The Ring of Fire—a string of volcanoes, earthquakes and sites of seismic activity that encircles the Pacific Ocean—is the result of plate tectonics. Tectonic plates are slabs of the Earth’s crust, which fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The plates constantly move atop a layer of solid and molten rock called the mantle. Some volcanoes are actually vents with direct pipelines to the molten core of our little planet.
One of these presently dormant volcanoes is massive glacier-covered Mt. Rainier. Long called “Tahoma” by Native Americans, Rainier is about 80 miles south and east of Seattle, Washington, and is plainly visible from that city’s airport despite the distance. At 14,410 feet, this imposing peak is the tallest in the Cascade Range and one of the highest mountains in the 48 contiguous states.
Looking at the map of Mt. Rainier National Park, the mountain occupies nearly the entire area. The excellent main road pretty much goes around most of Mt. Rainier. That does not mean that there are a limited number of compositions here; just the opposite. Spending some time in Mt. Rainier National Park will give you the opportunity to photograph not only this magnificent mountain from many viewpoints, but also some great waterfalls, forests and a spectacular wildflower display that usually peaks around early August.
One way to show Mt. Rainier is with a reflection of itself. Some of the best places to capture these kinds of images are at Reflection Lakes along the road just south of Paradise and at Tipsoo Lake in the Chinook Pass. Both are best at sunrise and can offer foregrounds of colorful wildflowers if you are able to time your visit just right.
For other great views of Mt. Rainier, drive to Sunrise in the northern portion of the park. Counter to its name, a visit to Sunrise can be productive at dawn or late afternoon.
As an alternative to overdosing on photographing Mt. Rainier, you can easily vary your subject matter with a short walk down to poetic Nerada Falls. In addition to full views of the entire cascade of the Paradise River as it tumbles about 170 feet into a small gorge, try tightening your compositions and framing small segments.
Other good watery subjects are the small cascade of the Paradise River about a half mile east of Nerada. Also, Nickel Creek, Cougar Falls (and more) are right along the road.
For perhaps the best wildflower photography, try the short and easy walk between the west edge of the parking lot of the Paradise Inn and the parking lot behind the new visitor center just below it. (See: www.nps.gov/mora/planyourvisit/wildflower-status.htm.)
Just inside the Stevens Canyon entrance are both Silver Falls and the trailhead for the short stroll down to the Grove of the Patriarchs. Here you can get up close and personal with many huge and venerable Douglas fir, western hemlock and red cedar trees.
For those with a yen for a real climb, Mt. Rainier is one of the best ascents in the lower 48. However, it is only for the experienced. Being in good physical shape is only part of the equation. All ascents must be arranged well in advance.
Mt. Rainier is an easy two-hour drive from Seattle (SEA-TAC) Airport. Two excellent lodges inside the park offer convenient accommodations: the National Park Inn and the newly renovated Paradise Inn. You will eat very well at either one. The small town of Packwood just south of the park has many good motels. The city of Ashford is located on the park’s west side and offers several upscale lodgings.
Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry is a National Park Artist-in-Residence for 2015, at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org