July 23, 2010

Stevens Canyon Area, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

As you continue east from Paradise along the southern flanks of Mount Rainier, there are many sites to see before you get to the Stevens Entrance and Ohanapecosh campground. There are a number of nice places to pull out for excellent views, interesting geologic formations, and wonderful photography.

One of the first must see places is 188 foot Narada Falls. The falls are hardly visible from the parking area. But, a short 0.1 mile trail down the opposite side gives a wonderful overlook.

From Narada Falls, there is a good view of the more ancient volcanic Tatoosh Range. These peaks represent an elevated volcanic plateau that existed before Mount Rainier first started erupting about 1 million years ago. They are now sharply eroded after multiple glaciation events, earthquakes, and eruptions.

Next, we headed over to Reflection Lake

From there, it is down along the deep Stevens Canyon which feeds into the Cowlitz River

From Stevens Canyon you could see the Andesite columns that formed where the lavas of Mount Rainier cooled rapidly.

In a stretch of lava flows there is Box Canyon. This torrent of water has carved a 130 foot gorge into the rock. You can't even notice it until you are literally walking over it.

A closer look

The surface of these rocks are barren, holding virtually no soil. That is because the glaciers scraped away anything that might have been there. The evidence of those glaciers are the linear scrape marks on the rocks. Slowly, lichens, followed by mosses, are recolonizing the rocks.

Where the mosses grow adequately thick, a few milimeters of soils form where dead moss and dust accumulate. Here, a few grasses can begin to root hold. Over hundreds of years, buildup of dead grasses, dust, and soil, will allow the first trees to root hold and forests to eventually reclaim this rock.

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