The beginning of a new year usually seems a bit dreary. It always makes me wonder whether that is because it’s like a book filled with blank pages and a certain anticipation what they might fill with. Or whether it’s the contradiction of cabin fever and the doomed grayness outside. So, let me lure you out to a walk – come along in your mind!
About an hour’s drive east of the Western Washingtonian city of Tacoma begins sheer wilderness. That of the Mt. Rainier National Park. If you venture out there, you will need a pass to enter, or you will have to pay a fee. Once you are past the quaint mining town of Wilkeson, the road leads through less and less settled area with looming evergreen trees, waterfalls, and brooks. One of the most interesting features along the way to the Carbon River park entrance is an ancient trestle bridge, known as Fairfax or O’Farrell Bridge. It was built in 1921 and spans the river below at 250 feet. Only one car at a time is supposed to pass over it. And if you have ever parked at one of the bridge’s ends and walked on the bridge, you have felt how it wobbles when a car passes. I can’t say that I particularly enjoy standing up there, though the look into the gorge is breathtaking.
Farther down SR 165 you pass by a neat, rather newly built ranger station. It is usually open, and the rangers in there will let you know which hiking routes are accessible, where bridges have been washed out, or where you need snow hiking equipment.
And then you are finally at the same level as Carbon River, a clear to chalky-white wild rivulet in an amazingly wide rocky bed. The parking lot at the entrance is often well-filled, but on weekdays it’s quiet out there. And the air, a mix of January cold and humidity and rainforest fragrances, is simply wrapping you in. Take a deep breath. And another one. Already, you are feeling happy to have stepped outside your door and come out here.
You don’t even have to take a long walk. Nor a tedious one. There is that very pretty Carbon River Rain Forest Loop. It veers right off the parking lot and leads you into the rainforest. The ground is soft and springy. Way above you are the crowns of hemlocks, spruces, cedars, and firs. You will have to lay your head way back to spot the gray sky beyond. If you see it at all. And the light below is quite murky. Some of the trees have fallen and are now nursing nature with their rotting rind and upstretched roots.
The underbrush is thick and heavily lichened. Maybe, you will find some last colored leaf still clinging to a bush. Ferns are starting to peak through the dirt, their heads still rolled together, while some bigger ones are waving from afar. Mosses with little starshaped leaves build pillows at the foot of the tree stems.
There are wooden bridges that lead you across murmuring brooks and boggy stretches. The water is flowing slowly – it’s too cold to be a full babbling brook yet. And if you want to admire the yellow of skunk cabbage blossoms and watch for salamanders, you might want to come back later in the year.
Perhaps one of the bridges is taken out for whatever reason. Let’s walk back and start the loop from the other end towards the other side of the fallen bridge. It’s not far. It’s a smooth walk. Meanwhile you find that it is not as cold anymore as when you stepped outside first. And the air has refreshed you physically as well as elated your spirits.
January suddenly doesn’t feel as bleak anymore once you have risen from your favorite armchair by the fireplace, your sofa in front of the TV, your recliner by the window and stepped outside your comfort zone. You needn’t go as far as the Carbon River entrance of Mt. Rainier National Park either. Though, if you have a chance to do so … how about going?!