Friday, May 31, 2013

Celebrating Washington's National Parks with a Slice of Paradise

Historic Paradise Inn at Mount Rainier National Park
It's a late May morning at Paradise Inn on Mount Rainier, where I awaken to a deep, muffled quiet.  When I pull open the curtains and peer outside, a persistent snow is falling and everything is covered in a thick new layer of white.  

When we say that summer doesn't really start until after the Fourth of July around here, we're not kidding.

I'm here at Paradise to help celebrate Washington's national parks with the Board and friends of Washington's National Parks Fund, who were invited to give the Paradise staff a warmup night before opening to the public for the season. 

While we love our three national parks here in Washington (Mount Rainier, Olympic, and North Cascades), with the federal sequestration and diminishing government funds, the parks need additional help. Enter the Washington's National Parks Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises private funding to support the parks in numerous ways.

Founded 20 years ago by prominent and concerned Washingtonians such as former Governor and Senator Dan Evans and Melinda Gates, the Fund  provides funding and guidance for many worthy park projects. From monitoring marmots in Olympic National Park to restoring the historic lampshades at Paradise Inn to engaging urban youth as trail stewards in North Cascades National Park, the Fund disburses volunteers and funding for these and more efforts.
The hand-painted lampshades at Paradise Inn depict native wildflowers in the park.

My personal history runs deep in several Western national parks, and I'll admit a nostalgic yet thoroughly contemporary passion for all the Northwest national parks. So I'm thrilled to be invited here to Paradise for this event; I never tire of coming to Rainier.  

Our evening starts with appetizers and socializing in the main lobby bracketed by warming fires in the stone fireplaces, followed by an excellent dinner in the  dining room.  I'm excited to rub shoulders with friendly Northwest climbing legend Lou Whittaker, co-founder of Rainier Mountaineering, Inc. (RMI).

Washington's National Park Fund Executive Director Laurie Ward and Northwest icon Lou Whittaker. Photo by Harlan Brown.
Excellent fresh halibut dinner served at Paradise Inn.
Later in the evening we hear about upcoming park projects from park staff, see an inspiring short film about the Washington's National Parks Fund efforts, and watch teams compete in a Mount Rainier trivia contest.  Of course any outdoorsy Northwesterner knows what RAMROD stands for.  Do you? :)

When we arrived in the afternoon, the outside of the lodge looked like this:

And the next morning it looked like this:

After a buffet breakfast, we're treated to a tour of the historic Guide Service building built in 1920 and the original ranger station, part of the Paradise Historic District.  When most of us depart late morning, everyone helps each other dig out of the snow, including park staff.

Tramping to the historic Guide Service building at Paradise.
 Mount Rainier National Park Deputy Superintendent Tracy Swartout helps shovel snow in the parking lot.
It was a quick but very fun overnight trip from Seattle for me and my compadres.  What's not to love about fresh fluffy snow, an evening at a historic national park lodge, good food, and especially good company?  I learned a lot about the Washington's National Park Fund and the wonderful work they do for our national parks here in Washington.

If you'd like to learn more about this great organization and help support scientific research, youth programs, and more for Washington's national parks, just click here

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Suncadia Weekend: Wide Open Spaces, Quaint Small Towns, and a Classy Resort

View of the Cascades from Suncadia Lodge
Recently I had the pleasure of spending the weekend at Suncadia, a fairly new resort near Roslyn and Cle Elum, Washington, about 30 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass.  On the sunny eastern side of the Cascades, Suncadia is a popular getaway for often sun-starved Seattleites.

Full disclosure: In my eco-warrior days I was involved with an environmental group opposed to Suncadia's development, but I admit they've done a good job being mindful of the local ecosystem as the resort has developed. 

Here where ponderosa pine mingle with  Douglas fir in this drier climate east of the Cascade crest, Suncadia features activities for most everyone.  From two golf courses, a sports and fitness club, swimming pools, tennis courts, hiking trails, to a winery and spa, there's plenty to do.  Or maybe you might prefer to just chill with a good book and not do anything at all.

The grounds behind Suncadia Lodge slope steeply to the Cle Elum River

However, while my roomie was busy at a Washington National Guard convention at the lodge, I left the resort for part of a day to explore. Just a few miles east, both Roslyn and Cle Elum are box store-free hamlets that retain an authentic small town feeling.

Downtown Cle Elum
After a stop at Pioneer Coffee Roasting Company for an excellent cuppa, I head over to Glondo's Sausage Company and Italian Deli, a local gem.  Proprietor and Cle Elum Mayor Charlie Glondo, whose father was one of the many Italian Americans who worked in a former nearby coal mine, has been making wonderful sausages and salamis here for over 25 years.

Charlie Glondo at his sausage shop and deli.
"It tastes of the world," says friendly and generous Charlie of his coppa,  handing me some thin slices of this naturally dried pork.  I'm not sure if it's the world I'm tasting, but the savory coppa cola is wonderful.  Same for his salami.

Glondo Sausage Co. coppa cola

Across the street, the helpful folks at Sahaptin Outfitters [sadly no longer in business] recommend a hike out of town on Tanum Ridge because on this day there's too much snow up above Suncadia to hike.  I hop onto I-90 and drive about 10 miles east past classic eastern Washington wide open spaces and then head up the Tanum Creek drainage, where sagebrush and arrowleaf balsamroot crowd the landscape in happy yellow clusters.

East of Cle Elum enroute to Tanum Ridge

Arrowleaf balsamroot
So the hike isn't worth blogging about since I took the wrong trail and ended up on an ATV (all terrain vehicle) trail.  But it was a nice drive out and back!

Later in the day, I enjoy soaking in one of the several rock-rimmed hot tubs and relaxing in a sauna at Suncadia's Glade Spring Spa.  On this brisk spring day, I mostly have the outdoor pools to myself, except for a few women on a girlfriends' weekend away.  I buy a day pass, which allows me to lounge as long as I want in the numerous pools, saunas, steam rooms, or indoor lounge, where they serve healthful and tasty spa bites and smoothies.

Glade Spring Spa hot tub

Our excellent dinners were catered as part of the convention, but I did have breakfast in the lodge dining room, with those awesome views of the Cascades pictured above.  While I have some food restrictions, they were very accommodating with my special requests.  My breakfast of mixed sauteed veggies and eggs was perfect.

This quick getaway gave me a taste of Suncadia and what it has to offer.  I'm not a golfer, but next trip I'd like to spend more time on the resort trails.  I've also heard the restaurant at the Swiftwater Cellars Winery is excellent. And overall the service at the resort is very friendly and helpful. If you've been to Suncadia, what do you especially enjoy there?

When You Go
The Lodge at Suncadia has lots of events and special packages. It's just a few miles off I-90, but feels a world away from the interstate.  In the summer, there's lots of hiking close by and much more. 

And special thanks to the Washington National Guard for all the dedicated and hard work they do to keep us safe!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Flying up the West Coast: Tracking Cascade Volcanoes

Mount Rainier looms large during the descent into Sea-Tac Airport.
Have you been lucky enough to be on one of those spectacular flights from California to the Pacific Northwest on a clear day? I've always loved spotting the Cascade volcanoes as we head north, from Lassen Peak in California to Mount Rainier and then Glacier Peak and Mount Baker near the Canadian border.  Last week I decided to pull out my camera and start shooting away.

We left San Francisco in a layer of clouds, which didn't dissipate completely until we crossed into Oregon. (Clouds in Cali and sun in the Northwest is not the norm!) I started taking pictures with my Nokia phone and didn't pull out the Canon until we passed Mount Hood near Portland, so the quality of the southern volcano images is not so great.  

I always try to get a window seat on the right side of the plane because the northbound flight pattern up the West Coast is farther east than southbound, and often the flights pass almost directly over Mount Shasta.

At 14,179 feet high, Shasta is the second-highest peak in the Cascades, after Rainier (14,409 feet high).  Shasta is very easy to spot because it's also farther west than many of the other peaks like Lassen and Mount Adams.

Mount Shasta in extreme northern California is partially visible in this shot.
Southern Oregon features a string of smaller volcanoes visible on a clear day, such as Mount Thielsen and Mount McLoughlin, but the biggest star is Crater Lake, a caldera remnant of the cataclysmic eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama over 7,700 years ago (recent in geologic time).   Alas not the best image, but hopefully you get the idea.

Crater Lake caldera
Things get crowded in central Oregon with Mount Bachelor, the Three Sisters, and Broken Top close to each other just west of the Bend area.  Sorry I didn't get a decent shot of this stunning cluster of volcanoes that range from over 9,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. Next flight.

Last shot snapped from my Windows phone was Mount Jefferson, the second highest peak in Oregon at a few feet shy of 10,500 feet in elevation.  "Jeff" is considered the most technical climb of the Oregon volcanoes.

Mount Jefferson in Oregon.
Next on the northward flight is Mount Hood, a.k.a. "the Mountain" to Portlanders.  Hood cuts a more elegant silhouette than some of the more massive and asymmetrical peaks. She's also the highest peak in Oregon at around 11,240 feet high.

Mount Hood in northern Oregon.
After we cross the Columbia River into Washington, the jet starts descending to reveal closer views of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Rainier.  Washington boasts the highest and third-highest Cascade volcanoes (Rainier and Adams over 12,000 feet high).  Since Adams is on the eastern crest of the Cascades, it's not as well known as the peaks visible from the major metropolitan areas west of the Cascades.

Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams (above and to the east) in Washington. 

In this image you can see the path of the St. Helens eruption to the north.

St. Helens and Adams are the two Cascade volcanoes I've summited.  I highly recommend slogging up to the south rim of St. Helens and peering down into the blown-out crater.  It was an awesome and powerful experience.

The Mount St. Helens eruption in May 1980 resulted in a loss of over 1,300 feet in elevation.
Mount Adams is often mistaken for Rainier in photos.
For the grand finale, Mount Rainier dominates the horizon about 55 miles southeast of Seattle.  As the jet descends, it's hard to stop snapping shots.

Majestic Mount Rainier, Washington.
Mount Rainier is the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous U.S.A.
A fabulous trip! Have you enjoyed a similar flight? 

For more frequent Pacific Northwest photos and travel info, Like the Pacific Northwest Seasons page on FaceBook.

When You Go
I'm not sure if  flights from different airports in California have different flight patterns, but I most often fly the Seattle-San Francisco leg via Alaska Airlines from SFO or Oakland.  As I mentioned, the northbound flights travel farther east and offer better views of the Cascades.