[Wander Washington] Welcoming Spring at Mount Tahoma

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

John Muir
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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.)


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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“Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness & growth occurs while you are climbing it.” 

Andy Rooney
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May be an image of 1 person, lake, nature and tree
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[LA Life] In That Moment, I Was Infinite: A Trip Through Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at The Broad

Yayoi Kusama x Infinity Room

My last few years in Los Angeles have elicited a mountain of personal growth and emotional change.  In a grand sense, I’ve finally discovered myself and understand my innate needs and wants – and in the most basic, I’ve fully enjoyed being myself within each and every moment.  Forever a city kitty by nurture, it turns out that I’m actually a little mountain lion by nature but the trick has been learning what keeps my soul level and balanced – a little bit of sunshine and landscapes here, some graffiti, city lights, music and art there.  The most amazing thing about living in Southern California, and especially Los Angeles, is the immediate access to both – sometimes even in the same day.  Just the other weekend, Danny and I took a cruise through the Angeles Crest Forest and grounded ourselves in the scenic beauty and amazing views, and this weekend we balanced it with now my favorite art exhibit I’ve ever been to – Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at The Broad.

Yayoi Kusama x Infinity Room

Art does a lot of things for me, but above all it provides me a new, askew and different lens to observe the world through.  Whether it’s sculpture, watercolors, immersive art or sculptures – the best art forces me outside of myself to view the world from a birds eye view while diving further inside of myself in personal discovery; and I would absolutely include the Infinity Mirrors in that category.  A playful experience with color and perspective, Yayoi Kusama’s excellent creative eye has created a handful of unique environments that meld your minds and opens your eyes to a vibrant, multidimensional universe.

Yayoi Kusama x Infinity Room

Hailing from Nagano, Japan, Yayoi began playing with color and shapes when she was ten and it’s obvious that her love and creativity have only grown exponentially since.  Considered a forerunner to the Pop Art movement that cultivated  Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, Yayoi calls her unique process “Self Obliteration”.  An artist that’s as multidimensional as her work, Yayoi has foraryed from painting and watercolors to writing novels and poems, dabbling in fashion design and film direction.  Since 1963, she’s been recognized for her hypnotic and mesmerizing Mirror / Infinity Room environments.  Featured at international museums as both a traveling and permanent exhibit,  fans will be excited to know that the Yayoi Kusama has officially opened in Tokyo, Japan – if you’re up for the adventure.

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For now, Yayoi’s current works are being featured in a 50 year retrospective that’s on rotation between several museums across the United States.  Originally at Washington DC’s Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum + Sculpture Garden, the exhibit then traveled to the Seattle Art Museum over the Summer before landing at Los Angeles’s Broad Museum.  In March, Yayoi’s works will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario and then finally land at the Cleveland Museum of Art in July of 2018.

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For me, this was an experience I absolutely had to document – from room to room, I was moved phenomenally and entranced by my surroundings.  But, I also put my phone down and just was wowed by it all – and I highly suggest both for you, too. Due to a high volume of interest there are no more reserved spots for the Infinity Mirrors – but the Broad Museum does offer standby tickets for those willing to wait.

For more about Yayoi Kusama‘s Infinity Mirrors, the Broad Museum and their contemporary collection of art, head to their site and socials –

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Yayoi Kusama x Infinity Room Yayoi Kusama x Infinity Room

[LA Life] Getting Artsy at ARTIC

“Time goes faster the more hollow it is.
Lives with no meaning go straight past you,
like trains that don’t stop at your station.”
Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

One of my favorite things about photography is the belief that each and every one of us views the world through their own technicolor lens. We all see different shades of beauty in the world, and photography gives a keen insight into the way that each person’s visual interpretations can differ.

To say that I have an obsession with beautifully unique architecture and lavish locations is a bit of an understatement.  My wanderlust propels me to constantly explore, adventure and discover each and every corner of the world, but mostly – my own backyard of Southern California. Boasting a beautiful menagerie of natural settings, from the diamond blue oceans of the Pacific to the snow-capped mountains, fields of flowers and the deserts between, California’s got a little bit of everything for every type of nature lover. So, when I tell you that for the past year I’ve been itching to go take pictures of a Transit station, you might not get it – until you see for yourself. Ever since Instagram introduced their geotagging feature a few years ago, I’ve been building, developing and adding to an epically long list of places I want to frolick around like a little fairy, or at the very least photographically capture them to my heart’s desire. And one of the very first places on that list was ARTIC, otherwise known as the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.

Located part way between Angel’s Stadium and the Honda Center, ARTIC was unveiled to the public in December of 2014. Depending on who you ask it’s, the venue itself is either $188 Million Dollar drain, or a photographer’s wet dream with great lighting, lots of color, loads of reflections and a whole lot of symmetry. Since I don’t live in Anaheim, I’ll go with the later – but after visiting, I definitely understand the former as well.

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Even though I’d permanent markered ARTIC into a list of epic, must-shoot places, it was purely a beautiful coincidence that I happened across it.  Just the other weekend, I was down in Anaheim with Danny to handle some family business.  We were getting a bit famished and my craving for happy hour oysters had set our hungry kitty sights on Oyster Bar SKC.  As we pulled into our parking spot, the technicolor haze of lights inside ARTIC danced across the sky and I felt like a little kid that just got to the amusement park.  Words spilled out of my mouth as I bubbled over with excitement as we walked between the Palm Trees, underneath ARTIC’s rainbow ceiling, and into a technicolor daydream.

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Come for the pictures, stay for the oysters. Currently, there are plans to build a Pinkberry on the first floor of ARTIC – but until then, the one tried and true food favorite is the Oyster Bar SKC which boasts $1 oysters during happy hour, half-off appetizers and beer as well as some of the most delicious drinks I’ve had in recent months.If you’re a fan of the venue but don’t live nearby, you’re in luck because Oyster Bar SKC is opening a second location down in sunny San Diego, with a third in the works just around the corner from Los Angeles in Pasadena. Though there aren’t very many reasons to visit ARTIC, there are definitely a few – catch a baseball game at Angels’ Stadium or catch a concert at the Honda Center, Chapman University and Disneyland are also just a little jaunt away.

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For more on ARTIC, head to their socials, browse through my favorite photos – or just jump on the local transit lie and take a little trip – I promise you, it’s so worth it.

ARTIC on Instagram

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First and Last Photos by Daniel Leist Photography