MOUNT RAINIER IN WINTER: Foxes, Gables, and Clarity

During a recent winter trip to Mount Rainier National Park, encountered crystalline skies, plus the magic of seeing a Silver Phase Red Fox for the first time.

The gable-fronted dormers peek out of the snow on the Paradise Inn

My favorite photographs often emerge unexpectedly, and that was the case during a February Sunday trip to Mount Rainier National Park, which is a little over two hours from my Western Washington home.

Karen and I drove to The Mountain (as it is called here), arriving just before noon.  We chose to go snowshoeing above the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center toward Panorama Point, where we could get a magnificent view of the snowy peak on this clear day.  Alas, the snow lived up to its local name, “Cascade concrete,” and we didn’t even need snowshoes most of the way.  In addition, the snow had been heavily tramped, snowshoed, boarded, and skied, so there were human tracks everywhere.  That was OK; I was able to photograph the mountain in some pristine places.

But my favorite pictures came at the end of the day.  When we returned to Paradise, the Paradise Inn was catching some nice late light, with just the gabled dormers emerging from the heavy snow on the roof.  This beautiful structure, designed in the classic “national park style” early in the 20th Century, is closed for the winter months.  Too bad:  it would be a beautiful place to stay with the snow swirling outside.

The other great moment came after I finished photographing some beautiful icicles catching the last light of day.  We had just started the car and were leaving the parking lot, when Karen saw a dark animal running across the parking lot.  It was a Red Fox, but not one of the normal Red Foxes we typically see.  This was a Silver Phase Red Fox, which is very dark on much of the body, but with silver-tipped hairs on the face and toward the back of the animal.  It was beautiful, with lively orange eyes that have that vertical slit-like pupils–making it look quite alien to we of the round pupil clan.  The fox was bright enough to know when visitors leave on a weekend day, and it showed up to act as the cleanup crew, lapping up the last of the hot chocolate that a skier had tossed onto the snowbank, and the spilled cereal left on the asphalt.  Plus, it spent a few moments on the snow so that I could get some more natural pictures.

Once again, the unexpected made my day!

Silver Phase Red Fox atop a snowbank at Mount Rainier

The Mountain with meltwater channels on the lower slopes

Silver Phase Red Fox (I digitally subtracted the landscape color to emphasize the fox’s color)

Catching the last rays of the setting sun

Pausing, with the Tatoosh Range in sunset glow

A more prosaic view of the scavenger fox

Above Paradise there are spectacular views of Mt. Rainier

Icicles in beautiful warm and cold light

Windows of the Jackson Visitor Center reflecting The Mountain

Paradise Inn with heavy snows

Tatoosh Range in foreground, with Mt. Adams–another major volcano–distant

The new Jackson Visitor Center is designed to shed snow

Graceful shadows and scattered conifers on the lower slopes of Mount Rainier

The Mountain towers over 14,000′; Paradise is just over a mile high

I have two other stories about Mount Rainier that you might enjoy; go to A Night on Mt. Rainier, A Day in Paradise and An Afternoon in Paradise.  I also have a story, photographed in Michigan, of another unusual color phase of the Red Fox known as the “Cross Fox;” go to Cross Fox & Family.

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