By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
Saturday, September 9, dawned clear and calm. It was one of those magical mornings that only happen in September, my favorite month to visit the mountains. And so just past Federal Way en route elsewhere, my NAP photographic model and I decided last-minute to change destinations to Mount Rainier to take maximum advantage of the exceptional weather.
While we would be getting a late start to the popular destination, one thing would be in our favor. From my college summers spent working in national parks, I knew that park visitation drops dramatically after Labor Day. As kids are back in school, families have other priorities.
The line of cars at the Nisqually entrance gate was only a half-dozen cars long; we were through in a few minutes. More notable, however, was my taking advantage of my abundant post-COVID annual “tree rings” to purchase a lifetime senior national parks pass. On completing the august transaction, one suddenly feels like dispensing with all life responsibilities and embarking on a cross-country, “a park a day” journey… So, if I suddenly disappear from these pages, you will know where to look for me!
The second thing that having a pass in-hand does instantly is change one’s mindset in the park. Instead of fast-paced driving and hiking to “see everything in a day,” a calmer sense of being able to admire the scenery at a slower pace prevails. Now we can go back anytime. If we get tired, we can just head home and pick up the journey where we left off the next time.
A few photos from our day appear here. They complement my earlier general writeup of a trip around the park (“A Loop Trip Around Mount Rainier,” napost.com, Aug. 2020).
New at Mount Rainier: the main post-COVID changes are (a) the road connecting Paradise and Sunrise along the eastern side of the park is closed Monday to Friday; (b) there is no longer a road sign marking the senior-friendly, outstanding, short loop-trail to “Grove of the Patriarchs.”
The road closure is to repair extensive damage to the road from rockslides. Moreover, while the Eastside Trail towards the superlative trees remains open, the grove is closed until the washed out suspension bridge crossing the crystalline Ohanapecosh River there can be repaired.
Among lesser but still intriguing destinations, the historical cabin in the forest at Longmire appears positively ancient, until one realizes that it was built after the arrival of Issei in Washington State. “North American Times” reviewer Ikuo Shinmasu describes 200 Issei as being in Seattle in 1887 (“19th Century Seattle and Nikkei Immigrants,” napost.com, July 2021). Moreover, essayist Pam Okano’s grandfather, began his life as a Northwest immigrant in 1898, a mere ten years after the cabin was built.
As closing senior-citizen commentary, I have but one more thing to say: Don’t let anyone ever tell you that summer youth programs don’t work. I say this because friends who visit Mount Rainier with me observe that I know it fairly well. This is largely because my brother and I each spent two summers working and living there as high school students, before we moved on to other national parks for college summer employment.
Those youth employment programs, especially the still-extant Youth Conservation Corps, transformed our lives. There, we began learning many things, including how to work with tools and how to be more self-reliant. From daily conversations with the older college students who supervised us, we learned to set and chase long-term goals.
The life-changing educational journey that that pivotal 1973 summer set me on — a quest to see and understand the larger world beyond south Seattle — continues in these pages to the present day.
Mount Rainier National Park
• One vehicle entrance fee: $30
• Senior lifetime pass: available to those with 62 annual rings: $80