Saturday, August 21, 2010

Meadows on The Mountain

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made, and forgot to put a soul into. ~Henry Beecher

With wildflowers abounding around Mt. Rainier, I decided to find a less frequented area of the park. It paid off. The drive to Spray and Seattle parks, which are magnificent meadows in the Mowich area, was an adventure in itself. You have to drive 16 miles over a loose gravel, pot-holed road that is nothing less than bone-jarring. I arrived at Mowich Lake and hardly paused to admire the peaceful, still waters surrounded by evergreens and a sheer cliff before bouncing down Spray Trail, eager to begin the 13-mile journey.

The first item of interest on the trail was Eagle Cliff, a viewpoint that puts you right in Mt. Rainier's face. The mountain looked massive from here.

A distant thundering sound could be heard after the first series of switchbacks, roughly 1.5 miles in, and then a sign suggesting a short detour to Spray Falls appeared. I took it, of course, picking my way over an area of small stones until I could see what looked
like an ordinary waterfall with water cascading over boulders. I walked a bit further and craned my neck up to see an aptly named waterfall, the water zigzagging its way down with a fine mist spraying several hundred feet out. I crawled up two fallen branches and crossed slippery rocks for a better look before wistfully turning back to the main trail.

The switchbacks made a comeback but they weren't nearly as painful as recent hikes. I climbed 600 feet in a half mile, enjoying the mini moss-covered falls wedged into the forest.

There was nothing to notify me that I had arrived in Spray Falls. All of a sudden, the forest disappeared and a green meadow opened in front of me with bunches of
purple, yellow, pink and white flowers. I haven't yet learned all the names of the wildflowers but it smelled like a lily factory and I laughed out loud several times, content in this magical land where the only sound is bees buzzing around you. I skipped along the path, amazed that there were broad meadows beyond every turn.

I had probably gone another two miles before I realized that Spray Park was way behind me but I felt pulled forward like a magnet, wanting to know what else existed
along the path. Mt. Rainier was a stunning backdrop to the never-ending meadows and a series of craggy rocks could be seen on the other side of the trail. I pushed on past the first snowfield, still determined to reach the end, but stopped about two miles beyond that because I wasn't equipped for ice and I was getting cold in my shorts and tank top.

Regretfully, I rested on a ridge overlooking Seattle Park and then headed back. It was then that I had my first run-in with marmots. The first one that a fellow hiker pointed out was fat,
waddling near a pond, but was too far away to get a good look at his face. The second one I spotted was scampering through a bunch of lavender daisies and sat straight up when he heard me coming. He stood for a few seconds, clearly hoping I would move on, and scurried into a hole when I stubbornly stood there hoping for a better picture. The third one was my charm. He was close to the trail and didn't seem frightened of me at all. The marmot sat on a rock for a while, then ran through the flowers as I inched closer. Without much warning, he turned and ran down the path directly toward me, veering to the side at the last minute while I made my departure.

I hiked back to the parking lot, happy that I'd found what I came for. Delicate wildflowers, a long walk through nature and sightings of the creatures lucky enough to live there.

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