USGS Logo Geological Survey 18th Annual Report (Part II)
Glaciers of Mount Rainier
Rocks of Mount Rainier


The magnificence of Mount Rainier and the wonderful beauty of the region immediately surrounding it have led to an earnest desire on the part of nearly all who are familiar with the Puget Sound country and are considerate of the future welfare of the State of Washington to have the mountain and its environs reserved in a state of nature as a national park.

Not only is the setting aside of the proposed park thought desirable on what may be considered aesthetic grounds—as the preservation of a tract of primitive forest from the inroads of lumbermen and from fires kindled through carelessness or with a ruthless desire to destroy may be termed—but students of forestry see clearly that to preserve the natural vegetation about Mount Rainier means a check on the floods in the river flowing from the mountain and a lessening of the danger from inundations in the thickly settled valleys heading to Puget Sound and Columbia River.

In 1893, by proclamation of President Cleveland, a rectangular tract of land, indicated on the map forming Pl. LXXXII, about 35 miles square, and including Mount Rainier in its western portion, was made a forest reserve. As may be seen from the map, more than half of this reserve lies east of the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Owing to a mistake due to the imperfection of the maps available, the western boundary of the reserve was made a north-south line passing only about 3-1/2 miles west of the summit of Mount Rainier, and thus leaving much of the western slope of the mountain, including some of its snow fields and glaciers, outside of the protected area. To correct this mistake, and also in order to secure more complete protection for the region about Mount Rainier, a bill was introduced in Congress on June 11, 1896 (H. R. No. 4058), for the purpose of creating a national park, to be known as the "Washington National Park" which should include an area about 25 miles square, of which the summit of Mount Rainier would be about the central point. The boundaries of this proposed park are also shown on Pl. LXXXII.

Owing to the precedence of other business, the bill referred to did not come up for action in 1896 but before the close of the last session of the Fifty-fourth Congress it was passed—too late, however, to receive the President's signature.


The movement toward making the region about Mount Rainier a national park has attracted much attention and received the hearty support of many persons, among whom are those best qualified to judge of the desirability of preventing the region referred to from passing into the ownership of individuals or corporations. In order to indicate to the reader the widespread interest that has been awakened in this project, and to present additional information concerning the region to be included in the proposed park, I can not do better than append here a memorial from committees appointed by several of the scientific societies of the United States, which was presented to the United States Senate by Senator Squire on July 16, 1894.1 This memorial reads as follows:

1Senate Mis. Doc. No. 247, Fifty-third Congress, second session.

To the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled:

At a meeting of the Geological Society of America, in Madison, Wis., August 15, 1893, a committee was appointed for the purpose of memorializing the Congress in relation to the establishment of a national park in the State of Washington to include Mount Rainier, often called Mount Tacoma. The committee consists of Dr. David T. Day, Mr. S. F. Emmons, and Mr. Bailey Willis.

At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Madison, Wis., August 21, 1893, a committee was appointed by that body for the same purpose as above mentioned, consisting of Maj. J. W. Powell, Prof. Joseph Le Conte, Prof. I. C. Russell, Mr. B. E. Fernow, and Dr. C. H. Merriam.

At a meeting of the National Geographic Society, held in Washington, D. C., on October 13, 1893, there was appointed a committee for the purpose above mentioned, consisting of Hon. Gardiner G. Hubbard, Hon. Watson C. Squire, Mr. John W. Thompson, Miss Mary F. Waite, and Miss Eliza R. Scidmore.

At a meeting of the Sierra Club, held in San Francisco December 30, 1893, a committee for the same purpose was appointed, composed of Mr. John Muir, President D. S. Jordon, Mr. R. M. Johnson, Mr. George B. Bayley, Mr. P. B. Van Trump.

At a meeting of the Appalachian Mountain Club, held in Boston April 11, 1894, a similar committee was appointed, consisting of Mr. John Ritchie, jr., Rev. E. C. Smith, Dr. Charles E. Fay.

The committees thus appointed were instructed by the several bodies to which they belong to cooperate in the preparation of a memorial to Congress, setting forth the substantial reasons for the establishment of such park.

Pursuant to their instructions, the committees present the following memorial to the Congress, and pray that such action may be taken by the honorable Senators and Representatives as will secure to the people of the United States the benefits of a national park which shall include the area mentioned above. In support of their prayer they beg to submit the following statement:

By proclamation of the President, in compliance with the statutes provided therefor, a Pacific Forest Reserve has been established in the State of Washington, the western portion of which is nearly coincident with the tract of land to be included in the national park for which your memorialists pray.

The western part of this reserve includes many features of unique interest and wonderful grandeur, which fit it peculiarly to be a national park, forever set aside for the pleasure and instruction of the people. The region is one of such exceptional rainfall and snowfall that the preservation of its forests is of unusual importance as a protection against floods in the lower valleys; but the scenic features, which mark it out for a national park, attract tourists, who set fire to the timber. This destruction goes on notwithstanding it is a forest reserve, and will continue until protection is afforded by adequate supervision of the area, whether as a reserve or park.


The reserve is traversed through the middle from north to south by the crest of the Cascade Range, which has an elevation varying from 5,300 to 6,800 feet. This is the divide between tributaries of Puget Sound, flowing west, and those of Yakima River, flowing east. Mount Rainier, the isolated volcanic peak, 14,400 feet high, stands 12 miles west of the divide, from which it is separated by a deep valley.

The eastern half of the reserve differs from the western in climate, in flora, and in fauna, in geographic and geologic features, and in aspects of scenery. The eastern slope of the Cascade Range within the reserve is a mountainous region, with summits rising to a general elevation of 6,500 to 7,600 feet above the sea. It is forest covered and presents many attractions to the tourist and hunter; but it is not peculiar among the mountain regions of America either for grandeur or interest, and it is not an essential part of the area to be set apart as a national park.

The western slope of the Cascades within the reserve is short and steep as compared with the eastern. Much of it is precipitous, particularly opposite Mount Rainier, where its bare walls would appear most grand were they not in the shadow of that overpowering peak. North and south of Rainier this slope is more gradual and densely wooded.

The western half of the Pacific reserve, that portion which it is proposed shall be made a national park, is characterized by Mount Rainier, whose summit is but 4 miles from the western boundary of the reserve and whose glaciers extend beyond its limits.

Mount Tacoma is not simply a volcanic cone, peculiar for its hugeness. It was formerly a vast volcanic dome, 30 miles in radius to the north, west, and south; but rivers have cut deep canyons, glaciers have carved ample amphitheaters back into the mass, and now many serrate ridges rising from a few hundred to 10,000 feet above the sea converge at that altitude to support the central pyramid, which towers more than 4,000 feet above its base.

This grand mountain is not, like Mount Blanc, merely the dominant peak of a chain of snow mountains; it is the only snow peak in view, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams being, like it, isolated and many miles distant. Rainier is majestic in its isolation, reaching 6,000 to 8,000 feet above its neighbors. It is superb in its boldness, rising from one canyon 11,000 feet in 7 miles. Not only is it the grandest mountain in this country, it is one of the grand mountains of the world, to be named with St. Elias, Fusiyama, and Ararat, and the most superb summits of the Alps. Eminent scientists of England and Germany, who, as members of the Alpine Club of Switzerland and travelers of wide experience, would naturally be conservative in their judgment, have borne witness to the majesty of the scenery about Rainier.

In 1883 Professor Zittel, a well-known German geologist, amid Prof. James Bryce, member of Parliament and author of the American Commonwealth, made a report on the scenery about Mount Rainier. Among other things, they said:

"The scenery of Mount Rainier is of rare and varied beauty. The peak itself is as noble a mountain as we have ever seen in its lines and structure. The glaciers which descend from its snow fields present all the characteristic features of those in the Alps, and though less extensive than the ice streams of the Mount Blanc or Monta Rosa groups are in their crevasses and serracs equally striking and equally worthy of close study. We have seen nothing more beautiful in Switzerland or Tyrol, in Norway or in the Pyrenees, than the Carbon River glaciers and the great Puyallup glaciers; indeed, the ice in the latter is unusually pure, and the crevasses unusually fine. The combination of ice scenery with woodland scenery of the grandest type is to be found nowhere in the Old World, unless it he in the Himalayas, and, so far as we know, nowhere else on the American Continent."

These eminent and experienced observers further say:

"We may perhaps be permitted to express a hope that the suggestion will at no distant date be made to Congress that Mount Rainier should, like the Yosemite Valley and the geyser region of the Upper Yellowstone, be reserved by the Federal Government and treated as a national park."

But Mount Tacoma is single not merely because it is superbly majestic; it is an arctic island in a temperate zone. In a bygone age an arctic climate prevailed over the Northwest, and glaciers covered the Cascade Range. Arctic animals and arctic plants then lived throughout the region. As the climate became milder amid glaciers melted, the creatures of the cold climate were limited in their geographic range to the districts of the shrinking glaciers. On the great peak the glaciers linger still. They give to it its greatest beauty. They are themselves magnificent, and with them survives a colony of arctic animals and plants which can not exist in the temperate climate of the less lofty mountains. These arctic forms are as effectually isolated as shipwrecked sailors on an island in mid-ocean. There is no refuge for them beyond their haunts on ice-bound cliffs. But even there the birds and animals are no longer safe from the keen sportsman, and the few survivors must soon be exterminated unless protected by the Government in a national park.


The area of the Pacific forest reserve includes valuable timber and important water supplies. It is said to contain coal, gold, and silver.

The timber on the western slope differs from that on the eastern in size and density of growth and in kinds of trees. The forests of Puget Sound are world-renowned for the magnitude and beauty of their hemlocks, cedars, and firs. Their timber constitutes one of the most important resources of the State. Nowhere are they more luxuriant than on the foothills west and north of Mount Rainier. But their value as timber is there subordinate to their value as regulators of floods. The Puyallup River, whose lower valley is a rich hop garden, is even now subject to floods during the rapid melting of the snow on Mount Rainier in the limited area above timber line. In the broader area below timber line, but above 3,000 feet in elevation, the depth of snow in the winter of 1893 was 9 to 15 feet. Protected by the dense canopy of the fir and hemlock trees this snow melts slowly and the river is high from March to June. But let the forest be once destroyed by fire or by lumbermen and the snows of each winter, melting in early spring, will annually overwhelm the Puyallup Valley and transform It into a gravelly waste. The same is true of White River and the Nisqually.

The forests of the eastern slope, tributary to the Yakima, are of even greater importance as water preservers. They constitute a great reservoir, holding back the precipitation of the wet season and allowing it to filter down when most needed by crops. In the Yakima Valley water gives to land its value, of flood waters and extensive distribution by canals is necessary. The forests being preserved to control the water, the natural storage basins should he improved and canals built. For these reasons it is most important that no part of the forest reserve should be sacrificed, even though the eastern half is not included in the national park.

The boundaries of the proposed national park have been so drawn as to exclude from its area all lands upon which coal, gold, or other valuable minerals are supposed to occur, and they conform to the purpose that the park shall include all features of peculiar scenic beauty without encroaching on the interests of miners or settlers.


None save those who can march and camp in the primeval forest can now visit Mount Rainier; but it is the wilderness, not the distance, that makes it difficult of approach. On the west the distance up the Nisqually River from the railroad at Yelm Prairie to the reserve is but 40 miles. Though heavily timbered, the valley of the Nisqually affords an easy route for a railroad. The Cowlitz Valley also offers a line of approach without difficulty by rail, it being about 50 miles from the railroad to the reserve.

On the northwest the railroad at Wilkeson is but 23 miles from the summit of Mount Rainier, and the glaciers can be reached by riding 25 miles through the great forest.

On the north the Cascade branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad crosses the range, only 13 miles in a direct line and 19 miles along the summit from the northern limit of the reserve.

On the east the city of North Yakima is but 62 miles from the summit of Mount Rainier.

The proposed park covers a mountain region which lies across the line of travel from east to west. The railroad winds northward; the travel down the Columbia River turns southward to avoid it. The great current of tourists which flows north and south through Portland, Tacoma, Seattle, Vancouver, and Alaska passes to the west within sight of Mount Rainier, and when the grand old mountain is obscured by clouds the travelers linger to see it, or, passing regretfully on their way, know that they have missed the finest view of their trip.

When a railroad is built up the Nisqually or Cowlitz Valley to the park and connection by stages is assured northward to the Cascade branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad and eastward to Yakima, the flood of travel will be diverted through the park.


The point which combines accessibility with surroundings of great beauty, and which is therefore most appropriate as a hotel site, is southeast of Mount Rainier, on one of the spurs of the Tootoosh Mountains, near the Cowlitz Valley. To open this region to travel it would be sufficient to establish the hotel and its connections down the Nisqually or Cowlitz Valley, together with trails to points of interest within the park. From the hotel a principal trail would extend north to the Emmons and White River glaciers, which would thus be easily accessible, and thence the railroad at Wilkeson could readily he reached on horseback over the old Northern Pacific trail. In the future, stage roads, or possibly a railroad, would be extended over the Cowlitz Pass to the eastern slope, North Yakima would be reached via the Tieton or Tannum Valley, and Tannum Lake would become a favorite resort.

But the highway which would challenge the world for its equal in grand scenery would extend from the Cowlitz Pass northward along the crest of the range to the Cascade branch. The distance is 50 miles, 31 in the park and 19 beyond it to the railroad. Within the reserve the summit is open and park-like. On the east is a sea of mountains on the west is a bold descent of 3,000 feet to the valleys of Cowlitz and White rivers, beyond which Tacoma rises in overpowering grandeur, 8,000 feet above the road and only 12 miles distant.


A committee of your memorialists has carefully examined the existing maps of the State of Washington with special reference to the position of this reserve, and finds that the boundaries of the reserve are farther east, in relation to Mount Rainier, than was supposed. The western boundary traverses the slope of Mount Rainier at altitudes of 7,000 to 9,000 feet, and the glaciers extend several miles beyond it. In order to include all of the glacial area and the immediately adjacent forest on the west, your memorialists respectfully recommend that the western boundary of the park be drawn one range west of that of the reserve, viz, at the range line between ranges 6 and 7 east of the Willamette meridian. By this change no part of the Wilkeson-Carbonado coal field would be included in the park.

Your memorialists find, as already stated, that it is not necessary to include the eastern slope of the Cascades in the park, and furthermore that it is desirable to leave the Natchez Pass on the north and the Cowlitz Pass on the south open for the construnction of railroads. Your memorialists therefore pray that the park be defined by the following boundaries: Beginning at the northwest corner of sec. 19, T. 18 N., R. 7 E. of the Willamette meridian; thence south 24 miles more or less to the south west corner of sec. 18, T. 14 N., R. 7 E.; thence east 27 miles more or less to the summit of the Cascade Range; thence in a northerly direction to a point east of the place of beginning, and thence west 26 miles more or less to the place of beginning.

Your memorialists respectfully represent that—

Railroad lines have been surveyed and after the establishment of a national park would soon be built to its boundaries. The concessions for a hotel, stopping places, and stage routes could be leased and the proceeds devoted to the maintenance of the park. The policing of the park could be performed from the barracks at Vancouver by details of soldiers, who would thus be given useful and healthful employment from May to October.

The establishment of a hotel would afford opportunity for a weather station, which in view of the controlling influence exerted by Mount Rainier on the moisture-laden winds from the Pacific, would be important in relation to local weather predictions.

Your memorialists further represent that this region of marvelous beauty is even now being seriously marred by careless camping parties. Its valuable forests and rare animals are being injured and will certainly lie destroyed unless the forest reserve be policed during the camping seasons. But efficient protection of the undeveloped wilderness is extraordinarily difficult and in this case practically impossible.

Therefore, for the preservation of the property of the United States, for the protection from floods of the people of Washington in the Yakima, Cowlitz, Nisqually, Puyallup, and White River valleys, and for the pleasure and education of the nation, your memorialists pray that the area above described be declared a national park forever.

For the National Geographic Society:
For the American Association for the Advancement of Science:
For the Geological Society of America:
For the Sierra Club:
For the Appalachian Mountain Club:
WASHINGTON, D. C., June 27, 1894.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006