Do you know the difference between an oak fern and a swamp fern! Could you distinguish a Western Hemlock from the Douglas Fir? Or can you recognize the Canada Dogwood, the Salmon Berry and the Skunk Cabbage? Ranger Naturalists of the National Park Service have tagged many of the flowers and trees along this easily accessible trail in order that everyone--even those whose stay in the Park is of necessity limited to a few short hours--may become acquainted with a good share of Rainier's botanical wealth. It also makes accessible one of the most historic spots in the Park--the original Longmire homestead cabin, erected in 1883.
Leaving the Soda Springs just below the National Park Headquarters we traverse a portion of the meadow and shortly after passing the framework of the taboggan slide which serves to enliven the Rainier winter sports program, the trail enters the fringe of timber surrounding the meadow. At the Longmire homestead cabin we may examine the crude pioneer paraphanalia; the double decked cedar bunks with their mattresses of dry moss, the iron mortar and pestal that was used for reducing samples of ore, the pan with which the early pioneers sought to discover the secret of wealth in nearby streams and the crude sheet iron stove that served to heat the one room dwelling.
"Iron Mike" is the affectionate term given to the spring just a few steps further and the discoloring of the masonry over which the waters flow give evidence of its mineral properties. Soon the trail loses itself in the depths of the woods and the abundance of miscellaneous vegetation on every hand give evidence of the importance of the rains in this region to the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Great Douglas Firs, Western Red Cedars and Hemlocks are interspersed with a tangled mass of alder and maple and wild flowers bloom in profusion on every hand. Most of these are tagged so that identification is a simple matter. Nearing the terminus of the trail we arrive at the junction of the Eagle Trail, which was built by the Eagle Scouts of Western Washington in 1925, and then later the Ramparts Trail, which leads to the summit of the rocky precipice to the north. Finally we emerge on the road but a short distance below the National Park Inn and the few minutes that the hike consumed has greatly widened our appreciation of Mount Rainier National Park.
If you haven't already done so, take this hike. But one half mile in length and it contains so many features of interest that we could easily spend a half day in its exploration if our time is limited such intensive study is not necessary--thanks to the Ranger-Naturalists who have made everything so easily visible. And, oh yes. There are no steep grades, no hills to climb, no dangerous places to cross; it is a trail that everyone would enjoy.
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