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.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

A Night on Mt. Rainier, A Day in Paradise

Night photography was an excuse to visit Mt. Rainier, but it was also a lovely autumn day for a hike in the alpine zone on the volcano.

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Mt_Rainier_October-35Sunset view down Nisqually River Valley in Mt. Rainier National Park..

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Night photography beckoned this fall, so I decided to do an overnight trip to Mt. Rainier on what I hoped would be a relatively clear night.  Actually, my first choice had been an overnight backpack on the lower slopes of Mt. Baker, but then I saw a recent trip report for the Railroad Grade area that had a hiker postholing through the deep snow there.  Change in plans!

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I drove to Mt. Rainier just after noon on an early October weekday.  It was cloudy upon my arrival, but I had time to check out possible positions for night photography and to find some great spots for late autumn photography.

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After taking some evening photographs of a vivid sunset, I went to Cougar Rock Campground and was sawing logs (and not for a campfire!) by 8:00 p.m., with the alarm set for 3:00 a.m., when I expected the half-moon would be high in the sky and most of the clouds would have lifted.

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I awoke as planned and drove to Reflection Lakes, drinking the coffee I had wisely made before bed.  The mountain was revealed and everything went as planned, though I was a little surprised that there wasn’t more snow on The Mountain, given the stormy weather of late.  Later, I had hoped for dawn alpenglow on the peak, but just got the littlest bit of faint pink light.

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I spent the rest of the day photographing in the Paradise area, with a classic clear morning at Reflection Lakes, followed by a hike on the Skyline Trail in search of White-tailed Ptarmigans, which I failed to find.  It was a wonderful day with lots of older hikers on the trail.

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Mt_Rainier_October-73A strange cloud emanates from the mountain at night..

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Mt_Rainier_October-107Dawn glow, stars, and clouds..

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Mt_Rainier_October-114At first light, the cloud emanating from The Mountain began to dissipate..

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Mt_Rainier_October-121A touch of alpenglow on the rock and glaciers at dawnpp
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Mt_Rainier_October-150A classic view of Mount Rainier reflected in Reflection Lakes..
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Mt_Rainier_October-163A cedar puncheon boardwalk crosses a small stream..
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Mt_Rainier_October-167Blueberry bushes, scarlet with autumn, share a talus slope with subalpine trees..
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Mt_Rainier_October-199A grand staircase, with a quote from John Muir, leads to the high country..
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Mt_Rainier_October-195A stunning view of The Mountain on a crisp autumn morning in Paradise..
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Mt_Rainier_October-232The lovely colors of blueberry leaves..
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Mt_Rainier_October-249A Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel living above timberline..
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Mt_Rainier_October-259A tarn in the raw rock and gravel land above timberline..
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Mt_Rainier_October-268Glacier-gouged and polished rocks with the Tatoosh Range distant..
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Mt_Rainier_October-288A cloud quickly rises like a cresting wave or a geyser..
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Mt_Rainier_October-313Nootka Cypress trees (formerly Alaska Yellow Cedar) with blueberry leaves.’
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Mt_Rainier_October-305The enchanted Skyline Trail winds through a subalpine forest..
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Mt_Rainier_October-316Fuzzy white seed heads among blueberry leaves.
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Looking down the Nisqually River Valley at sunset
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To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

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MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK: Paradise Visitor Center

In Mt. Rainier National Park’s new visitor center, the natural wood and black metal of the interior work beautifully together in the cathedral ceiling, and the craftsman-style copper light fixtures harken back to the time when the original buildings were erected at Paradise.

Mt. Rainier National Park was spectacular on this crisp Indian Summer day, and we enjoyed hiking a trail in the subalpine meadows of Paradise (originally named by a woman who thought the exuberant summer wildflower display looked like paradise).  Our wildlife total included two American Black Bears, who were feeding ravenously on blueberry bushes red with autumn color.  Wisps of clouds rose from the mountain’s summit, which was brilliant white with fresh snow.

Our real purpose in visiting Paradise was to see the new $22 million National Park Service visitor center that opened two days ago.  With my long-ago background in parks and nature centers, I enjoy seeing new visitor centers and evaluating their potential for success, so a visit to this new rustic-style center gave me an impression of what planners now believe is “state of the art.”

The old Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center in Paradise looked like it was designed by an architect for the Jetsons.  Essentially, it was.  In 1962 Seattle hosted its famous World’s Fair, which featured the iconic new Space Needle.  This monument, still the symbol of Seattle, illustrated what was thought to be the American future–and this closely matched the original prime time showing of the animated sitcom, The Jetsons, which favored the same sorts of futuristic design themes.  The National Park Service, in that design climate, approved a visitor center design that echoed the top of the Space Needle–as if the towering base of the structure lay buried in lava oozed by the great mountain.  That structure opened to the public in 1966, an exciting era of growth within the National Park Service and a time when post-war America was at its most optimistic.

Fast backward nearly a hundred years.  Mt. Rainier National Park was the fifth national park in the nation, and the early design of its roads and structures was sublime.  Roads were designed to curve gently around the mountain, winding through a dark tunnel of ancient forest, then coming around a curve to see the massive mountain suddenly emerging in magnificent splendor.  The experience of driving these roads reminds me of a musical score, with low bass chords followed by a brass crescendo.  In the same era, structures were created with logs and stone and cedar shingles, echoing the materials found naturally on the mountain.  This park helped pioneer this rustic style, and today visitors still love the early Paradise Inn and other buildings that were born in that surprisingly sensitive era.

Fast forward to the new century.  The futuristic spacecraft theme of the original visitor center looks as dated as a console television set from the 1960s.  In contrast, the nearby Paradise Inn, built in 1916, is still elegant after all these years.  It is in this context that the National Park Service planned a completely new visitor center, which would fit in with the original historic architecture but which would be built to contemporary “green” standards.  The old visitor center had physical problems of handicapped accessibility–it doesn’t even have an elevator for its multiple floors.  It also had a complex snow melting system to try and deal with the up to 1,000 inches of snow that Paradise receives each year: the concrete roof has a built-in system of tubes carrying hot water to melt the snow.  These are powered by diesel–burning up to 500 gallons of diesel on a cold day in winter!  The windows use old insulation standards and the center just looks “tired” overall.

The new Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center, named for a powerful senator representing Washington State when the original visitor center was funded and built, has been planned for several years.  I like the overall look of the Center, though I think the soaring interior is more successful than the exterior.  The natural wood and black metal of the interior work beautifully together in the cathedral ceiling, and the craftsman-style copper light fixtures harken back to the time when the original buildings were erected at Paradise.  The exterior consists of stone and wood and a bank of beautiful windows on each side.  These windows have shutters that are open during the day to let in light and views, but they close when the Visitor Center closes, to conserve energy.  Good idea.

Much of the lobby is open, and visitors can see at a glance the opportunities to see a movie, get information from a desk ranger, visit the exhibits, or browse the bookstore.  The big, multi-paned windows look out in one direction on the great mountain and in the other direction toward the Tatoosh Range.  Circulation patterns for people browsing the center’s features work well.

The exhibits explore the major stories associated with the mountain:  the eruption history, subalpine meadows, volcanic hazards, wildlife, climbing to the summit, and effects of pollution and other outside influences on the plants and wildlife of the park.  Everyone’s favorite exhibit is on the main floor:  this is a scale model orientation map that lights up when a visitor presses a button to show, say, the route of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail around the mountain.  I once worked as an exhibit designer, and I’ve noticed that every visitor center designed in the last 25 years is described as having “state of the art” exhibits.  This one included.  The exhibits are effective, though probably not as gripping in story or execution as the planners hoped.  I think the problem with exhibits is that even though they have beautiful graphics and some interactive components, they simply can’t compete with today’s everyday interactive gaming and internet computer experiences.  And that’s all right.  Not everything has to dazzle and absorbingly entertain us.  Here the star experience is The Mountain itself, and the trails that lead from the Visitor Center.  Today, for example, the bears feeding on huckleberries are what every visitor is going to remember.  And that’s great!

The most effective part of the Visitor Center was the theater, which featured a spectacular new movie about Mt. Rainier, including stories about climbers, wildlife, and the geologic history and hazards of the great volcano.  It was so beautifully filmed in high-definition video that some visitors stayed in the theater to watch it a second time.  It was as close to perfect as this type of movie can be.

All in all, the National Park Service did a great job on the new Visitor Center; the tax dollars were well spent.  As we left the park, there was a touch of alpenglow on the upper reaches of the massive volcano.  A fitting end to a great day in one of America’s great national parks.

To see a variety of my photographic work, including photos for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

Click on the photographs below for versions with captions.