Continued from last week:
I’m waiting at the Paradise entrance to Mount Rainier behind eight or 10 cars. My rear-view mirror reveals a continuous, unbroken line of vehicles as far as I can see.
All this traffic so early in the season – my friends, the park had opened only a few weeks before – gave rise to the fear that, eventually, tourists will completely overrun and crush our national parks. Consequently, visitors will be ordered to leave their cars and boats and RVs and trucks and bikes in huge parking lots and board buses to see the sights, which surely isn’t the best way to explore the natural wonders offered. If you’re like me and enjoy seeing our parks at a leisurely pace, driving where I want, when I want, then you best plan to visit the most popular parks like Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Rainier and others, in the not too distant future.
An attractive young lady in a handsome uniform smiles cheerfully. “Good morning, sir! There’s a $15 entrance fee per vehicle.”
That seems rather expensive, but the blow is softened a bit because I’m an avid supporter of our national park system and such fees are allegedly used only to maintain such parks.
Then I’m driving into a lush environment of mid-spring, green foliage which isn’t yet covered with dust or drooping from summer heat. There are towering fir and cedar trees that may have been saplings when Columbus arrived – or, if not that old, they’re at least old enough to inspire awe and wonder compared with lowland forests, all of which were planted during the last 60 years.
So, you follow the crooked and horseshoe curves of the highway, higher and steeper, until the trees shrink and yield to sheer granite walls. Your ears pop and the air grows even more incredibly fresh and pure. Where the sides of the road don’t drop off for a 1,000 or more feet, there are 5- and 6-foot snow banks.
And I finally reach my destination. The old, ramshackle visitors’ center has been demolished. In its place, we have a new multi-million dollar Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center with an information desk, a theater, an interesting museum, a geological gallery and, of course, the obligatory gift shop. It’s a beautiful building constructed in the expected alpine style of huge oak beams, steel straps and a fine decor of fir and pine.
But the most appealing structure at the summit is the old Paradise Inn. Though it’s gone through a $20 million renovation and seismic upgrade, I’m happy to report that the upfront appearance has changed very little since it was built in 1917. The huge lobby with its opposing, large stone fireplaces, the gigantic oak beams, the dining room and even its little cocktail lounge, capture all the highland magic and romance of a Swiss chalet, but there aren’t any ski runs here.
Rooms with a bath start at $150 bucks a night. A suite will run you $220.
So, take your sweetheart by the hand and lead her or him away from the pollution and bustle of everyday life. They don’t call this place Paradise for nothing.