moment you arrive at the Sunrise parking lot, you find yourself looking up at the mountain.

Rainier from Sunrise Parking Lot

The further you climb, the larger the mountain looms as you begin to realize it consists of enormous ridge lines

Rainier Ridge

that dwarf any ridge lines

Ridge Line

you’ve already surmounted.

Arriving at the peak of the day’s hike, incredibly the mountain looms even higher than it did before you started your climb,

The Peak

and you’re left looking up.