A long weekend in the middle of October is a great time to do all things fall. Like a trip to the pumpkin patch and a drive up to the Cascade mountains to catch some fall colors. We headed to the pumpkin patch on a cloudy day interspersed with rain. The pumpkin patch had pumpkins in all shapes and sizes. The kids picked three pumpkins – a large, a medium and a small (for N’s pumpkinology school project). We loaded them up in a wheel barrow which N had a swell time pushing around. The farm also offered hay rides in a wagon pulled by an old tractor. We took a bumpy ride around the farm with its apple trees, pumpkin patches and dried up sunflowers from the summer. The farm also had lavender plants from which they bottled lavender oil, available for purchase at the store. There were some old-fashioned water pumps in the farm that were set up for rubber duck races. N enjoyed pumping water at the pump, with the water gushing down little horizontal chutes. Goes without saying that my kids felt they were too old for rubber duck races! Too old to stick their heads through wooden pumpkins for pictures. We were all cold and wet and hungry after our trip to the farm. So we headed off to Bamboo Garden for some Hot and Sour soup, fried rice, Mongolian chicken, Szechuan veggies and Manchurian. The warm meal lulled us into a torpor and we all dozed off when we got home. The next day was our big trip to Mount Rainier. P was to buy some snacks and veggie burgers for the trip but I was in an unusually good mood and wanted to make everything – including the snacks. I made veggie cutlets, crispy murukku, apple pie and mixed nuts for the trip. The next day we rose early and headed out by 7.00 a.m. The roads were free and we made it in good time. We saw a rainbow as we were driving through perfectly straight rows of evergreens that fringed the roads. The Cascade mountains showed up in the horizon – black and austere. As we neared the park entrance, Mount Rainier appeared – aloof, majestic and snowcapped. Our first stop was at Christine falls, right by the side of the road. We then drove to the Jackson visitor center in Paradise, which offered a really stunning view of Mount Rainier. The summit was seldom free of cloud cover but we did manage to get some pictures of the cloud-free peak. Armed with trail maps, we headed off to see Myrtle falls, which was a short hike through the meadows in Paradise. The wildflowers were long gone but the meadows were dressed in different hues of red and yellow. Near the 72-foot Myrtle falls, is a little bridge over the Paradise River and we went under the bridge to touch the ice-cold water. The last waterfall we saw in the park was the spectacular Narada falls, named after the Hindu sage Narada. The early settlers thought the falls had a spiritual connection. It connected the earth and the heavens much like sage Narada did. We drove to the Reflections Lake and hiked around its perimeter with Mount Rainier in the background. The lake was surrounded by trees that were changing color. Parts of the lake were still and reflected the trees and the clouds above. Some of the pictures we took here look like picture postcards. All that walking got us hungry and we went to the Paradise Picnic area to eat veggie burgers and chips with juice and coffee – with a perfect view of the ever changing Mount Rainier. Later while watching the film on Mount Rainier at the visitor center, we realized that the engineers had built the roads and the buildings to offer the best views of the mountain. After lunch we headed off to see Nisqually Glacier which was a short 1.2 mile hike (or so we thought). We ended up on the wrong trail and kept going for more than an hour until my legs burned. But the trail kept going on and on. We reached the Deadhorse (believe me I felt like one!) Creek trail before we realized we were not on the right trail. It was too late to turn back so we kept going until we reached Glacier Vista (elevation 6340 feet) which offered an amazing view of the glacier, falls and the valley below. At this point I was freezing – hat, gloves, double jacket and all! N and P wanted to continue up the trail to see Mount Rainier up and close. I was dreading the walk back downhill so I stayed put with A. There was some snow off to the side of the road so A played with it. She found a tiny snowman that fell apart when she touched it. She put it back together as best she could. Meanwhile, N and P reached a snow-covered road and took some great pictures with the magnificent Mount Rainier in the background. The hike back down was steep and painful and I doubted I’d make it before my legs collapsed under me. But I made it and we enjoyed some apple pie before catching the 20-minute film at the visitor center. Boy was I surprised to hear that Mount Rainier was an active volcano with steam vents at the summit. I had told my kids it was dormant, given its snow-white and innocent demeanor. The park boasted numerous glaciers and I was glad we were able to see one of these ice rivers. There was obviously more to the park than we explored (235,625 acres to be precise). The Great Patriarch Forest with its huge ancient trees was worth exploring but considering the plight of my muscles hip-down, we put off all further exploration for later. The kids got their first-ever junior ranger badges from the park ranger. It was a big deal, with oaths and all. Almost like being knighted! Almost. We picked up some souvenirs from the gift shop and headed home. The drive home was quiet, with the kids sleeping, but the traffic we missed in the morning came back to bite us. All in all, it was a day well-spent, in the mountains, breathing in the fresh air, drinking glacial water and away from it all. When we got lost while hiking, or it started raining and we had no where to go, I knew we had to give up all control and just submit to Nature. Because up here in the mountains She was in charge. If I had collapsed during the hike downhill we didn’t even have cellphone coverage to call for help. I had to simply trust and go down one step at a time.
Where will you go this fall? Make a trip away from it all and witness the magic of wilderness.