September 3, 2001
Mt. Rainier: one of nature's art galleries
by Deborah Stone
National parks are some of nature's finest art galleries, filled with awe-inspiring scenery guaranteed to soothe the soul.
This summer I had the fortune of camping at one of these natural paradises and it proved to be an ideal vacation spot for my family.
It had been many years since we'd ventured south to Mt. Rainier; the last time being when our oldest son was just an infant.
The experience of staying in a lodge room the size of a closet with an fussy baby, combined with dreary, damp weather (making it impossible to get a glimpse of the mountain) was more than unpleasant and left us with little desire to return.
Lucky for us, though, our friends planned our joint annual camping trip and decided on Rainier, giving us reason to have a second date with this national treasure. After spending a long weekend hiking and exploring around the area, my husband and I remarked on how sad it was that we had waited so long to return to this splendid wilderness retreat so close to home.
The mountain was in its glory, clearly visible during one of those picture perfect postcard weekends in August. Massive, snow tipped and blanketed with colorful, perfumed wildflowers, it was a sight to behold and treasure. I knew that my memory would have to serve me well because no matter how many photos I took, they would not do justice to the visual reality.
Wherever we went, we found yet another awesome view, each time climbing higher to experience more of the mountain's magic.
We reached areas of melting snow and plastered ourselves with wonderful slush to cool down our heated bodies, after hiking up never ending switchbacks in the warmth of the day.
The children, who ranged in age from seven to 13, and even some of the adults, filled their caps with snow and then placed them on their heads to serve as natural coolants as we continued walking.
We marveled at eating our sandwiches perched on top of a snow mound in summer and laughed at a chubby marmot who played hide and seek with us behind a rock. He was a humorous character who seemed to like putting on a show for hikers and we easily obliged him by being a captive audience.
Our actual camping experience was also ideal, as the campground we chose, Ohanapecosh, was spacious, wooded and afforded privacy between sites. It was set along a picturesque river with a waterfall, had easy access to several nature trails, contained a visitors' center with interesting displays and hiking information, and had an outdoor amphitheater for evening ranger talks and presentations (the one time we attended, the topic was on the challenges of climbing Rainier).
What amazed us was the peacefulness of the campground and how quiet it got at night, compared with many other places we have stayed that remain noisy way after midnight.
Our children find camping a joy, as they love sleeping and eating outdoors, sitting by a fire, using their pocketknives, getting dirty and not having to shower, and simply having the freedom to explore without numerous restrictions and rules.
They fall asleep easily after all the physical exercise and fresh air, and awaken with renewed energy, ready to start a fire and dig into a stack of blueberry pancakes.
After many years of camping, they are also able to help in setting up the site (as opposed to hindering in this task!), relieving my husband and me of some of the burden. It used to be that one of us would have to supervise the kids to keep them out of the other one's hair while he/she would put up the tent, but that is no longer necessary.
In addition, their abilities to complete lengthy hikes have increased, as well as their willingness and desire to take on more challenging trails. They take pride in their accomplishments and their abilities, eagerly discussing elevation gain, terrain and ratings of difficulty like mountaineering pros. As a family vacation, camping in one of nature's art galleries was a true pleasure. It was a privilege, too, as it made me appreciate our country's foresight in protecting and preserving areas of great beauty so that my children, my children's children and generations to come can continue to have memorable experiences with nature.