Mount Rainier—Window on the West

At Mount Rainier National Park you can experience the essence of the American West.  This Quest will help you explore the history, adventure, nature, and wilderness beauty preserved by one of America’s original western parks.

Our first national parks were created to protect the natural wonders of this country’s “new” western lands. Established in 1899 as America’s fifth national park, Mount Rainier offers spectacular mountain landscapes as well as glimpses of a fascinating and formative time in this country’s history.

At Mount Rainier you can find the wilderness of the American West, from mountain vistas and abundant waterfalls to the last remnants of the vast old-growth forests that once covered the region. It provides a place to enjoy wildlife and is a home for species that may be vanishing elsewhere in the West.

Here you can encounter a rich history of adventurers, pioneers, Native Americans, miners, and dreamers who were drawn by the grandeur and opportunities of the West. The park still draws those seeking the inspiration, wonder, and adventure of this mountain wilderness. Come join them as you embark on this Quest for the West.


Discovery #1  Carbon River Entrance   

To get to the Carbon River entrance of the park you will pass through the historic town of Wilkeson, established in1877.  Near the public restrooms in front of Town Hall, look for plaques and photos telling of the mining and railroad history of this town. Follow the Carbon River Road to its end to enter a true temperate rainforest similar to the Hoh Rainforest on Olympic Peninsula. You can walk the 0.25-mile nature trail from the parking lot to see trees as much as 500 years old draped in mosses and lichens and watered by 90 inches (2.3 meters) of rainfall a year. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can walk a half-hour along the closed road to a short but very steep (and sometimes slippery) trail leading to an old mine shaft.  Look for a roadside parking area with a trail sign reading, “Washington Mining and Milling Company 0.25 miles.”  Follow the trail up the hill to see the gated entry to this former copper mine with its metal tracks and old timbers.

Quest Activity:  At the entrance station, ask the staff why the road is closed at the parking lot. Use the “passport” stamp to mark the date and location here:

 

Discovery #2 Highway 410 and the Naches Wagon Trail  

If you return to Hwy 410 and drive east through the park, you will follow parts of the old Naches Trail, an Indian trail that became a covered wagon route through the Cascade Mountains and an extension of the Oregon Trail.  In1853 pioneer James Longmire led the harrowing journey of the first wagon train to use this trail. The terrain here is so rugged that at one point, the covered wagons and horses had to be lowered down a cliff by ropes, and the wagon route was soon abandoned. And James Longmire? He fell in love with Mount Rainier and later built the Longmire Medical Springs resort in what would become the southwest part of Mount Rainier National Park.

 Quest-ion: As you follow the White River, note what color it is today.

 

Discovery #3 Sunrise 

From Hwy 410 take the White River entrance road that leads to the Sunrise area of the park.  There you may view numerous Cascade peaks and enjoy spectacular views of Rainier’s massive summit and glaciers. The visitor center at Sunrise was built to resemble the Hudson Bay Company fur-trading posts of the region, complete with blockhouses and stockade. Originally called Yakama Park, this area was a favorite summer encampment of the Yakama Indians who would race horses on this level area.

Quest Activity: Ask a ranger why the White River has the color you noted.  Use the “passport” stamp at the visitor center’s information desk to stamp the date here:

 

Discovery #4 Grove of the Patriarchs

Take a gentle, 1.3-mile roundtrip trail (1 hour) across a suspension bridge over the beautiful Ohanapecosh River to immerse yourself in a world of thousand-year-old trees. Watch for “nurse logs”—old logs that provide a home for a host of new seedlings. Imagine what it was like when vast old-growth forests blanketed the Northwest with giant trees like these.

Quest-ion: What variety of tree is the largest giant at the end of the boardwalk?

 

Discovery #5 Ohanapecosh

Turn off Hwy 123 into the campground and visitor center at Ohanapecosh. In the center you can see a mounted black bear and many other types of wildlife that inhabit the old growth forests of the West. Just outside the back door is a cross-section of a giant tree like those at the Grove of the Patriarchs.  Its “rings” are marked with their historical dates and the major events that took place over the span of this tree’s life.  Near this display is the start of the Hot Springs Trail (0.4-mile loop) where you can touch and smell bubbling mineral water heated by Mt. Rainier’s volcanic fires and walk along the beautiful Ohanapecosh River.

Quest Activity:  Ask a ranger to show you photos of the former medicinal hot springs resort here. Use the “passport” stamp at the visitor center’s information desk to stamp the date here:

 

Discovery #6    Paradise

After the famous conservationist, John Muir visited the Paradise area in1888 he became an advocate for the preservation of Mount Rainier as a national park. Visit the history theater upstairs in the visitor center to learn about the role of Mount Rainier as this country’s fifth western park. Other exhibits tell of the Native American presence on this mountain and the amazing wildlife protected by the park. Look for the real mountain goat mounted above the exhibits.

Quest Activity: Ask a ranger how the area was named Paradise”. Use the “passport” stamp at the visitor center’s information desk to stamp the date and location here:

In summer you can enjoy the beautiful lobby of the historic Paradise Inn across the parking lot from the visitor center. It is one of the first examples of the rustic architectural style used in many of our western parks. Enjoy the “best of the west” from the side deck. You may also want to visit the nearby Guide House to learn about adventurous Fay Fuller, first woman to reach Mount Rainier’s summit, and marvel at the clothes she wore in 1890.

 

Discovery #7    Longmire District

Stop by the Museum to see “Charlie” the cougar and other mounted examples of the park’s wildlife. You can learn about the Native Americans who came to the mountain and see some of the beautiful baskets they made from materials gathered here. In front of the museum is a cross-section taken from a giant old-growth tree. It’s “rings” have been marked with historic dates and world events that have taken place over the life of this tree. The museum staff can provide directions to the Trail of the Shadows across the street. This short, self-guided trail (0.7 miles, 45 minutes) lets you see volcanic mineral springs bubbling up from the ground, the former site of James Longmire’s medicinal resort, and step inside a pioneer cabin. In summer you might want to visit the rustic-styled Administration Building by the flagpole to see its grand stone fireplace and historic artifacts–there is even an Old West-style jail cell in the basement! Enjoy the view of Rainier’s summit from the chairs on the veranda of the National Park Inn (refreshments available from the restaurant or nearby General Store).

Quest-ion: Visit the Transportation Exhibit in the antique gas station to find out when women were allowed to drive cars to Paradise.

 

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