Driving along the 5 South of Seattle, it’s hard not to notice the sweeping ivy sitting delicately on top of an abandoned corporate office. In the realm of COVID, quarantine and 2022 – the landscape feels like a stark reminder of the last few years; but in actuality, the area around the old Weyerhauser Tacoma building has sat quietly. Meanwhile, contained within their grounds – the Pacific Bonsai Museum provides an enchanted reason to visit. Heading off the beaten path and into the grounds, I was immediately transported into a forested fern gully and wrapped in the breath of trees that stretch their limbs to meet the sky. Spring eagerly awaiting from each and every angle, as rhododendrons lining the winding walkway bear their lime green blossoms. Within moments, I had forgotten that I was anywhere remotely near Seattle.
One of only two museums in the United States devoted to the art and appreciation of the living art of bonsai, and one of only a few bonsai museums around the globe, the Pacific Bonsai Museum plays host to an international collection of incredible Penjing and Bonsai specimens, each with a distinct and fascinating history. Featuring gorgeous foliage from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, China and Canada – you’ll be in for a special treat as you’re greeted with the most geographically diverse selection of bonsai in the United States. Though there are nearly 200 individual exhibits, with only 60 on display at a time, you’ll easily find new reasons to visit throughout the year that are beyond observing the changes of the season.
Even though Bonsai has deep roots in Chinese culture, it was the Japanese who have expertly developed and defined the art as it is today. One thing I uncovered for myself after visiting is the distinct difference between the current Japanese art of Bonsai, which explores refined, natural and minimalistic stylings of single tree systems, as versus the traditional Chinese school of Penjing – which explores the artistry of the landscape, often by utilizing multiple and distinctly separate trees. Bonsai lends itself to being refined and technical, whereas Penjing is creative, emotional and expressive. As you meander around each of the delicately adjusted exhibits at the Pacific Bonsai Museum, be sure to digest and marinate on the history of each of the trees present in front of you. Some are from the last twenty years, others have a deep and rich history – all of them begging for your undivided attention, and each as uniquely beautiful as the next.
Built in 1989 by the Weyerhaeuser Company as a joint venture with the Washington State Centennial celebration, the initial collection of bonsai was known as The George Weyerhaeuser Pacific Rim Bonsai collection – and isn’t that just a damn mouthful. Ironically, the Weyerhaeuser Company made their millions off of American Timber; it’s only fitting they philanthropically give back in tune. Their contribution to the world of bonsai established Weyerhaeuser’s commitment to forest resources, their community and their customers.
Sitting on over twenty acres adjacent to the Pacific Bonsai Museum, an incredible selection of over 10,000 Rhododendrons lay in deep rooted wait for acclimate weather. Built in 1964 by the American Rhododendron Society, the grounds feature 700 of the world’s species of 1000 rhododendrons – making the RSF one of the largest and most diverse collections in the world. Though it’s not currently in bloom, I am absolutely eager to visit the Rhododendron Species Foundation and Botanical Garden as soon as Spring settles into the area. However, one doesn’t necessarily need to wait for Spring to be sprung to be enthralled by the landscaping as you quickly find yourself dancing with giant native conifers, while you frolic through the lush landscape of fern gully’s and woodland gardens.
If you’re in the mood to up on your exploration, take a quick trek around the abandoned and architecturally incredible Weyerhaeuser building. A groundbreaking building when it was crafted in 1970, the Weyerhaeuser campus feels similar to feelings that only the hanging gardens of Babylon have been able to elicit in me. Between cascading levels of starkly empty rooms with terraced roofs and burgeoning trails of lush ivy set, the building stands tall against rolling hills and grassy meadows – and seems almost out of place, or even from another planet. Ten out of ten would recommend a long stroll down to the water’s edge and for even just one moment, find yourself lost among the trees; it’s simply magical.
For more on the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Tacoma, head to their website and socials – and if you’re in the area, just swing by and visit!
With a few years of Seattle living under my wings, I can say with some authority that when the rain presses pause – I have to press play, and this past weekend was no exception. Kicking 2022 with a hefty dump of snow, the weather has calmed down and taken a much softer, arid approach to January with puffy clouds layered to the horizon and mercurial skies shifting throughout the day. Of course there’s been assorted moments of drizzle (hello, it is Seattle) but for the most part we’ve been fortunate to have an opportune amount of sunlight (read: ANY) for this time of year. Add that to the mix of the perpetual COVID quarantine and it’s given me extra motivation to get outside and enjoy the heartbeat of the city when possible.
I don’t know what it is about museums, but for the most part I find myself instantly uninspired by the necessity to browse art in silence, the stuffiness (both in people, and in air circulation), and the rigid formality of it all; suffice it to say, I’m not the biggest fan. I’m far more likely to enjoy the exterior architecture and landscape of a museum than what’s inside.
Art galleries however – oh goodness, color me curious! Back in Los Angeles, one of my favorite things to do was pop on my headphones, snag a camera, and hit the streets of downtown or Melrose for an urban safari – digesting the graffiti, street art and art galleries dotted across the city. I like my art tangible, accessible, and very in one’s face. I’ve been itching to find that dose of creativity again, and this past weekend gave me the perfect chance to chase that feeling in a new city.
Once the ancestral home and Indigenous land of the Coast Salish tribe, Downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square now has become synonymous with the ever expanding art scene in Seattle. After visits to the Seattle Art Museum and Bellevue Arts Museum, both the quality and quantity of art galleries, as well as the public art in the area, were a pleasant surprise. Stepping out to explore, I was instantly enamored with the antique brick feel of the Richardsonian Romanesque buildings, inspiring an East Coast vibe right here in the Pacific North West. Yeah, sure, you could come to Pioneer Square with a plan – but as they say, life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. Whenever an art itinerary is concerned, I’m always of the belief that it’s very much choose-your-own-adventure; you could come back to Pioneer Square time and time again, finding something new with each and every journey – which is precisely what I intend on doing.
Does your city boast a waterfall in the heart of their downtown? Didn’t think so. Which naturally made a spot for UPS’s Waterfall Garden Park on my personal bucket list. A stone’s throw from Occidental Square, and in eyeshot of the historic Smith Tower – the Waterfall Park is as tranquil as it is tiny, encompassing a fairly small corner of 2nd and South Main. Let the sounds of this 22′ waterfall soothe your spirit, and enjoy a mindful moment or two between art galleries. After chasing waterfalls (sorry, TLC), the enchanting pieces of Glasshouse Studio immediately pulled me in. Ever since visiting Chihuly Museum a few years ago I’ve been itching for more; I am so glad to have stumbled into their magic.
Founded in 1971, Glasshouse Studio is recognized as Seattle’s oldest glass blowing studio – as well as pioneers of America’s Studio Glass Movement. Just one step in their gallery and you too will be awestruck by the whimsical, colorful cacophony of art in literally every shape and form; pardon the pun – but you’ll be blown away. Pro tip: between the hours of 10 and 12, and then 1-5pm, you can catch the studio in action as they demonstrate the form and function of glass blowing. I was lucky enough to watch their team work on Saturday afternoon and it was mesmerizing.
Next stop on the art safari was to the Davidson Galleries, and their extensive collection of international artists and fine art prints. The staff were lovely and resourceful, and their catalog of work seemingly unmatched – playing host to almost twenty thousand original works. They rest their laurels on the idea that “art should be accessible to everybody” – and as you could imagine, I wholeheartedly agree. Time and time again, I found myself pausing at the Japanese inspired art – simply enthralled by the intricacy.
A quick tour through the Frederick Holmes and Company Gallery, and it was time to recharge with a quick bite and a bit of bartender roulette from Locus Wines. Even though a large number of the galleries start closing their doors at 5pm, many have window displays that are perfect for casual browsing. Not to mention, the magic dusk has a special place in my heart, as the natural light and artificial light momentarily merge into a moment of serenity.
Last, but most certainly not least for the day, was the crown jewel of Pioneer Square: the Foster/White Gallery. Featuring an international array of artists in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, photography in addition to painting, I was immediately awe-struck. The expansiveness of the venue was matched perfectly with the grandiosity of the large scale pieces adorning the building. Founded in 1968, the Foster/White Gallery has etched their mark as the premier gallery of Pioneer Square, and potentially the oldest as well. Wandering from afternoon until nightfall, I ventured through at least seven – maybe nine – galleries and didn’t even scratch the surface – which is perfect, because that means I can already look forward to my next visit.
For locals who want to get in on the fun, venture down to Pioneer Square the first Thursday of the month and take part in the longest running Art Walk in the nation. Yes, that’s damn right – nation. As one of the first cities in the United States to request a ‘Percent-for-the-Arts‘ from their businesses in the early 70’s, Seattle has been a trendsetter for the arts and has built itself into a haven for artists and the extended maker community. Back in 1981, the art community of Pioneer Square put their creative heads together, painted footprints outside of their businesses and printed maps with the footprint of the local galleries; et voila – the Pioneer Square First Thursday Art Walk was born. Not to age myself, but it’s pretty awesome seeing an Art Walk that’s older than I am!
For more on the Pioneer Square Art Walk, and the art scene in the area – head to their socials; and if you’re a local to Seattle, head on down and see it live – it’s an adventure worth taking, over and over, and over again.
As the last year and a half starts to blur together, and we collectively try and negotiate the new normals of the world, or whatever that means, more and more of us are flocking back to our old favorite habits in new stomping grounds. For the better part of the last two decades, the music world was my life – concerts, festivals, massives, raves; whatever the event was, I was there and loving losing myself in the middle of a crowd of sweaty strangers that could quickly become close friends. I wish I felt that those situations were a viable, healthy option at the moment; alas, I don’t. With the blossoming number of COVID variants, paired with living with someone who is immunocompromised…simply put, is a stupid idea for now. So in the meanwhile, I’ve been amassing my list of fantastic parks, gardens and outdoor venues to frequent in the Pacific North West and am so eager to watch the colorful cacophony of Autumn colors come into being.
I really wanted to believe that I’ve seen all that the city of Seattle proper has to offer – but time and time again, I’ve been proven delightfully wrong. Just the other weekend, I took a proper afternoon excursion to the Olympic Sculpture Park and I was so incredibly enthralled with everything it had to offer.
Encompassing 9 acres right on the edge of the Puget Sound, the Seattle Art Museum‘s Olympic Sculpture Park offers a novel and whimsical view of the downtown skyline befit with large scale, immersive art pieces that inspire insight, awe and adventure. What was once before an industrial site was transformed in 2007 into a wonderland, befit with bike paths and walking trails, rocky beaches and stunning vistas. A stone’s throw from the actual Seattle Art Museum, the Olympic Sculpture Park sits in Belltown bookended by the Central Waterfront to the North and and Myrtle Edwards Park to the South.
Hidden right off the trails is one of my new favorite micro-parks, the Rose Garden within Centennial Park; it might have a teeny tiny footprint, spanning about the length and width of the street on one city block. Color me a hopeless romantic, but there’s something so special, serene and soulful about smelling the incredible blossoms while getting a look at the sweeping seascape of Elliot Bay.
Meandering south, you’ll stumble across fabled fixtures like Alexander Calder’s ‘The Eagle’, a collection of Tony Smith sculptures – ‘Stinger’ and ‘Wandering Rocks’, and a few personal favorites like ‘Seattle Cloud Cover’ from the incredible mind of Teresita Fernández, Roy McMakin’s ‘Love & Loss’ and the illusion inspiring mirrored collection from Beverly Pepper.
Whether you’re in the mood for a picnic in the heart of the city, a long stroll with the Seattle skyline, sunset on the water or incredible art installations – the Olympic Sulpture Park has it all, and more. Though most of the collection is permanent, there are assorted temporary pieces that flow in and out of the park on a regular basis; paired with the ever mercurial weather and plenty of detours, each visit to the park has the opportunity to be a unique experience to be coveted.
For more on the awe inspiring Olympic Sculpture Park, head to their social media channels – or dive right in and experience it for yourself.
‘If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.’ — Frances Hodgson Burnett
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an affection for botanic gardens and the art of landscape gardening in general. For as much credit as both my mother, my step-mother – and now my mother-in-law – deserve for instilling this love inside me, there’s ample credit due to a few locations back home; from the lavish landscaping at Filoli Gardens to the expanse of parks at and around Stanford University, as well as the now defunct Roger Reynolds Nursery and school field trips to the original Sunset Gardens Headquarters in Menlo Park. I didn’t know it at the time, but my senses were spoiled rotten – and my admiration for the beauty of nature was born.
After moving to the Pacific North West, my husband and I started putting little lists together of places to explore at one time or another; swimming holes, sunset spots, and interesting hikes. Now, a few years in – we each have some excellent lists of parks, gardens, beaches and scenery to check out from the coast of Washington to the desert, the Columbia River to the Canadian Border. No matter how far away we get from home, admittedly the places I have the most fun exploring are just a hop, skip and a jump away in some hidden part of my neighborhood that’s been itching for adventurers.
Falling head over heels for both the Arboretum and the Seattle Japanese Garden, I went down the digital rabbit hole looking for other local spots worth exploring. First things first, I was pleasantly surprised and proud of myself to realize that I’d gone to most that were on the lists! I could check off the Kubota Garden, the SAG and Arboretum, Discovery Park, The Woodland Zoo’s Rose Test Garden. Immediately, the Blodel Reserve on Bainbridge Island skyrocketed to the top of my bucket list – but then another caught my eye: a garden in our zip code; the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden.
Tucked away in a small corner of Shoreline near Richmond Beach, the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden spans four acres of land, and boasts a blend of natives to the Pacific Northwest in additional to unusual exotics in a natural woodland setting. Founded in the 1950s by Dr. Arthur Kruckberg, a Professor of botany at the University of Washington, and his wife Mareen – a self taught botanist and enthusiast of all things flora and fauna. After purchasing the property in 1958, Mareen curated the first on site greenhouse for her rare plants in 1970, with a second coming just six years later. During this time of growth and evolution for the nursery, the rest of the grounds began to be expertly established. In 1998, a foundation was finally created to preserve their love of labor and just five years later, the garden was formally placed into a public trust to preserve it into perpetuity; it’s through Dr Arthur and Mareen’s love, legacy and dedication that we now can appreciate the wonderful gift of the Kruckberg Botanic Garden for generations to come.
Through their own collection of specimens, as well as a rich network of locations to exchange seeds with, their collection grew to contain everything from trees like the Giant Sequoia, Hemlocks, Spruces, Larches, Pines Maples and Oaks to flowering woodland plants like magnolias and rhododendrons, and to what my husband can only describe as ‘fern envy’ with a luscious undergrowth of vegetation around every turn. To boot, the Kruckberg Garden is home to a variety of State Champion trees (raise your hand if you knew that this was even a thing!), including a Tanoak, a Chokecherry and a lovely Striped Bark Maple.
For more on the history of the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, and insight into educational offerings through their nursery – head to their social media channels; if you’re in the area, pay them a visit and thank me later! The grounds are open Friday through Sunday from 10 to 5pm, and admission is always free; one of my favorite f-words!
When’s the last time you stumbled upon a hidden gem in your neighborhood?
“The art of stone in a Japanese garden is that of placement. Its ideal does not deviate from that of nature.”
If you thought the Washington Park Arboretum was fantastic, meet it’s neighbor and kid sister – the Seattle Japanese Garden. Tucked away in a small corner of the Washington Park Arboretum, the Seattle Japanese Garden is host to some of most marvelously manicured walks, featuring beautifully landscaped arbors and a reflecting pond in the middle. According to local lore, the Seattle Japanese Garden is one of the finest Japanese-style gardens outside of Japan itself, and after one visit I can handedly see why – the attention to detail is exquisite, and their variety of specimens from the flora and fauna, down to the stone architecture and specific placement is impressively thought out, expertly designed.
Though the Seattle Japanese Garden isn’t the only Japanese Garden in the area, it’s easily the most gorgeous detailed and well thought out. Taking up a little over three acres, the Seattle Japanese Garden was first envisioned back in 1909; but, it wasn’t until the end of the 1950s, after World War II, that the garden started to really take shape – and became the first Japanese Garden in post-war construction on the West Coast of the United States.
Before we dive into the Seattle Japanese Garden, let’s take a little dive into the detailed qualities of a Japanese Garden! An ode to Shinto, Daoism and Amida Buddhist philosophies, Japanese Gardens (日本庭園, nihon teien) encourage visitors to reach a state of Zen and meditation through naturally created, or nature inspired, pieces within a minimalist aesthetic with weathered elements that evoke the ephemerality of life. The origins of the nihon teien date back to the Asuka period of Japanese history in the 6th and 7th century; the Japanese observed and digested many of practices at the epicenter of Chinese gardening at the time. Initially, Japanese Gardens popped up on the Honshu island of Japan, the main island, and immediately took natural elements of the landscape into the gestation of their gardens – the seasonality of the area, which had a distinct feel for each of the four seasons, in addition to waterfalls and streams, reflective lakes adorned with beaches of small stone set against slender valleys and the jagged tops of volcanos.
There are two major schools of Japanese Gardens – there are hilled gardens, tsuki-yama, or level gardens, hira-niwa; where the tsuki-yama gardens feature ponds in addition to their hills, the hira-niwa are more akin to moors, or valleys. As a traditional rule, tsuki-yama contains a stream, as well as a real pond of water; however, a tertiary variety of garden, the dried-up landscape or kare-sansui garden, is built to imply a former waterfall while dried ponds, or sand, replace the reflective pond to imply the barren nature of the terrain. Fun fact, the Japanese word niwa has evokes a purified location that is anticipating the arrival of the Shinto spirits, otherwise known as kami.
Other variations on the traditional hilled Japanese Gardens include rin-sen (forest and water gardens), sen-tai (water gardens); amongst the hira-niwa, you’ll discover the bunjin – the Literati, or “literary scholar” garden which is succinct, simple and typically is full of delicately manicured bonsai trees. Last but certainly not least we have the tea gardens; referred to as roji, these have a specific style that’s up to par with the requirements for an official tea ceremony. Some common elements among the nihon teien include guardian stones, springs and streams which flow from a waterfall, lakes, hills, islands, a variety of bridges.
Now, back to the Seattle Japanese Garden! In 1957, as the Arboretum Foundation began raising money for the project, the foundation reached out to Tatsuo Moriwaki from Tokyo Metro Parks to assist with their project – and he tapped in esteemed designers Kiyoshi Inoshita and Juki Iida to bring the vision to life. The garden began construction in 1959 under the guidance of Iida and Nobumasa Kitamura, finishing the next year in 1960. To fill the space, Iida and Kitamura ventured deep into the Cascade Mountains to Snoqualmie Pass, hand selecting 580 granite stones to be used in the Seattle Japanese Garden. To finish the construction, Iida, Moriwaki and Inoshita had the assistance of other Japanese American gardeners – on plants was William Yorozu, for stone setting they brought in Richard Yamasaki and finally for the garden structures themselves they solicited the help of Kei Ishimitsu. The Seattle Japanese Garden features details from the 16th century Momoyama Period, in a more formal or, shin, setting, as well as odes to the 17th century Edo period.
Even before gracing the grounds, you first have to pass through a detailed and lovely bronze gate from Seattle based sculptor Gerard Tsutakawa. Once inside, traditional features of a Japanese Garden present themselves in beautiful succession. First, you’re greeted by an open woodland and mixed forest that delights in Japanese Maples and a mix of Evergreens, with hints of pins, camellias and bamboo scattered around. Winding around the reflecting pond, there are a variety of different bridges to cross; first, a bridge created of earth (known as a dobashi) and then a bridge of planks (tatsuhashi).
Reaching the Northern peak which represents a mountains foothills, you’ll find a large stone wall that gives way to a sweeping view of the park. Coming back into the main grounds, on the Western side of the park, you’ll discover an orchard that sits sweetly surrounded by flowering cherry blossoms during the Spring, finally reaching the roji. Unfortunately, the original tea house on site was burnt down by vandals in 1973 – but was beautifully reconstructed in 1981 by Yasunori Sugita. Last, but most certainly not least, you’ll uncover the final treasure of the gardens – a bellowing waterfall, that ebbs and flows into streams, and finally to the central, koi pond.
The Seattle Japanese Garden is open from the beginning of Spring through the end of November, technically March 1 to November 30 when the grounds close for Winter Maintenance. Open Tuesday through Sunday, park hours range from 10am to 7pm in the Summer, to closing at 6pm in April and September, 5pm in October and last but certainly not least until 4pm in November. Currently, the park is observing COVID protocols so be sure to be on your Ps and Qs with masks and social distancing inside the grounds. For parking, you can either park right at the SPG or if you’re on an adventure through the Arboretum, the park is on the South East end and a beautiful deviation from your normally scheduled blooms of the Washington Park grounds.
Curious if you have a unique, Japanese Garden in your neck of the woods? Head here to see your local fare! Do you have a Japanese Garden that you’re head over heals in love with? Show it some love and leave me a link to it in the comments below – I can’t wait to check out the places you can’t get enough of!
For more on the Seattle Japanese Garden, head to their socials – or just take a visit!
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the most phenomenal things about living in the Pacific North West is the vast variety of accessible nature. From diverse deserts and wanderlust inspiring waterfalls, to rich coastlines and island hopping through the San Juan Islands – Washington has a bit of something for everyone. Seattle and it’s surrounding areas – doubly so. From Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish to the Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountain Ranges and hidden parks in nooks and crannies all over – there’s a reason we call it the Pacific North Wonderland.
When my husband and I first moved up to Seattle, we found ourselves in an living over in the Sand Point area near the University of Washington. At the time, we didn’t know much about Washington or Seattle proper, but the area seemed a keen pivot point for getting to anywhere and everywhere throughout the Sound. Whether we ventured North and East on an adventure to dip our toes in watering holes, or South and West to Seattle proper, we could find ourselves surrounded by a symphony of succulent scenes. To me, the irony always was that our favorite park wasn’t in a far reaching corner of the state – it was actually just a hop, skip and jump around the corner at the University of Washington.
Sitting on land with a complex history, the Arboretum grounds were homebase to the Coast Salish tribes of Washington, with several villages around the area. As time, and colonialism, went on – the area shifted to ownership by the Puget Mill Company which unfortunately logged some of the largest trees in that region. As we shift into the 1900s, the land was transformed into was one of Seattle’s original city parks. In 1903, landscape architects for the region – the Olmsted Brothers – drew up a plan for the Seattle Parks and Parkways, with Lake Washington Boulevard at the crux of their idea. Fast forward to the 1930s, the incredible Washington Park Arboretum boasts an incredible variation in vegetation with one of the largest plant collections in North America.
Spanning over 230 acres of luscious vegetation, you can take the 3.5 mile walking loop around the edge of the park or you can dip the main roads, ebb and flow around the Arboretum Loop Trail and discover your own way through the heart of the park. Just like a choose your own adventure novel of eons past, each time at the Washington Park Arboretum is a unique experience featuring the mercurial nature of our weather, and the chosen blooms of the day.
Playing host to vast collections of rhododendrons, camellias, larches and lindens, oak trees, Japanese Maples, magnolias and azaleas has earned the Arboretum international bragging rights. Open daily from dusk to dawn, the Washington Park Arboretum is workout friendly, run friendly, child friendly and dog friendly. From the northern tip of the park on Union Bay’s southern shoreline and into Foster Island on down through the incredible and everchanging landscapes of the Arboretum, every inch of the park is immaculately drawn together for an unreal experience any time of year.
In the Summer months, bright blue skies overhead and a menagerie of birds grace the scene as the floral aroma wafts from every corner. Head there in September to watch the leaves shift their hues from vibrant greens to magnificent reds, yellows and oranges in what I consider ‘Seattle’s Second Spring.’ In the Winter, if you time your visit just right – you can see the grounds covered with a fairy dust of snow, making it seem like you just walked out of a story book. And Spring – well, Spring is a whole new shade of wonderful at the Arboretum.
My personal favorite spots at the Arboretum are the reflecting ponds during all seasons, the Giant Sequoias and the rhododendron glen in the Springtime. But you honestly can’t go wrong no matter which turns you take. With over 10,000 trees and more than 40,000 plants, each visit truly is it’s own unique and unforgettable journey. For those that simply can’t get enough of the Washington Park Arboretum, try the Seattle Japanese Garden located just across the way for a wonderful experience – more on that in a later post!
What’s your favorite park in your neck of the woods? I’m always looking for a great adventure – and maybe I’ll pick yours next; drop them some love in the comments below and share some geographical gems of your own!
For more on the Washington Park Arboretum at the University of Washington, scope out the park with an incredible and interactive bird’s eye view, then head to their socials for the full 411.
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
Growing up in California, I was invariably spoiled by beach days and Summer weather seemingly all year round; but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself more and more enjoying the variation in seasons that Oregon and Washington have to offer. I tend to forget how much of California is a true desert, how the Summer season reaches into the Fall and touches Winter, scorching the Earth beneath it; proof that the grass is greener where it’s simply watered.
Now that I’ve had a foothold in the Pacific North West for a few years, I’ve found that it suits me – trees as tall as skyscrapers around every corner, wildflowers ushering in the Spring and then the Autumn leaves giving us a second dose of color in the Fall – and Winter, oh -how I do love me a good snow storm (something I’m sure I would have never said in Los Angeles!). It’s inspiration to get into the great outdoors every chance we can, especially when there are so few people on the trails and in the parks compared to how densely populated literally all the things were in Southern California.
Lately, days and nights are inching longer, while the sunlight dances through trees to wake us up politely and set us to slumber sweetly; oh, yes – Spring is here, and it’s a delicate beauty all unto itself. Spring in Washington isn’t without rain, but it’s the type of rain that comes quietly in the night and leaves dew drops as it goes with the morning sun. Each day, you can see the sun maneuvering a new pathway from East to West, dipping into the Pacific Ocean in a glorious reverie of technicolor light, bouncing off of clouds and trees to illuminate the landscape. Offering a perfect invitation to get outside, and explore until your wanderlust has been quenched – at least, for the moment. For the most part, that means frequenting a park at dusk or getting in a late morning walk around Twin Ponds, but last weekend we had a chance to get out to Mount Tahoma, and let me tell you – Spring hits something different there.
The last time I was at Mount Tahoma, it was a gloriously sunny September morning and the weather hadn’t yet kicked into Autumn. The wildflowers around Paradise were bright and vibrant, almost like a second Spring had sprung – while the fog crept in on little cat feet around the base of the mountain. As a side note, though we know it now as Mount Rainier, past indigenous tribes proudly remember and revere it as Tahoma, or Tacoma – and it’s only proper to me that we try and bring these names back into the fold. An active stratovolcano, Mount Tahoma is located about sixty miles southeast of Seattle and may as well be the unofficial mascot of the Pacific North West, right next to Sasquatch. Before we get into my latest adventures, here’s a little geology lesson on the area:
Made of alternating layers of lava, ash and pyroclastic ejecta flows, Mount Rainier effortlessly towers over the rest of the Cascade Mountain Range with 26 major glaciers and 36 square miles of permanent sparkling snowfields, earning its status as the most glaciated mountain peak in the contiguous United States. At the top of the summit, the geothermic heat spewing from a duo of volcanic craters prevents the rims from getting snowed in or iced over, forming the world’s largest glacial cave network of ice-filled craters.While the current top formation of Tahoma is estimated to be approximately 500,000 years old, the mountain and the entire Cascade Volcanic Arc is considered part of the ‘Lily Formation’ and spans from roughly 840,000 years old to a whopping 2.6 Million years old. Though small eruptions have happened since with a frequency of every few hundred years, the last major eruption of Rainier was about 1000 years ago. (for more, check out my post from a few years ago on the Magic and Majesty of the Mountain.)
Travelling definitely looks a bit different a year into quarantine and COVID, and it wasn’t lost on us how much time and effort everyone has put in to being healthy and safe in Washington. Thankfully, we had our second vaccine shot just before the weekend and it was a breath of fresh air knowing that as of April 15th, the rest of the state of Washington was finally eligible for their shots as well.
Believe you me, We still had our masks on us, and used them in areas outdoors that were too densely populated and we couldn’t keep six feet apart, or whenever we were indoors – but that was few and far between. For the most part, we were the only ones on the trails, barely even seeing a soul until we managed to find some scenic vistas and viewpoints of Tahoma; and the same went for indoors – because the weather turned lush so quickly, many people didn’t make it out to the mountain last weekend. Maybe it’s my natural personality showing, or maybe I’ve just become slightly agoraphobic over the last year but I really loved the feeling of ‘having the park for ourselves’, and it felt so good to let my face be free.
The last time I adventured around the mountain, I came with Danny and my parents; we took a day trip, and tried to see as much as we could around the Northern and Western rims of the mountain. This time, Danny and I took a different approach – staying at the base of the Cascade Mountain Range. Sitting right between Tahoma and Mount Saint Helens, and within a quick jaunt to the White Pass Ski Resort – Packwood is a tiny, 300 person town called just off the Cowlitz River – full of wildflowers, Elk and sprawling scenery.
When I booked lodging for the weekend, the weather had predicted clear skies but only at about 20-30°F; at the time, I said fuck it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in Washington, it’s that you cannot simply stay indoors because of the weather rpoert, if you did you would miss out on SO much! That wisdom came to fruition as we pulled into Packwood; feeling incredibly grateful and lucky, because the temperatures broke clear into 80° territory and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.
After sight seeing on the way up to the mountain on Friday, we decided to stop by the local market and make our own dinner in our kitchenette at the Mountain View Lodge. Two pro tips here: firstly, if you ever have the opportunity to get a place to stay that has it’s own kitchen – do it; especially when you’re in the heart of nature as we were. The produce is local, the meat is local – the community is small, and it feels good to be part of the local economy, and food chain. Secondly, marry someone that can cook. Danny whipped up a fantastic steak dinner with a side of greens tossed in the steak sauce, and oh my wow – it was the perfect end to a long day. We made some libations and took a stroll down to the river, where we were met with an 8PM sunset that danced along the shoreline. With colder weather recently, the river had a relaxing ebb and flow to it and we were joined by a pair of geese – fun fact here: geese mate for life, and seeing one while with your significant other is a wonderful sign of things to come as a couple. A perfect sighting for Danny’s birthday weekend.
Saturday morning the sun wafted through the blinds, rousing us from a wonderful slumber – and we immediately took our coffee back to the edge of the Cowlitz River to kick the day into gear. As we reached the edge of the water, it was clear that the weather from Friday had caused quite a snowmelt as we were greeted with murmurs, gargles and bubbles from the water against the shoreline. Once we were properly caffeinated it was off, off and away into the mountains to check out Skate Creek Park. I must have sounded like the biggest city kitty in the world when I asked my husband “Wait, so there’s a skate park in the woods?” because apparently Skate is apparently a type of fish; and once upon a time, Skate Creek was actually stocked with catchable trout. With the continual steelhead and salmon reintroduction into wild waters, there are now State regulations which prevent the restocking of ‘catchable’ trout species in ‘anadromous’ waters; under this designation, this is any river, creek and waterway that fish use to come from the sea to release their eggs inland. The trail itself for Skate Creek Park is about 2 miles, and fairly easy to maneuver. For those (like moi!) that enjoy getting off the beaten path, there are ample locations to park your car next to the river, grab your gear and enjoy a private beachside picnic, or afternoon libations.
We tried to make it through the mountain pass, but sadly our little Civic wasn’t prepared to hit the bumpy roads and we turned around fairly fast so as to not get stuck there. We made a few more pit stops along the river, and just – wow. Because of the recent heat waves, the glacial ice was ripping and roaring around each turn, taking up technicolor hues of vibrant greens, teals, turquoises and blues; it looked good enough to drink! Paired with the lush vegetation on all sides, clear skies and warm sunlight on our shoulders – it truly felt like we were transported into Fern Gully or Avatar.
After heading back to the lodge and reassessing the situation, we decided on a quick lunch at White Pass Taqueria and Taproom and our stomachs couldn’t have been happier. Real good TexMex has been hard to come by outside of California, and White Pass went above and beyond; you honestly can’t go wrong with the selection of eats and treats and the outdoor seating is fantastic. Then it was off, off and away to explore new sights on the East side of Tahoma.
One thing we noticed during the journey is the optical illusion of mountain size. Maybe it’s the sheer grandiosity of it all the way from the heart of Seattle, or the University of Washington campus – maybe it was the fact we were already at an altitude of 2000 feet; but cruising along the base of the mountain, it seemed small for the very first time.
As we drove from Parkwood into Randle and Naches, Tahoma felt like a mountain out of Alice and Wonderland – eating this and drinking that, growing larger around one curve and then retreating in size the next. Beyond the popping in our ears, we could tell the elevation was increasing because there was ample snow on all sides of the mountain – an actual dream of a situation. Sunny, clear skies from above reflecting and refracting off of the snow in a cascading technicolor scheme all around us.
Winding around the 12 Highway, we slowed to a snails pace to fully take in the scenery: towering ridgelines of trees with sorted gushing waterfalls bellowing down to the next level, and the next, and another too far down to see on one side, while snow rimmed lakes danced with still reflections on the other.
Finally, we stumbled into a doubly delicious lake situation with Clear Lake to the South and Rimrock Lake to the North of us and made an afternoon out of it. Hiking up and down the winding trails around the lakes, sitting on the shores edge and skipping stones in the crystal clear water while admiring the grandiosity all around. On the way out, we took the long way home – driving to the most northern edge of Rimrock, and soaking in sunset as we gradually descended down the mountain, admiring the view from all angles – grateful for the treasures Earth has to offer.
No matter how you get there, or which side of the mountain you choose to roam – there is something magical around every nook and cranny of Mount Rainier. For more, including current closures due to COVID, as well as Winter road closures as we head into the warmer months, head to their website or social channels – or put on your adventure pants, say “Fuck It!” – pack a bag, and plan a visit!