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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.