I figured this was problably the last weekend at Mount Rainier National Park to enjoy the blazing autumn colors at the Paradise area because the weather has been getting cooler and rainier, and the dustings of snow in the park have been sticking more and more. The forecast for the following week calls for a major drop in the freezing level in the mountains and passes. That means snow! Once the substantial snows arrive, the beautiful Paradise meadows will be covered with snow for what will seem like months on end.
I looked out my window on Saturday morning after a Friday of rain and saw sun with mostly clear skies. Aha! My intuition kicked in. Time to jump in the car and drive to the mountain park one more time this season! As luck would have it, the bottom half of the mountain was enshrouded in clouds when I arrived. As well, the rain from the evening before had froze on many sections of the trails along with a bit of snow, making hiking somewhat treacherous. I hiked as far as I could without physically endangering myself and then turned around and headed back to the parking lot. Others that were more adventurous and determined to conquer the elements were wearing strap-on ice grips. As well, a few hardier adventurors had skis and snow boards strapped onto their backs, willing to hike a few miles up the steep slopes to get in some early winter sport.
On my way back down, I stopped for a brief moment and noticed some slight movement just off the trail. It was a grouse sitting on a snow covered bush branch. He didn’t seem to mind my presence, and so I clicked away with my camera. Other hikers came along and stopped to admire him as well. Off in the bush on the other side of the trail were a couple of large, black tailed deer that we marveled at as well. When we started to walk again, the grouse took to flight towards us and tried to land on someone’s shoulder. Needless to say, it was a startling experience. The grouse floundered for a few seconds and then landed in the bush next to the trail. He walked along with me on the trail for a good part of the way back down. I was even getting questions from others coming up the trail asking if the grouse was my pet! How funny was that!
Once back in the parking lot, I noticed some people and stopped cars trying to get photos of something. “What’s going on?” I thought to myself. I figured it was some wildlife that caught everyone’s attention. Indeed it was! It was a beautiful Cascade Fox, a subspecies of the Red Fox, stopping at any car that rolled down its window. They are commonly seen in the park and are very used to people. I got my share of photos of him too.
Even though the mountain was not making a showing this day, I was rewarded with a fantastic nature experience. One never knows what they’ll see or encounter in this marvelous national park!