North Cascades

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We will need an early start tomorrow when we drive back to Seattle for our flight to Denver but there was no need to rush this morning. It was approaching  8:00 when we walked down the hall for breakfast. We had raisin bran with yoghurt and coffee but could have added waffles, egg and bacon, or toast had we felt the need.

My reason for coming to Arlington was to access to the North Cascades National Park, which was about 120 km north east, and still have a reasonably short drive to the airport tomorrow. I could have found accommodation closer to the park but that would have required an earlier start on Saturday. Arlington seemed a good compromise.

Majella had heard heavy rain through the night and it was still drizzling this morning but that did not deter us. We set off around 8:30, driving east, north and then east again on good roads through mostly rural areas. We passed a few small towns and some trucks hauling logs or milled timber but traffic was mostly light so we made good time with Majella driving through steady but mostly light rain. We looked in vain for coffee at Rockport but found some at Cascadian Farm a little before we reached Marblemount. As we passed through Marblemount we noted Buffalo Run restaurant claiming an international reputation and thought we might explore that later.

We reached the North Cascades visitor centre around 10:15 and wandered in to see what advice we might find. There was a map with walks marked and some looked short enough to be manageable in the light rain that was still falling. Soon after we entered the visitor centre one of the rangers announced a short presentation about glaciers at 10:30 so we sat and waited for that.

A young female ranger, Montana, gave the presentation, which was more of a chat since there were just the two us and a long man from Texas in her audience. Unlike some recent guides she did not give her life story but did provide some of her work history in various parks. We were surprised to learn that the park has more than 300 glaciers, many of which we assume are small but qualify for having formed from compacted snow and remaining unmelted from year to year. Her presentation included information about glaciers in general with some demonstrations as well as some specifics about the park. She suggested a couple of places that we might visit that would not require much walking in the rain.

Before leaving the visitor centre we took the boardwalk to the nearby view point but missed much of the view because of the low cloud hanging over the mountains. Despite driving a loop, we never did find the ‘know a tree’ walk by the Skagit River near the entrance to that section of the park. We drove to nearby Newhalem which had its heyday during construction of the hydroelectric scheme with 3 dams and generating stations. There we walked on a suspension bridge across the Skagit River and walked around the cedar trail which threads through a section of forest that is still regenerating after a fire in 1922. It has a lot of large trees, mostly Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir with some hemlock, maple and other varieties.

A little further up the road we parked and crossed the river again to visit the gardens and Ladder Falls near the Gorge power station. The falls were impressive but the gardens even more so for their historic interest. The engineer who developed the power project was determined to promote the benefits and wonders of electricity and had the gardens and falls wired for electric lighting and even heating to support cultivation of tropical plants. The heating has probably gone but there are remnants of the lamps hanging from trees and the falls are still lit with colours at night but now with energy efficient LEDs rather than the original 1000 watt incandescent lamps. Our walk in the gardens ended in the still working generator plant.

We drove further up the road, as far as Ross lake behind the third dam built for the project, passing Diablo lake on the way. It was interesting to learn that the dams had been positioned far enough up river to be above a natural salmon barrier in a narrow gorge so that the annual salmon migration was not adversely affected by the dams. Even on a dull day, as Montana had explained, the lakes were coloured turquoise by the glacial flour, finely ground rock. By that time the clouds had begun to lift a little and we could see patches of white, snow or ice, on some of the surrounding mountains.

By the time we reached our turnaround point it was 1:30 pm and we were feeling hungry after our light breakfast. We headed back down, hoping to find lunch at Buffalo Run. A little while after we turned Majella noticed cars coming toward us flashing their lights. We soon found the reason when we reached a group of vehicles with stop/go signs controlling traffic. There was a white SUV upturned in the ditch beside the road. It looked as though it might be the result of trying to take the corner too fast. Further on we passed a couple of ranger vehicles with flashing lights, two ambulances, and a fire truck rushing to the scene.

It was after 2:00 pm when we arrived at Buffalo Run but they were still open for lunch. We had elk burgers with salad and fries. The elk patties did not taste greatly different from beef but we later saw several signs warning about elk crossing the road so they were probably the genuine article. On the way out we met the owner who runs a nearby buffalo ranch which lends its name to the restaurant and some of its product to the menu.

As we drove by in the morning we had noted Glacier Peak Winery between Rockport and Marblemount. We stopped there and tasted a series of wines on the way back. They had a range that included several grape varieties that we had not heard of from France, Germany, and Hungary. I was intrigued by the 2015 Syrah which tasted of smoke because the grapes that year had absorbed smoke from forest fires. Majella did not like it but I found it interesting and pleasant drinking. We bought a bottle of Malbec to take with us.

On the way home we could not resist the temptation to drive past Rockport and on to the town of Concrete, named for the material used to reconstruct much of it after a fire early last century. We had to have photos for Warwick who has had such a long association with concrete.

That diversion sent us further west and down the I-5 on our way back to Arlington. As we went the weather cleared a little more and, by the time we were back, we could see mountains east of Arlington that had not been visible yesterday or this morning. On the way back into town Majella spotted a Jo-Ann store so we had to stop and shop for sewing accessories.

Dinner was again next door at Buzz Inn. After a substantial lunch we were not very hungry. Majella had chicken salad with a blue cocktail and I had pork tacos with a glass of wine. Then it was off to rest and prepare for tomorrow. There is not much of Majella’s extra long birthday left to celebrate.