MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK, about 55 miles from Tacoma, comprises 368 square miles of rugged mountains, forested valleys beneath towering crags, moving glaciers melting into turbulent streams; of broad ice fields and flowered mountain meadows, great cirques, and crevasses; refuge for abundant wild life. Marking the approximate center is the glistening dome of Mount Rainier, third highest peak in continental United States (14,408 alt.); its base covers almost one-fourth of the park area. Seen from a distance the mountain seems to be isolated, its great height dwarfing the Cascade Range on the east and the other neighboring mountains; although these peaks and mountain ranges themselves average 6,000 to 8,000 feet in altitude. The mountain, unlike Mount Fujiyama, is a truncated cone, approximately 2,000 feet of its top having been lost through an eruption ages ago. That the peak at one time reached almost 16,000 feet is evident from the inclination of the slopes and lava strata. When the top was blown off, a vast cauldron more than three square miles in area was formed -- one of the great attractions of the mountain. In this cauldron two cinder cones developed, gradually grew together, and eventually rounded into the dome known as Columbia Crest, the highest point on the mountain, which rises 285 feet above the jagged rim of the snow and ice-filled crater. Next in height are Point Success (14,150 alt.) and Liberty Cap (14,112 alt.). Feeble volcanic action was reported as late as 1843, 1858, and 1870; relatively weak steam jets are still found on the heights, and there are various hot springs around the base.
Twenty-eight glaciers -- 16 of which have a downward flow -- cling to the sides of the mountain, forming one of the country's most extensive glacier systems, with a spread of approximately 48 square miles. The six great primary glaciers, Nisqually, Ingraham, Cowlitz, Emmons, Tahoma, and Kautz, originate in the summit névé; the five secondary glaciers are born in snow-filled cirques at levels between 12,000 and 10,000 feet. Between these major ice flows, which average from 4 to 6 miles in length, are found 17 smaller ice fields or interglaciers. As the glaciers have melted back -- the average recession is 70 feet per year -weathering has broken down the harsh canyon walls, so that the valleys below them broaden out and merge with the tablelands of the lower wedges. Here in high valleys and tablelands are found the great alpine meadows with their riot of wild flowers.
Within the park the Transition Zone, characterized by heavy forest growths of Douglas fir, western hemlock, red cedar, and scatterings of maple, alder, western yew, and black cottonwood, reaches to elevations found at all the entrances and even as far as Longmire Springs, White River camp, and Ipsut Creek on the Carbon River road. Ferns, devil'sclub, and skunk cabbage form rank growths; dogwood, trillium, white clintonia, and twinflower grow in abundance. The great forests provide a haven for black bear and many other animals. The band-tailed pigeon, northern spotted owl, western winter wren, and the Cooper chipmunk are frequently seen.
The Canadian Zone, merging into the Hudsonian above and the Transition below, is the least distinct of all the park zones; yet certain points, such as Narada Falls on the Nisqually Road, Yakima Park on the east, Mowich Lake on the northwest, and the glacier termini may be taken as arbitrarily marking its upper limits. The forests here, though dense, have smaller trees, of which the western white pine is the most common, with Noble fir, spruce, Alaska yellow cedar, and western hemlock. One of the picturesque plants is the goatsbeard moss, which forms great festoons on the trees. Undergrowth is thinner, and such plants as red and blue huckleberries, rhododendron, kinnikinnick, everlasting, and minulus flourish. The whistling marmot, Pacific beaver, varying hare, mantled ground squirrel, water ouzel, American black bear, Columbian black-tailed deer, and mountain beaver (aplodontia) are relatively common in both Transition and Canadian zones.
At the upper edge of the forest belt and extending to the timber line, is the Hudsonian Zone, supporting such hardy trees as the mountain hemlock, alpine fir, and white-barked pine under favorable conditions. Pre-eminently the zone of flowered alpine meadows, which carry right up around the glaciers, this area is one of the most scenic in the park, generally most colorful during July and August. Some 300 species of flowers occur in this zone alone, of which the more noteworthy are the heathers, the glacier and avalanche lilies, valerian, Indian basket grass, Indian paintbrush, western anemone, speedwells, asters, lupines, and buttercup. In this zone the Clark's nutcracker is the most common bird, but the sooty grouse, the pine siskin, rufous hummingbird, and bluebird are also numerous. The cony, pack rat, marmot, jumping mouse, weasel, and pine marten are encountered frequently.
The Arctic-Alpine Zone extends from the timber line toward the summit. In this region of wind-swept wastes and pumice fields, plant and animal life is limited to the most hardy, but the region presents a broad and interesting variety of herbaceous plants, among which are lupine and phlox and various saxifrages and grasses. A few junipers and arctic willow are found in sheltered locations. This zone is the habitat of the white mountain goat, the Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan, the pipit, rosy finch, and the pine siskin. Among occasional visitors are the Cascade fox, coyote, marmot, weasel, and marten; the juncos, hawks and eagles.