Travel Log: Let Your Adventurous Spirit Blossom

(Silverdale, Washington; Aug. 13, 2020) – I was largely silent on the blogging front for nearly a year. I only recently (and, in my own humble way, spectacularly) relaunched this forum a couple of weeks ago. I moved to Washington State in January 2019, taking up a federal term position (a temporary position) that ended this past June. I declined renewal of the position in order to concentrate on writing. That allowed me to get this blog flowing again, and I plan to launch my first novel, Proud Lion, via independent publishing September 20.

I set my own hours now. This means I can take advantage of national and state parks being open again and go hiking in mid-week when they are less crowded, and then do my own working hours over the weekends. I had not been anywhere since late November of 2019 due to the onset of winter weather, and then the COVID-19 pandemic flattening the curve of everyone’s plans. I finally broke the dry spell when I visited High Steel Bridge in the Olympics on July 28. Even though the pandemic is still raging, we have learned enough to get about safely again, primarily by wearing a mask when in close proximity to other people.

This reclaimed freedom led to an explosion of local travel around my new state since July 28’s trip to High Steel Bridge. This is part of the reason I pushed back the official launch of Proud Lion from September 1 to September 20. I needed to get out for a spell!

Bluebells, magenta Indian Paintbrushes (also called Prairie Fires), and yellow Western Anemones are some of the wildflowers in bloom at Tipsoo Lake. Tipsoo Lake, located just inside the eastern boundary of Mount Rainier National Park, is a small lake at the top of the Chinook Pass through the Cascades. It lies just under Yakima and Naches Peaks at an altitude of 5,298 feet (1,615 m) above sea level. Mount Rainier is the highest peak of the Cascade volcanoes, rising 14,411 feet above sea level. It is also considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in North America. Mount Rainier National Park Washington. (11 Aug. 2020; Nathanael Miller)

I usually do travel logs about historic sites, amazing scenic places, or great museums big and small. While I was up at Tipsoo Lake two days ago on August 11, I realized I have never really spoken about flowers. I’ve mentioned them as a detail within many columns, but I have never allowed the subject of flowers to truly pollinate my writing with a colorful and dedicated entry. You might not think of flowers as your “destination” unless the plan is to hit a botanical garden, but you could do worse than a day trip or two during the peak blooming season of your area’s wildflower population.

I’m writing this from the experience of Mount Rainier National Park’s subalpine areas, but you can find wildflowers blooming almost anywhere. Even in climates where you might not expect wildflowers, look around. There is a good chance native varieties are thriving in your neck of the woods no matter where you live.

The subalpine meadows in Mount Rainier National Park range in elevation from 4,500 to 6,500 feet (1,372 to 1,981 meters) above sea level. This ecological/climatic zone is characterized by the thinning of trees (mostly firs and cedars here) as the elevation approaches the “tree line,” where trees no longer grow and the alpine level is reached. Mount Rainier National Park’s subalpine zones’ geography and creates broad meadows in the valleys between mountain peaks. These meadows are ideal for the area’s fast-growing wildflowers.

Bluebells and other wildflowers bloom under Yakima Peak. Yakima Peak rises to 6,226-ft (1,898 m) and overlooks Tipsoo Lake, just located just inside the eastern boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is the highest peak of the Cascade volcanoes, rising 14,411 feet above sea level. It is also considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in North America. Mount Rainier National Park Washington. (11 Aug. 2020; Nathanael Miller)

Snows linger in these regions until late June or early July (sometimes longer; I saw snow packs huddled in the shade of the forests along the meadows even now in mid-August). This compresses the growing season as inclement weather begins to move into the subalpine zones by mid-to-late September, heralding the coming winter snows. Local flora must germinate, grow, and pollinate within a very short time frame. This results in colorful, wall-to-wall carpets of wildflowers busting out all at once. Entire swaths of the land look like they’re painted in the purest of pure blues, reds, yellows, etc.

Tipsoo Lake is a small lake in Chinook Pass nestled at 5,298 feet (1,615 meters) above sea level. The lake rests under Yakima and Naches Peaks on the eastern edge of Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier itself is visible looming up 12 miles away as you walk the small trail around the lake, or take the bigger hikes in the area (such as the 4.5 mile Naches Loop Trail). For the August 11 trip, I just did a driving tour up to the lake and walked its small trail. I’ve never been to this side of Mount Rainier National Park, so this was my scouting foray to start learning the lay of the land.

The Tipsoo Lake area seems to favor bluebells. The little blue blossoms flowing across the valley create a subdued hue mimicking the sky above. These flowers impart a singularly peaceful feeling as you stop to sit along the trail and just watch them wave in the wind with the grace of a star ballerina.

Bluebells are not the only flowers at Tipsoo Lake, or in the park. Magenta Indian paintbrushes (also called Prairie Fires), yellow western anemones, and purple thistles make their presence known around the tiny lake. These flowers create points of textured colored splashed in among the dominant bluebells.

Magenta Indian paintbrushes dominate the wildflower landscape at Paradise on Mount Rainier’s southwestern slope. (Nathanael Miller, 19 September 2018)

Over on Mount Rainier’s southwestern flank, at the Paradise area, the magenta paintbrushes dominate the land, rendering these subalpine slopes a sea of red. The blues and purples and whites of other blossoms, such as Gray’s lovage, broadleaf arnicas, and partridgefoot, punctuate the scene, adding visual interest.

Every subalpine meadow is dominated by a different species, thus allowing for a different experience of natural color as you travel the park. You can find areas in Mount Rainier National Park where yellow, orange, or white flowers dominate the serene subalpine meadows.

Wildflowers might not seem like anything to plan a day trip around, but I urge you to think again. Taking a book and a picnic lunch to any kind of meadow during peak bloom for local wildflowers can be a most relaxing trip. We don’t always need to engage in a strenuous hike or long-distance swim to unwind and recenter ourselves. Sometimes we need to literally just stop and smell the roses (or bluebells, magenta paintbrushes, etc.).

We are living through extraordinary events. Uncertainty generates stress. Finding unique ways to relax and experience this world (safely!) are more important than ever right now. Getting outdoors and finding a trail to hike or reef to dive can be a powerful method for re-establishing your equanimity. However, there are quieter pursuits in the Great Outdoors that can have an equally salutary effect on your spirit.

Go quiet and do a bit a wildflower hunting. You will likely find places that might have escaped you before, and this endeavour can recharge your spirit in peaceful manner. Wildflower hunting is an easy, low-cost way to allow your adventurous spirit to blossom.

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Nathanael Miller’s Photojournalism Archives:

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