Majestic Mount Rainier: Finding My Park in the Archives

This year the National Park Service is celebrating its Centennial and encouraging Americans to “Find Your Park.” Even though I now reside on the opposite side of the country, I know my park will always be Mount Rainier National Park in Washington State.

Mount Rainier in the 1967 film "What is a Mountain?"
Mount Rainier in the 1967 film “What is a Mountain?”

Growing up outside Seattle, my family took advantage of summer weather to visit many of the national parks in the Pacific Northwest, but the one I most remember is Mount Rainier. Even in warm weather, we would find fields of snow near the lodge and visitor center at Paradise. From that vantage point, we used binoculars to search for Camp Muir, the overnight shelter used by mountain climbers attempting the summit. On our own less-strenuous hikes, we would look for the waterfalls that spring up during the summertime, fed by melting snow and glacial ice.

Today I work for the National Archives’ Motion Picture Preservation Lab in College Park, Md. We preserve and provide access to films created by the agencies of the Federal government, including the National Park Service. So far, one of my most exciting experiences has been inspecting and preserving two of the films produced to play at Mount Rainier’s Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center. These are the films I watched with my parents in a darkened theater on summer vacations.

Mount Rainier: Fire and Ice (1973) demonstrates the ways in which Mount Rainier is always changing. The massive glaciers grind away at rock as they crawl down the slopes. The film includes some amazing time-lapse photography of glacial motion, both close-up and from a distance. However, the film only hints at the fact that Mount Rainier is a live volcano that could erupt at any time.

What is a Mountain? (1967) covers the history of early European and American exploration of Mount Rainier. (There is relatively little information about the even longer history that indigenous groups had with the mountain, known as Tahoma.) The film includes numerous scenes highlighting the many plants and animals to be found in the Park.

Both of these films remind me that on my next trip to Washington State, I will need to pay the Mountain a visit.

Visit your own National Park during National Park Week. Admission to parks is free through April 24, 2016! For more information about free entrance days, click here.