North Cascades

Westward Wanderlust Day 9

July 18th, 2012

Alta Lake State Park, WA

When you are sleeping in the back of a car, the warmth of the sun wakes you.   Untouchable bands of morning stretched light over our eyelids as we extended our limbs as far as the ceiling would allow.  We had slept hard and were anxious to get on the road.

We headed North on State Route 20 to Ross Lake National Recreation area.  North Cascades is the only National park that is comprised of three units: North Cascades, National Park, Ross Lake Recreation area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area.  It was 63 degrees when we reached the entrance.

Driving through the Cascades.

Our first hike was to the Gorge Overlook Trail.  The trail followed the edge of the gorge, providing us with various views of the cascading waterfalls of Gorge Creek and Skagit River Gorge.

Part of the trail included a metal walkway that was suspended high over the water rushing below.  I don’t have an issue with heights or water by themselves.  However, I experience a very uneasy feeling when I am walking up high, over water, on a bridge that I can look through…


Peering over the edge.

Photo by D.R.J.

Fog hovered above the densely overgrown forest as we continued through the park.

Like all of the parks we have encountered, the tiny details that exist below the branches and underbrush are just as interesting as the spectacular vistas of imposing mountains and endless trees.


Sneaky Garter Snake.


We hiked the Rock Shelter trail to a 1,400 year old hunting camp.  I was amazed at the abundance of fungi and lichens that covered the trees and soil around us.  Though only a taste of the old growth forests of the Pacific Northwest, the diversity of these unique life forms was remarkable.

Old-man’s-beard Lichen – Alectoria sarmentosa

Black Folios Lichen with Fruiting bodies

Black Folios Lichen with Fruiting bodies

Lungwort – Lobaria pulmonaria

The Rock Shelter Trail brought us to a 1,400 year old hunting camp offered to the N.P.S. by the Upper Skagit people.  The stone refuge is so marvelously camoflagued by the dense trees and determined moss, if it weren’t for the educational signage, we may have missed it.

The Rock Shelter

Educational Signage

Newhalem Creek

Witch’s Hat Mushroom -Hygrophorus conicus
Photo by D. R. J.

Good thing I only photograph mushrooms…

The hugeness of the tumbling landscape, sheer mountains, and thick forests, combined with the minuteness of the moss, mushrooms, lichen and flowers, was almost difficult to reconcile.  Everything is so vast, yet so close.  There is an intimate, enveloping feel to this place, like once you are within the bosom of the mountains, everything outside ceases to exist; or at least, feels very, very far away.

Flora fortitude.

White-crowned Sparrow – Zonotrichia leucophrys

As we continued through the park and poured over Mike’s trail recommendations, it became more and more apparent that to really experience North Cascades one needs more time to hike and camp.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to spend more than a day here, so we tried to make the most of the time we had.  This just means we’ll have to come back some day!

D. taking in the Lake Diablo Overlook

Harlequin Duck – Histrionicus histrionicus at Colonial Pass

Harlequin Ducks – Histrionicus histrionicus at Colonial Pass

D testing the limits as usual.

It was 80 degrees when we left Cascades.  Appropriately, we decide to listen to some Nirvana as we headed for Seattle.  Neither one of us had ever been there, so we figured, why not?

Well, I’ll tell you why not.  When you’ve spent the majority of the last 9 days in some of the most spectacular natural places in America, you’re first toe into the frothing pool of society should NOT be Seattle…especially around 5:00 pm.  We surged through a gauntlet of bumper to bumper freeway traffic, incorrect ramp choices, and a barrage of “One Ways” “No Rights Turns”, “No Left Turns”, for me to then direct D to another dubious ramp choice that brought us back on the freeway, two exits back from where we started.  It was a horn-honking, sharp-turning, wheel-gripping, map-crumpling mess.  Agh! Civilization!

Hungry, thirsty, and exasperated, we finally reached our chosen dinner destination,   Elysian Brewing Company.  We sampled a few IPA’s, including the Prometheus, Immortal, and Avatar Jasmine, and enjoyed a much anticipated dinner.  I had the special, yummy Crab Tacos, and D enjoyed a burger.

After hitting the local co-op for a few items, we were back on the road.  So far, Washington wins the award for “Most Vague Road Signs”.

Rocks.  Rocks?  Rocks!  Where?  On the road?  Falling?  What?  The non-specific forewarning of “Rocks” in the near future was also accompanied by repeated alarm of the possibility of  “Left Turns Ahead”.  Why do I need to be warned about this?  Is there not always a chance that someone in front of me could possibly be making a left turn?  What is it about this particular stretch of road that makes this prospect exceptionally risky?  As we were repeatedly presented with the occasion to make many left AND right turns, D and I could not make sense of frequency of this sign.  My other favorite was the sign depicting a semi-truck flanked by small arched lines denoting movement as it careens around a 90-degree corner.  Don’t speed around this incredibly sharp corner if you’re driving a semi.  Otherwise, pedal to the metal.  Got it.

Our amusement at the road signs may or may not have been signs of our loopiness at the time.  This day in my journal also mentions D’s account of the consequence of huge hippo-sized saltwater beavers as well as a new unit of measurement referencing Abraham Lincoln.

We reached Olympic National Park sometime in the wee morning hours. Too tired to pitch camp, we pulled in to a spot at Heart ‘o the Hills Campground and climbed in the back of the car. Our journey had brought us to an entirely new landscape, the Pacific Coast.  Tomorrow’s adventure would include not only mountains and forest, but ocean as well.

Westward Wanderlust Soundtrack, Day 9:

Pretty Lights

Nirvana In Utero

7 thoughts on “North Cascades

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