NOTE – This post should have come out prior to the one about Coeur d’Alene…
Our plan for exploring this park was always to simply drive through it, stopping only at the Visitors Center located just off of WA 20 (the North Cascades Highway), the only paved road leading into the park complex. Turns out, we didn’t even go to the visitors center as it would have required a right hand turn onto a narrow road with a one lane bridge within view of that turn. I couldn’t see past that bridge so, not sure if there was enough space on the other side to turn our motorhome around, we bailed out. We found a spot on the side of the main road to park temporarily while Siobhan ran in to the general store there to inquire. She was able to obtain all the info we needed right there, leaving no need to attempt getting to the official Visitors Center.
There are some interesting facts about this park to share with you. Most notably, the series of dams on the Skagit River that now produce approximately 20% of the hydroelectric power for the city of Seattle. The Gorge Dam, started in 1921 and completed in 1924, was the first of the three primary dams in the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. (This dam was replaced in 1961 by the new Gorge High Dam.) The second dam of the project, called the Diablo Dam, was built five miles upstream, began in 1927 and was completed in 1930. At the time it was the highest dam in the world at 389′ and created Diablo Lake with its turquoise color which comes from the fine glacial sediment suspended in its water. The third dam, originally called the Ruby Dam and later renamed the Ross Dam, began in 1937 and was completed in 1953 at 540′.
North Cascades National Park was established on October 2, 1968 and encompasses 504,000 acres within Washington’s Cascade Range, reaching all the way to the Canadian border in British Columbia. Two other National Recreation Areas, Ross Lake and Lake Chelan, are part of this sprawling complex that is some of the most rugged and remote wilderness in the country. The area’s high peaks guard more than 300 glaciers in its deep valleys, the largest concentration of glaciers in the lower-48. You can imagine the tough terrain when considering the names given to these peaks by the early explorers: Mount Terror; Mount Despair; Mount Fury; Desolation Peak; Mount Challenger; Damnation Peak. Not so inviting, right?
We traveled west to east on WA 20 through this park. The “next gas stop is 74 miles from here” sign outside the filling station in the small town of Marblemount, WA on the western edge of the park let us know what we were in for next. Also, having read that a significant portion of the North Cascades Highway is closed during winter made us aware that this road was going to be a challenge.
Cautiously cruising along WA 20 in Our Way, we eventually arrived at the small western town of Winthrop, WA. Its got that old western atmosphere that we enjoyed for a few days before continuing our journey.