High Atop the Emerald City

“One short day in the Emerald City.  One short day to have a lifetime of fun,” resounded in my head as we walked toward the Space Needle, for truly did we only have one day in Seattle before heading to meet our ship and sail towards Alaska.  Totally playing the role of tourist, we headed to the iconic structure feeling like I was diving straight into a Jetsons cartoon.

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This futuristic icon dominates the skyline when looking from the Sound.

If you haven’t met me, let me let you in a little secret; I’m a planner.  I like knowing what is going to happen and when.  That’s not to say that I don’t have a spontaneous bone in my body, but I prefer to have a plan.  This holds true for vacations as well.  While my family might disagree, I don’t feel like I plan out every.single.minute of our day, but I do like to have options.  And by options, I mean researched, booked, and, most likely, paid for activities. Seattle was no different.

In our “one short day” we would take a ferry, play on the beach, visit the Pike Street market, walk around Pioneer Square, explore the Klondike Gold Rush Naitonal Historic Park, do a little shopping, and of course visit the famous Space Needle.  Since I knew that the Space Needle would most likely be a stop everyone in our group would want to make, I made reservations (months before) for lunch at Sky City–pairing great food and a great view.

We arrived at the Space Needle taking the obligatory selfies with us and the Needle in the background while waiting for the rest of our party to arrive.  Geoff’s parents arrived, and we waited for mine to arrive as well.  And waited….and waited….

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I can’t let a selfie opportunity pass me by!

 

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And from the other side

It turns out that the mile that separated our hotel from the Space Needle was the bird’s distance, not the people walking distance.  So as my parents walked, they realized that there was much construction sending them up and down blocks that added on to the distance of the trip.  Looking for a cab in Seattle is it’s own game.  Unless you are lucky enough to catch one that someone just got out of, the empty ones are far and few between. We learned later in the day that the best way to catch a cab is to call one to your hotel and wait for it.  So needless to say, my parents were out of luck on the cab front as they hurried to meet us for our two o’clock lunch reservation.

Geoff had checked us in at 1:45 and the receptionist said that our party had to be together before we could go up.  And then she added the extra piece of information that if we weren’t there by two, our reservation would be lost.  So I watched the minutes tick off on the clock willing my parents to walk into view, and they did at 2:05.

After brief hugs, we entered the gift shop and made our way towards the elevator that would take us to the restaurant.  We acted like we weren’t now ten minutes late for our reservation as we handed over the card given to us.  The elevator operator acted like it was no big deal that we were a little late, and ushered us and thirty other people into the elevator.

Quickly, 500 feet hovered between us and the ground, and we were led to our table for six.  Finally the reunion could begin as we perused our menus. We spent many minutes catching up before looking over the menus and deciding on lunch.

I don’t really remember what everyone in our party ordered, but everyone seemed happy with their selection.  I had a ravioli stuffed with asparagus and goat cheese, and enjoyed every single bite.  As we chatted and ate and repeated, the restaurant made nearly two revolutions allowing us to see the city from every direction.  Once again, the weather was cooperating with us and we could see all the way to Mt. Rainier, even though it was a little hazy.

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This would be our last view of Mt. Rainier.

One word of caution about the restaurant, the tables are very crowded.  Once sitting it doesn’t feel so claustrophobic, but moving around is very difficult.  I learned this best when, after an hour and a half of drinking water, I need to to use the restroom.  So I climbed over my mom and dad to get to the aisle.  Thinking that would be the most difficult part of my restroom adventure, I turned and head toward its direction.  However, as I walked, my swinging arm hit the wine glass of the man sitting at the table behind me shattering the glass and sending wine all over the floor.  I apologized profusely only to earn a death stare in return–I mean really, it’s not like I set out to spill your wine.  I quickly stopped a server before making my escape from both embarrassment and the unhappy wine drinker.

Slinking back into my chair, we ordered a spectacular dessert–ice cream with a show.  Three scoops of ice cream came out on a container of dry ice.  The server poured warm water over the dry ice, and voila, our table was now covered in rolling fog.  A+ for presentation.

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It’s all about presentation!

My favorite part of the Sky City Restaurant was the post-it notes that people left on the windows.  Handwritten notes asking, “Where are you from,” to games of tic-tac-toe and hangman dotted the windows.  It was cute, but they were clearly removed when the table was emptied because we never saw the same note on our second rotation.

Leaving lunch behind, we climbed the few stairs the extra 20 feet to the observation deck above us.  Here we fought the crowds that we didn’t have to in the restaurant.  Our view was now obscured by a fence and hundreds of people where in the restaurant it was not.  So even though Sky City was on the pricey side, especially for lunch, the crowdless view more than made up for it.

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On the observation deck it was so crowded we easily lost each other.  Each of us walked the circle looking out again at The Emerald City trying to snap pictures with the best view in the background.  Before heading back down to solid ground, were able to pull ourselves together for a group photo and bid a fond farewell to the iconic tourist trap and continue our,  “one short day in the Emerald City.”

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Mother/daughter selfies!

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Our reunited group

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Mt. Rainier’s Skyline Trail

We laced up our boots, strapped on our crampons, and decided to tackle the snow-covered trails after spending the night in the Paradise Inn.  The plan was to hike the Skyline Trail up to Panorama Point, but right away we knew those plans would be changing due to the amount of snow still covering the trails.

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Panorama Point was our intended destination. I guess we will have to go again if we want to see it.

 Instead, we decided we would hike the Skyline Trail as far as we thought it was safe (or until we got tired) then turn around and return to the Visitor Center to meet up with Geoff’s parents.  The trail started off with a steep snowbank we needed to scale proving that this trail was serious.  After climbing the bank, we were rewarded with a paved path that had melted out for about a quarter of a mile.

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With fresh legs, we hit the trail leaving the Paradise Inn behind us.

 Soon enough we were at a bridge crossing over a waterfall.  The NPS did a fine job of marking the trail so that we would stay on solid ground and not make the mistake of walking over a snow bridge.  While these snow bridges were absolutely gorgeous, they were super dangerous.  Accidentally wandering could cause a fall to the creek bed below especially since the temperatures the day before had reached 80 degrees making the snow less solid.  I really wasn’t looking forward to starting off my first true vacation day by ending up plummeting to the bottom of a waterfall, so we kept our eyes peeled for any signs of running water under the snow.

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Watch your step!

 After crossing the bridge we spotted our first wildlife–a hoary marmot.  Basically they look like a groundhog, but stand on their hind legs to survey the landscape in much the same way as a meerkat.  Our marmot friend was peacefully checking out the thawing meadows and newly sprouted glacier and avalanche lillies around him.  We decided to get a little closer for some better photo opps.  As soon as we got about 25 feet from this little creature, his stench smacked us in the face.  I can’t even begin to describe his stink other than it was something way worse than wet dog.

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One of our first wildlife viewings of the trip.

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Hoary marmot fight wrestling match!

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The avalanche lilies were just beginning to bloom everywhere.

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More meadow flowers beginning to show their colors.

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Glacier lilies popping up through the snow melted meadows.

As we continued up what we thought was the trail (we followed the bootprints of a hiker who had passed us) we began to spot hoary marmots everywhere.  They were scurrying down the side of the mountain, resting in the sun, and wrestling in snow drifts.

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Where’s the trail?

We stopped to watch them for a little while, and so I could catch my breath after the steep incline.  I love hiking, but snow always makes it so much more challenging.  As I broke a path in the snow with each step, I was reminded of hiking down the Grand Canyon.  The snow was much deeper on this trail making the hike that much more strenuous.

We hiked until we meet the hiker who had passed us earlier, and he informed us that we probably should not venture much farther than the ridge we were approaching.  He said that beyond that point there were many snow bridges, and the trail was hard to follow.  We continued to the top of the ridge that offered a nice view of a very tall waterfall.

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Follow that guy! He looks like he knows where he is going.

Geoff decided he wanted to take some pictures, so we went down into the little valley and set up the camera on an exposed boulder pile.  There we ate a few granola bars, sipped some water, and held a mini photo shoot.  As we played with the camera, we heard this weird, high-pitched squeal.  At first I thought there were some little kids hiking near us.  Then Geoff realized that it was the noise of the hoary marmots.  We looked up the mountain slope in front of us and sure enough there were about five or six of them playing in snow.

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I never get tired of seeing waterfalls. This was the third one in two days.

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I love the remote feature on the camera.

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Winter wonderland in summer

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Photo shoot over, we decided to turn around and head back to meet Geoff’s parents.  Hiking down the mountain was the most fun I’ve ever had.  I literally was able to run down the mountain without falling!  The snow was in such a state that it slid just enough with each step to keep me balanced.  The only thing that might have been more fun than running down that mountain would have been going down it on a sled.

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Downhill run

Before long, we were back at the trailhead.  As we approached the parking lot, we were passed by a group of mountaineers that were heading to the summit.  They were discussing their plans as they passed us, and I felt a pang of jealousy.  I would really love to climb an entire mountain one day.  It seems like such an accomplishment.  One that would have to save itself for another trip.

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To the summit!

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Break time

Beautiful Mountain, Rustic Inn

After seven hours on a Southwest flight, I peered out the plane window to be rewarded with my first glimpse of Mt. Rainier.  It was so clear that not only could we see Rainier, but we were also offered the rare sight of Mt. St. Helens’ and Mt. Baker’s snowcapped peaks.

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A bird’s eye view of Mt. Rainier courtesy of Southwest Airlines

Two and a half hours later we were offered an up close view that most visitors never see.

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My favorite adventurer

 

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Our first real glimpse of Mt. Rainier

We plopped ourselves in a rental car and were set to make the two hour drive to Mt. Rainier National Park.  Leaving the freeway, Google directed us to a winding two way mountain road.  As we climbed to higher elevations, we were offered peeks of Rainier which those that live around the area don’t see very often.  Seattleites can see Rainier on average of once per week, and sometimes even being in the National Park doesn’t even offer you a view of her 14 thousand plus feet.  We were extremely lucky to see Rainier with absolute clarity for three consecutive days.

A little over a third of the way up the side of Mt. Rainier sits Paradise Inn and is aptly named.  Here we rested our heads for the night.  With its 121 guest rooms, many of which do not have private restrooms, Paradise Inn is exactly what a mountain lodge should look like.  It is full of wooden beams, rustic furniture, and complete with a gigantic fireplace in the main room of the lodge where people gather to play checkers, build puzzles, read books, sip hot chocolate, or listen to informational Ranger talks.    Stepping into the lodge, I was transported back to 1916, the year of its inception.

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The rustic Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier

 

Our room wasn’t a luxury accommodation, but it was full of charm.  It held a double bed, a sink, a few towels, a doorless closet, and a couple of straight-backed chairs.  We were to share bathrooms and showers with those on our floor.  There were no elevators which meant lugging our 50 pound bags up three flights of stairs.  (I did mention this place was rustic, right?)  Once we arrived in our rooms on the hottest day of the year, (89 degrees) we Floridians were a little concerned about the lack of air conditioning and the west facing window that was turning our room into a little oven.  However I threw up the window hoping to catch a breeze and prayed that the room would cool when the sun went down, and it did enough to offer a decent night’s sleep.

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Our cramped accommodations for the evening

We then went off to find some dinner in the Paradise Inn Dining Room.  The food is based off the farm to fork idea and the menu changes according to what the local farms have on hand.  Geoff and I opted to share the Yakima Spinach Salad with grilled chicken.  The spinach, apples, blue cheese, and candied walnuts were delicious, but the chicken was dry and not worth its extra charge.

After dinner it was off to the deck to watch the mountains turn pink as the sun set and moon rose over them.  It truly is hard to describe the beauty of the snow-capped mountains as they changed from white to pinks and oranges before vanishing into the dark sky.  Not long after the mountains disappeared, we headed to bed after a very long day of travel.

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Sunset on the deck

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Sunset at Paradise Inn

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The moon rises over the mountain

Have you been to a National Park lodge?  What were your impressions?