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Monday, August 27, 2007

Finally (and I do mean, finally, as it's been exactly one month since I was there), my trip to Mount Rainier...

I have long been mesmerized by Mount Rainier. If you fly into Seattle on a clear day, you can see it for a good long time before landing. Driving almost anywhere in Seattle, but particularly south on I-5 toward Portland, which I have done at least five times, the mountain seems to follow you for the first 20 miles of the journey. As you wind along the highway, it teases the driver as it pops in and out of view. I'm amazed there aren't more accidents along that stretch of highway. I've always found it so breathtaking I can barely keep my eyes on the road.

Several times, I have stayed at a hotel in downtown Tacoma, which offers this stunning view of the mountain:

But I had never actually found time to visit during my 10 or so trips west. So, when my plans to visit Tege in Portland fell through last month, I decided to make the effort during one of the two extra days I had in the Evergreen State.

My plans to visit Sunday hit a speed bump due to some late-night carousing Saturday night. A mid-level hangover, coupled with my resultant reasoning that it would "probably be crowded because it was a weekend," and a completely overcast day eliminated any possibility I'd be going that day.

So I bagged it until Monday, when I awoke early and checked out of the hotel before hitting the highway for Mount Rainier. As I approached the mountain, I stopped to enjoy this incredible view:

As I drove over from Tacoma, I knew it wasn't the clearest day and that the view might not be the greatest, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find the view essentially non-existent. It looked pretty much like this:

That was slightly disappointing, but I was determined not to let it ruin my trip. I leisurely made my way up the mountain's access road, stopping a few times to check out the wonders of nature the park offered, including these waterfalls:

I also wandered down a trail onto what I assume is usually a raging river, but at this point was just a robust creek. There was a small, rickety footbridge crossing the water, which offered the opportunity to take this shot:

After meandering for a few hours, I stopped for lunch at the visitors' center. I decided I didn't have enough time to wander much further up the mountain road, so I decided to rest and enjoy some other vistas of the area.

Then I popped myself up on a stone wall and opened a book, and turned on the iPod. I listened to a few songs on the shuffle dial when one of my all-time faves, Springsteen's live version of "Land of Hopes and Dreams," randomly hit the dial.

All of a sudden, there was a stir in the crowd assembled in the visitors' center parking lot. And with good reason...

The clouds were starting to part, the sky was a bright blue, and finally, the beautiful mountain was coming into view.

So I sat there for a few minutes, listening to Bruce warble about saints and sinners, losers and winners, whores and gamblers and lost souls, while the mountain thrilled its guests with a brief view of its spectacular beauty.

And just like that, the clouds rolled back in and the peak disappeared. I left a short while later, back down the mountain toward the airport.

But as I drove away, Mount Rainier gave me one last thrill...

Cloudiness and all, Mount Rainier earns an outright A+. I will definitely be returning. Next time, I will bring a friend with whom I can explore more off-the-beaten-path areas, several more days, and good hiking shoes.


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