That too-quick trip I took up north –
the slow climb to the high peaks, the road’s
twists, slopes and curves, revealing ever-prettier views –
a zippy swoosh
down the east side of the mountain, then
dry, rolling hills,
burnt timber scattered over the valley.
So many discoveries – it was all over
I saw this – and more:
Most of the photos above are from Newhalem, a tiny company town built for hydroelectric projects that supply about a quarter of Seattle’s electricity. Three dams were built here on the fast-running Skagit River. One hundred and fifty miles long, the Skagit tumbles down from British Columbia, twenty-four miles to the north, through the mountains, past small towns and lowland farms and out to Puget Sound, where the river forms a rich, life-sustaining delta. Seattle is about 116 miles south and west of Newhalem; the road didn’t cut all the way through the North Cascades until 1972, when Washington’s most northerly route to the “east side” was finally created, tracing a path used for thousands of years for trade by indigenous people.
Newhalem is a clean, orderly little dot on the map, a stopping-off place where tourists traveling over the North Cascades Highway learn about the hydroelectric project and stroll the beautiful Trail of the Cedars. Last year fires raged in the area, as seen in the fifth photo above, but this year’s fire season has been better…so far.
Skies were glaring the morning we passed through so I selected the “Dramatic tone” filter in the camera, and a sepia one. In the end, no matter what you do, pictures don’t convey the bulk and size and benevolent majesty of the old cedars, without question, my favorite Pacific northwest tree.
Here’s the old Gorge powerhouse plant –
…where you can learn about the history of this extraordinary project, which involved some nervy railroading feats. In the photo below you can see two local women on the car with an assortment of men in charge and project laborers.
Back on the road, you’re soon in the heart of the scenic view territory, as one by one, shimmering turquoise blue lakes created by the three dams begin to distract you from the road. The only question is which overlook to stop at.
Waterfalls at the road’s edge are irresistible.
Imagine the flow of these waterfalls and the river in Spring! The highway opens in April or May each year, then closes in November or early December. It takes the crew four to six weeks to clear snow and get the road open each year, and… “Every spring, Tootsie Clark, the matriarch of Clark’s Skagit River Resort (near Marblemount), drives her Cadillac up to the west-side closure gate near Diablo, opens the trunk and serves cinnamon (Tootsie!) rolls and coffee to those waiting in line for the gate to open. It’s a tradition she has been carrying on since the 1970s.” (from the Washington State Dept of Transportation website. I think she is still around but I doubt she’s still driving!)
Forty-two miles down the road is Washington Pass, after which we would descend the mountains along the eastern slope to the Methow Valley. The Pass was our last stop in the mountains, and a fitting one. There is a profound charge to the atmosphere there. Walk away from the parking lot, wander over rocky, moss-strewn ledges, inhale the sweet air and look across to the high peaks. You’re rooted and lighter than air at the same time. Your whole being quiets.
By the time we dragged ourselves away from the pass it was 6 pm. Our destination, the little town of Winthrop down in the Methow Valley, was only a half hour away. Set in the beautiful, dry hills of central Washington, Winthrop is a Western town offering a main street with old, false-fronted wooden buildings and a sprinkling of lively restaurants with good food. The day satisfied!
(But sometimes WordPress does not. I have fixed the alignment over and over, and nothing I do will make the photos all align left or centered, so please forgive that some are on the left margin and others aren’t. Likewise with the uneven spaces between the photos).