Getting High With Flowers (Part One)

Suppose that you wanted to enjoy a meadow with fresh flowers by the millions. When would be a good time to go looking? May? June?

Try August.

Spring flowers come late to these meadows. In winter, the rain that gives the lower elevations its thick coat of green bury these heights deep in snow. But when that snow finally melts the flowers go into a breeding frenzy, doing their best to cover every square inch of the ground with flora, and waving their seductive blossoms at any pollinator in the area.

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I first encountered this phenomenon by accident. In the summer of ’77, after promising myself I’d never subject myself to a Minnesota winter again, I opted to tour the western United States to scout for a new place to live.  Setting my course by the national parks, I eventually ended up at Mount Rainier in Washington state.

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Mount Rainier

There are different sorts of mountains. Some, like the Rockies, are a long high jagged ridge, but while impressive it is hard to tell which peak is the biggest. Colorado has 53 peaks over 14,000 feet (4267.2 meters), but can you name the highest?

The Cascades are also a long ridge, but they were formed in a different way. While both formations have a basis in plate tectonics, the Cascades have also been shaped by volcanoes. The big eruption points like Mount Rainier (as well as Mount St. Helens and Oregon’s Mount Hood) have built up much higher than the surrounding landscape, giving them a more impressive, prominent aspect. At 14,411 feet Mount Rainier stands out above the surrounding countryside, with massive glaciers filling out the peak above the tree line.

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Mount Ranier – Lower Glaciers

Back in ’77 when I went to Mount Rainier I was thinking I’d get some impressive mountain shots, do a couple of nice hikes, and move on. But my curiosity was roused by a point on the national park map called Paradise.  It was there, rather than finding little more than glacial dirt near the tree line, I found fields full of flowers.

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Nature’s Sculpture

Mount Rainier is one of those places where you can point your camera almost anywhere and get a good shot. But as with a rich meal, if you keep piling it on it loses impact. So, one more bite, then we’ll save some goodies for part two.

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36 thoughts on “Getting High With Flowers (Part One)

    1. I figured someone from Colorado would weigh in. I actually saw the Mt. Elbert stat when I was looking up the 14ers, but I don’t think it’s as well known as say, Pikes Peak or even Mount Evans.

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  1. I love wildflowers, too, especially in alpine/mountain settings. Seeing a carpet of color in a meadow, with a snowy peak as the backdrop, is one of my favorite scenes. I can see why you decided to stay in the Pacific Northwest!

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    1. I was actually impressed with places all over the west. Oregon seemed a good compromise: I could go north to Washington, south to California, and there’s no shortage of nice places here either. Who knows, if I’d have gone east rather than west that fateful summer maybe I’d be saying nice things about that part of the country instead.

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  2. I never thought of that before, but I guess it makes a lot of sense. The climate up a mountain in the height of summer must be rather like that of spring at a lower elevation. I love the photographs that accompany the post too, especially the fourth one. Stunning!

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    1. No, we didn’t get up into that section of the park. I think that last photo was from the Mazama Ridge trail – a spur off the Skyline trail at Paradise. We didn’t do the full loop as the sun was going down, it was full dark when we got back to the lodge.

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  3. A brilliant view of how August rocks ~ especially in the Pacific Northwest, and you show such beauty of Mt. Rainier and all its beauty. Wonderful words describing your experience there…with the photos enhancing this feeling.

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  4. Those wildflower and mountain shots are beautiful! Over here, in August, we’ve got some of the brightest blooms. I was pleasantly surprised. Mountain trails are best viewing spots. And the wildflowers, spread across any patch of green, look stunning. 🙂

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    1. I guess we’re conditioned to equate flowers with May and June (and it is pretty spectacular around here in those months) – we don’t always think of August, and what and where there might be more blooming going on.

      BTW, I’m working on part two now. Part one was just an appetizer.

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  5. pinklightsabre

    I experienced this similar thing, where spring flowers were still in bloom on the PCT last week up here in the North Cascades. Was thinking it’s been too long since I’ve been to Rainier, too — and need to get my kids down there. Love the low, dry whistle of the marmots…nice post Dave, thanks. Bill

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    1. I haven’t been in the North Cascades since ’77 as well – another place I’d like to see again. We heard the marots at Rainier, and saw them off in the distance. If you liked this post, check out part two, even more pics in that one. 🙂

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  6. Pingback: Getting High With Flowers (Part Two) – Plying Through Life

  7. Pingback: Paradise – Plying Through Life

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