(NOTE: This was submitted a little late for the last issue, where it rightfully belongs, but we believe you will enjoy it never-the-less.)
In Mount Rainier National Park, Nature's supreme beauty of coloring and natural features are reserved for the autumn. These are days of flashing sunrises and gleaming sunsets, of bright blue skies by day and star-studded heavens by night.
Just now the park is at its beautiful best. Hillsides, in Spring carpeted with grasses and flowers in bloom, are now gorgeously brilliant with fall colors--reds, yellows, and browns, that baffle language to describe, but fill the hearts of beholders with exaltation. The vine maples, blushing in ecstasy at the caress of Jack Frost's searching fingers. The huckleberry bushes, their fruiting over for the year, don their autumn colors of yellow and red, while the leaves of the mountain ash, lemon yellow against the background of green firs and the darker brown tints of the grasses and flowerstalks, form in rustling piles underfoot on the trails.
But this started to be an account of a trip to Bear Prairie, beyond the Park Boundary, which lies just three miles from Longmire along a woodland trail that is loveliness itself. Leaving Longmire proper, the hiker crosses the suspension bridge which spans the milky, raging current of the Nisqually and through the picnic and camping areas. For a short distance the trail is what is known as the old Beaver Dam Trail, now blocked by the trunks of fallen trees thrown by the windstorm of last Spring. Shortly there is the sign of recent clearing, and the trail turns off to the left, through the outer edge of the blowdown area.
It is saddening to see the bodies of these forest giants of Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, and Hemlock stretched at length upon the ground, their once proud heads now the victims of insects and saprophitic plants. Their huge trunks have been dismembered and disjointed to make room for the narrow path, the raw, exposed surfaces of the saw-cuts marred with the dried life-blood of the trees.
The ferns, that are so bright and upright during the Spring and Summer, are withered and drooping now. The flowers are gone, their wasted and withered stalks hardly discernible in the duff of the forest floor. The air is fresher and sweeter than during the summer, and possesses a rare exhilarating quality that is missing earlier in the year. One feels equal to fighting a bear, if necessary, or running long distances. There seems to be some life-giving quality in the atmosphere that makes distances nothing, and lifts the heart and soul with reverence for Nature's beauty.
Just two miles from Longmire one comes to Horse Creek, one mile outside the Park Boundary, where the trail branches. The right fork leads to Randle and to High Rock, while the left branch leads us to our destination, and past that, to Lewis.
Deep woods are all around; the firs give way to a stand of White Pine, and that to one of Willows interspersed with Cottonwoods. The ferns are still with us; Mushrooms and toad-stools thrive upon the corpses of fallen forest giants, almost completely decayed now, for this land was logged off long ago, and successive burnings have killed out all but the youngest growth.
Another mile and we are at Bear Prairie, a meadow, once cleared, but growing back to underbrush and young timber. Here was once the abode of a Forest Ranger. A rude enclosure, or rather, what was once an enclosure, surrounds the house and barn. Holes chopped in the upper sides of several fallen trees show that once there were a number of horses here to be fed, the hay piled on the ground at their feet and the oats poured into the holes.
The cabin, once a habitable one-room, shake-sided dwelling, fitted inside with hand-made bunk, table, chairs, and cupboards, is now the home of pack-rats, chipmunks, squirrels and birds. It is smelly and littered with the debris of years, but a telephone on one wall tells us that even here, with decay and disorder all around, we are still in touch with the world of motor cars and office buildings. The barn is much larger than the house, a relic of the days when men thought more of the comfort of their beasts than of their own. In recent years hunters have pre-empted it for their use and have built places for beds and for a fire in the dirt floor. Smoke blackened pots, a bucket and a few other utensils on a rickety table show recent use.
But we have not long to stay; the onward trail beckons, but we must retrace our steps. Still, it is worthwhile. First we see the gray flank of Iron Mountain in the distance above Indian Henrys Hunting Ground, and nearer, Tum Tum, blue with haze, but clear and sharp, thrusts itself upward. The beckoning hills on either side flaunt their bright reds and yellows before our eyes.
Just around the next bend, unbelievably, almost, is "The Mountain" and from a new angel. Point Success, the summit named, by Lieut. A. B. Kautz, is a gleaming expanse of ice and snow, the other points being unseen behind it. Gibralter Rock, which belies its name by releasing an almost unending series of avalanches from its crumbling bulk, is etched against the skyline, and the rugged and dangerous point of Little Tahoma barely shows above the snow below and to the right of Camp Muir.
From then on the trail clearing gives us a constantly changing vista of Mount Rainier, looming like the sight of paradise at Journey's End. Our steps quicken, our chests expand, and we gather new strength and inspiration for the rest of the journey ahead, glad of our trip, glad of the tired muscles in legs and back, but gladest of all for the thrill of a new view of Nature's work as exemplified in the beauties of Autumn!
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