Part II: Mt. Rainier and the Eastern Sierra
Oct. 2: We decided to pull up stakes yet again -- the forecast called for very poor air quality in the North Cascades over the next several days (which turned out to be accurate). So we used our old standby, Mt. Rainier, as our escape hatch. This was, I think, the third time we've used Rainier as a last-minute fallback when other Washington destinations were unavailable due to either smoke or snow.
As usual, we had no reservations and had to search for an RV park using the phone, which is never easy, especially while we are driving. I had mentioned to Felice that I was feeling a little tired and wished that just this one time, we could go to a nicely appointed RV resort and hang out for a day while we did laundry and went shopping. (In all our years of camping, we had never before mentioned the idea of an "RV resort.")
My wish was miraculously granted! Rainbow RV Resort showed up on the phone, right near Mt. Rainier. The website was very nice, with lots of pretty pictures, and the reviews were good. So we made a reservation at the Resort for two nights.
We pulled in to the Resort after dark. "Dark" was the operative word -- we had to use our headlamps to find our campsite, after driving down a very steep hill. The Resort's sites were jammed together. Our reserved Resort site was covered in loose gravel and perched up on a ledge -- we would have to back up a steep gravel apron to get the trailer onto the site.
At first, we couldn't find the sewer and water connections. There were a couple of flat chunks of broken concrete toward the back of the site. I bent down and moved them aside -- bingo! The utilities were in a hole in the ground, almost inaccessible. Truly Resort-style utilities.
By this time, we were exhausted and laughing hysterically. We still managed to get the trailer up onto the site and level, with the utilities functioning. This was not exactly the Resort we were imagining.
Oct. 3: To be fair, the Resort looked better in the daylight -- there was a nice trout pond, and the laundry facilities were adequate. I posed for a quick commemorative Resort photo:
We cancelled our second day at the Resort and headed for Cougar Rock Campground at Mt. Rainier. The national park had just ended the summer "reservation only" policy and had switched to "first come, first served." We got a nice site (a pull through!) in a fairly quiet part of the campground, which was surprisingly busy for a Monday.
Oct. 4: We hiked the Paradise and Skyline trails on the south face of Mt. Rainier. The views of the nearby mountain itself were excellent, but there was quite a bit of haze in all other directions. The weather was very warm, and the glaciers were throwing off a lot of meltwater -- notice the big waterfall just to our left:
The berry bushes were backlit in the late afternoon:
Oct. 5: We headed out to Comet Falls, yet another route marked as "strenuous" in the guide books. Yes, it was. The surface was rough and rocky, with lots of "giant steps" to challenge one's knees. And there was plenty of elevation gain, great for cardio conditioning. Thankfully, it was absolutely worth the effort.
Shortly after leaving the parking area, the trail crosses a bridge over a cascade. Note the color of the water -- as shown later, that clear blue turned to milky gray in the in the late afternoon:
There were maples hanging over the trail:
Just before Comet Falls, the trail crosses a creek, with an impressive but unnamed waterfall:
Comet Falls did not disappoint us -- the sun was in exactly the right place, and the rainbow was very bright. Felice climbed down into the bottom of the canyon and (of course) got soaked by the spray:
This long exposure with the telephoto lens shows that there are actually two rainbows, and the colors in the dimmer top rainbow are the reverse of the colors in the brighter rainbow. Apparently, the top rainbow is caused when light from the main rainbow is re-refracted by the water droplets, thus reversing the sequence of the bands of color:
After spending almost an hour at the falls (including lunch), we hiked up toward Van Trump Park. Up on the peak of Rainier, it looked as though the wind was kicking up dust and ash, but this might have been just a diffuse "banner cloud" that forms when the flow of the wind is disturbed by a mountain peak:
In that shot, notice the blobby layers of lava that have formed the mountain. I've since discovered (via the miracle of the Internet) that the lava in stratovolcanoes like Rainier and Mt. Baker tends to be highly viscous, due to the chemistry of the molten rock. As a result, the lava does not spread out much prior to cooling, thus creating a steep and layered cone. By contrast, shield volcanoes (such as those in Hawaii) are fed by less viscous material, thus yielding broader and flatter cones.
As promised, here is the blue cascade pool in the late afternoon:
Why did the water turn from blue to gray? I think it's because the glacier feeding the stream melts faster during the heat of the day than it does at night. Thus, the turbulent stream will carry more glacial flour later in the day than it did earlier. (I'm not sure that's right, but it sounds plausible.)
Oct. 6: We hiked to Bench Lake and Snow Lake. In the underbrush along the trail were quite a few chicken-size birds, who were very tame. I didn't know whether they were sage-hens or grouse -- it turns out that those are two names for the same bird:
The reflection of the mountain at Bench Lake was better than the reflection at Reflection Lake:
Snow Lake was a deep blue-green:
Oct. 7: Starting right across from the campground, we headed for Carter, Madcap, and Narada Falls. The trail immediately crossed the Nisqually River:
Carter and Madcap Falls were lovely, but there were no good vantage points for photos. This one (of Carter Falls) was taken at a twentieth of a second, hand-held -- hurrah for in-camera image stabilization!
The hike was really beautiful, much of it next to Paradise Creek, a tributary of the Nisqually. The forest looked to be very healthy, apparently free of beetle damage:
Our turnaround point was Narada Falls, which we happened to reach at a perfect time. The rainbow was brilliantly lit, and it was backstopped by the shadowy wall of the canyon:
Oct. 9: We made our way south to Summer Lake, Oregon, and stopped for the night at Ana Reservoir RV Park. This was a surprisingly good campground for such a remote location -- very quiet and well-maintained.
Oct. 10: We stayed at Washoe Lake State Park, near Carson City. It was also fairly quiet -- a couple of miles off the freeway. It was very busy for a Monday night in autumn -- we snagged the last available site. Just as we got situated, the sun was setting on the mountains west of Carson City:
Oct. 11: We found a boondocking site near Lee Vining, California. The fall color at Conway Summit was just about at its peak. Note the lack of haze -- after chasing the air quality readings for thousands of miles, we found clear air in our own backyard:
(I am compelled to note that this shot was taken with Felice's iPhone, as were roughly half of the pictures in this blog post. The time is soon coming when a DLSR will no longer be necessary.)
Our campsite was on the edge of the woods:
This is the obligatory "view from the trailer door" shot:
Oct. 12: We took the Green Creek trail. At first, we thought we had missed almost all of the fall color:
Compare that shot to this one, taken in the same place in late September of 2019:
The creek was flowing vigorously, even though this was a drought year:
As it turned out, we were not too late for leaf peeping -- there was plenty of color in the higher elevations:
Kavanaugh Ridge and Dunderberg Peak are at the top of this shot:
Oct. 13: We charged up the Virginia Lakes trail and made it all the way to the summit, despite getting a very late start. Summit Lake is in the background, as is the northern part of Yosemite:
This is another attempt to capture the delightful isolation of boondocking in a little RV at high altitude -- the chilly air, the late afternoon silence, and the aroma of the sagebrush:
Oct. 14: We left our boondocking site, headed south, and stopped for a quick hike along the shady south shore of Convict Lake. (Note for future reference: Convict Lake has a special day use parking area for RVs and trailers -- very convenient!)
The geology of the mountains behind the lake is fascinating -- thick bands of twisted metamorphic rock, eroded into spires and towers, unlike the more common monolithic Sierra granite:
There was a big extensive aspen grove at the west end of the lake:
The shallow part of the lake was aquamarine, and the deeper part was indigo, a lot like Crater Lake:
Oct. 15: Home.