We leave the Super 8 in Whitefish driving in the rain and head south to I-90, which will take us across the Idaho panhandle and almost all of Washington State.
I’m impressed with what little I can see of Idaho. The mountain scenery from the car is pretty enough, especially the Bitterroot Range, and the Interstate actually offers a few challenging, but still smoothly banked corners, to keep it interesting. I wish I could say the same about Washington. Most people don’t know it, but Washington’s western half is desert, so it makes for pretty monotonous driving, but Jonathan likes it because I spend much of that time by snoring in a sonorous fashion, thus freeing him of the need to further bond with me. As an aside, somewhere in this arid wilderness, we run across a gigantic wind farm, and it still brings a smile to my face to see those big blades churning out renewable energy.
As we head into the Cascades, we start to see more trees. First a few cottonwoods surviving on the edges of creeks, then some red cedars, and, as we gain elevation, some hemlocks and Ponderosa Pines, their tall spires piercing through the sky above us. We enter the park on Highway 410 (Mather Memorial Parkway) at about 4PM and immediately the local flora becomes more like a rain forest, with verdant green ferns covering the ground and huge conifers in thick groves growing out of the living rock on the steep roadside slopes. As we approach Chinook Pass at 5400 feet elevation, we start to notice snow on the ground and the pure sweet smell of pine envelopes our car.
As usual the National Park No Service hasn’t bothered to provide even so much as an information pamphlet at the only Western entrance to Rainier, which is understandable, since after all they’re pretty busy out managing chipmunks and such, and have only had 111 years for infrastructure improvements, so we just blunder around aimlessly for a while until we drive out of the northwest entrance, which also has a deserted Ranger Station, but at least it has a wall map, and we can see we have to go back the way we came in, which we do. Soon we can see Mt. Rainier looming above the cloud line, and we pull over for a quick picture, but, true to its name, it is indeed rainier than most mountains and is quickly shrouded in fog. We continue on past the Cowlitz Divide along Stevens Ridge to our campsite at Cougar Rock, where we pitch our tent, the first time for us in a national forest, and it’s a nice site, devoid of such luxuries as WiFi or even showers but of course that doesn’t seem to bother most of the eco-tourists here, who want to enjoy nature while motoring around in a 10 tone portable house that gets up to 8MPG when heading downslope with a decent tailwind, so at least they’re doing their part for the environment.
By now it’s nearly dark, so we head to the cleverly named National Park Inn, where we have dinner. I pay $45 for about $25 worth of food. The service is good, but, while Jonathan’s penne pasta dish was OK, the prosciutto was fried to a crisp and was as crunchy as a handful of wingnuts, while my seafood linguine was lavishly covered with two shrimp, two mussels, and about two spoons full of bay scallops. Not easy on the wallet or the pallet. Two stars if I’m generous, which I’m not. But at least the attached general store has wood, so we enjoy a fire and I personally gag down a terrible bottle of Idaho Riesling ($5.80) I bought near a gas station we stopped at. Jonathan is lucky he doesn’t drink, because it’s that bad, and eventually we use it to help extinguish our fire before retiring for the evening.
One of the lousy things about getting old is you can’t seem to sleep through a night even when you’re in the comfort of your own home, and it’s worse when you have a drink or two or three and are sleeping on the cold hard ground. I get up three times courtesy of my cheap wine and stumble around in the pitch black looking for a spot. After stubbing my toe on a campfire grate and running into a log, I decide I’m not looking anymore and just let go. I find out later I’m about ten feet from the tent. Not recommended.
Tomorrow we climb up one of the mountain’s trails and hope we get a better glimpse of it. Stay tuned!