Cascades Calling

A mini Trip into the North Cascades

31 July 2019

Without major plans to leave the state this summer, we settled on making the effort to see the national parks in our own backyard. It wasn’t difficult to pick the one we had never seen before –  even after living here for 40 years – The North Cascades National Park.

After a slow start packing the car and stopping to mail voter’s ballots and picking up some coffee to go, the traveler’s friend, we were on the open road traveling north. It was a lazy schedule, stopping and shopping and eating along the way. We’ve always enjoyed going north out of the city.

Our respite for the nights was an Econo Lodge in Mount Vernon. Nothing spectacular, but certainly adequate – a place to stay. As we got closer to the park, accommodations were rarer and more exclusive, so a stay in Mount Vernon seemed reasonable, even though we would have to head out very early each morning.  We watched some of the Democratic debate, and I got out my watercolors and passed the time by painting sunflowers.

Following the debates, we walked out into the local environs and stopped for a burger and BLT at a Burgermaster in the area. It was actually quite good.

In all the excitement to get going this morning, I found I forgot the book I was reading and planned to finish, and only brought the next book I intended to start. Well, nothing like the present. We made an early evening of it as we set the alarm for 6:00 a.m.

1 August 2019

The alarm did ring early – especially after a night in the worst hotel bed ever! However, that didn’t dampen our excitement to be headed for our cruise on Lake Diablo.

The morning was sunny and warm – even at 7:30. Our drive up into the mountains and toward the North Cascades park was beautiful. We made the requisite comfort stops along the way and checked in for our boat ride at 9:47 at the North Cascade Environmental Learning Center located beyond Newhalem.

About 50 of us (the geriatric crowd-all but one of us! And we the most junior of most of the seniors.) The boat ride was scheduled through Puget Power and was a lovely, lovely ride up the length of Lake Diablo to Ross Dam. The boat was small, but with plenty of room and large windows to accommodate sight seeing. We sat outside the cabin on the stern and watched the rugged mountains peek out and retreat as we sailed through the pristine beauty that is Lake Diablo.

The lake was a deep, yet mellow, teal green/jade green from glacial rock silts. It was like a story book picture – shockingly beautiful. We saw the dam up close that created Lake Diablo, then sailed up the length of the lake to the dam that created Ross Lake, still elevations above us. At Ross dam we had an unexpected surprise side trip. We were invited into the generator house and workings of Ross dam. It was pretty amazing. We all had to don hard hats and ear plugs, but the experience was not to be missed. Hydro electric energy in the making. I’d never felt so small and insignificant before as I did standing in the housing of this gargantuan power plant. The roar of the power alone (even with ear plugs) impeded even the smallest of thoughts.

After about two and a half hours on the lake, the boat took us back to the Learning Center and we were served a delicious lunch in the Learning Center dinning room, obviously built for just such occasions. The buffet table was filled with local produce and fresh made dishes that smelled and tasted wonderful after a long morning in uninhabited wilderness. Fresh salad greens, hot turkey pot pie; French onion soup; and a mound of fresh baked cookies filled the vacuum a morning of exploring on the water had created. Interestingly, not many of our fellow explorers were very friendly as many of them had come together in small groups and basically stayed in their small groups. Well, I guess we were a group of two, and we were happy to stay in our small group as well.

After lunch, we explored along the lake shore and walked some very short trails. It was extraordinarily peaceful as there were so few humans about. All we had to do was soak up the quiet and the beauty, and we enjoyed every minute and every sight. Along our walk back to where we had to park the car, we saw someone’s bumper sticker which read: “Humankind. Be both.” What an appropriate motto for a day such as today. After all this peaceful, wild beauty, we must be sure to take humanness and kindness with us back into the towns and cities where all this energy from the hydro electric plant flows.

On the way back down from the lake, we stopped at the North Cascades Park Visitor Center and checked out the hiking possibilities. We chose the River Loop and set out for the 1.8 mile hike along the Skagit River with our trusty hiking sticks from the Makah. The hike took us down to the shores of the Skagit River, laced with the teal/jade color of Lake Diablo. It was beautiful.

We made it back to the Visitor Center in time to see the last showing of the park film for the day. Somewhere along the hike, my Driver had lost his feathers from his Makah walking stick. This we did not know until we were leaving the Visitor Center well over an hour after our hike had ended. In an amazing stroke of grace, another hiker was entering the Visitor Center as we were exiting at 5:00 after seeing the film. She recognized us (with our sticks) and offered the lost feathers to their owner. She must have picked them up along the trail and carried them with her. It was a beautiful gesture of humankind. And, being both. We were grateful even for such a small kindness.

Back on the road shortly after 5:00, we drank all the water we had packed. About 6:10 we stopped in Sedro Wooley at Double Barrel BBQ for a sandwich and more water. While our wait for our meal was unusually long (50 minutes!) before we were served, the food was remarkably delicious. The plates were so large, we packed half of our meals to take with us, as well as the complimentary chocolate cake that was offered for having to wait so long for our food.

We rolled back into the car and found our way back to the Econo Lodge in Mount Vernon. Since we’d already walked over 14,000 steps during the day, we peeled off our shoes and socks and sat in front of the TV to watch CNN until sleep overcame us.

A final though for the day: Along the way we saw a woman wearing a T shirt which read:

“Let’s eat grandma.”

“Let’s eat, grandma.”

“Commas save lives.”

I had to laugh out loud. Hilarious!!


2 August 2019

Rain was predicted and rain obliged. We stayed close to civilization today and went exploring in and around La Conner. We walked the shops of this renowned artist’s haven; both of us loving the woodworking store where everything is handmade out of local woods.

We visited the Skagit County Museum and enjoyed some of the local history, as well as stories and artifacts from the not too distant past. Around 2:30 we walked down along the canal and found “The Waterfront Cafe” for some nourishment. It was fair, but filled us up, so we kept walking along the water through the town. About 3:30 the misting stopped and the sun broke out. We stopped at a few more shops and made our way back to the Econo Lodge to ready for tomorrow – another early day in the North Cascades.

3 August 2019

Another 6:00 a.m. rally call to be on the road by 7:30 to make it up into the mountains to Newhalem. It was another morning of unbelievable beauty with the morning fog laying in the lowlands as the sun rose in front of us. Today we had scheduled a tour of the Newhalem Hydro Electric Power Plant, which serves most of Seattle’s power. Again, this was a Puget Power tour and as Newhalem is a company town, everything was geared around Puget Power.

Our morning drive was beautiful. We took Highway 9 out of Concrete and followed the river out to the main road up into the mountains. Small farms and valleys spotted the landscape as the mountains guarded us on every side. After yesterday’s rain, morning fog hung in the valleys while the sun graced the mountain tops and dappled the trees. Sun sparkles on the river as we drove along were animated like sprites, beautifully lively and stunning.

We arrived in Newhalem and signed in for our tour of the power plant, then waited in the garden until the prescribed time. About 30 people gathered and we were given an introduction and safety warnings, then led along the river to the main power plant located on the Skagit River. Once again, we all were required to wear hard hats and earplugs. And, once again, like the tour of Ross Dam, the power plant was amazing – this one much larger and more involved than the last. We learned about the history, the mechanics, the worker’s responsibilities, and the extent of the power this plant provides. Once again, it was an exercise in feeling small. Very, very small. This picture shows one pipe that brings water from the river into the generator to create electricity – one mighty huge pipe!

Following our tour, we were led back along the river to a park with benches and tables and the park ranger met us with a wagon of ice chests carrying a picnic lunch. There was plenty of ice water; fried chicken; potato salad; pickles; apples; and cookies to satisfy any hungry explorer. The setting by the river was exquisitely pastoral; the gurgling of the river playing soothing music for our dinning pleasure.

That completed the end of our tour, but we were invited to stay as long as we wished. And, we wished to stay longer. We elected to go on a hike up river behind the powerhouse to the site of a waterfall and old gardens. While being a very steep hike, it was not difficult, with nicely maintained trails. It was lovely, and well worth the effort involved.

Feeling like we had adequately explored this one small area of the North Cascades National Park, we decided to make our way toward home.

There is nothing quite like finding the spots of beauty and restful quiet close to home. And, nothing quite like discovering how humankind has used the natural resources of an area to promote growth in cities farther away. It is difficult sometimes to see the comparability of both of these interests – pristine wilderness and populated habitation. Yet, somehow we have to find the balance for both of them to exist if humankind is going to prosper and advance. Strikingly, it seems the wilderness of the North Cascades has figured out the grace of that delicate balance. Here there is maintained wilderness and beauty. Here there is energy captured from nature to power our major cities without massive disruption or destruction. It is a graceful balance. And one we need to advocate for and foster for the future. Both for the future of our lands and the future of our lives. There is a powerful grace in balance.