Sunday, July 16, 2023

North Cascades National Park


View over glaciated granite at the Washington Pass Overlook along Hwy. 20 in North Cascades National Park.

After spending the weekend with family in Seattle we made the relatively short drive to North Cascades National Park, said to be among the least visited of all the national parks. Maybe they like it that way. The only lodging within the park are the campgrounds, and they were already full when we started planning the trip back in May. We got a hotel as close as we could, which was about 30 miles east of the park, in the town of Winthrop. With all the driving we'd done to get there, and all the driving we still had in front of us, we did not want to tack on a lot of extra miles doing round-trips, so we mostly stuck to the east side (which, like the towns east of the Sierra Nevada, is in a rain shadow).

Luckily, even a superficial drive-through yields excellent views of the mountains and forests, and there are several places to get out of the car and poke around. Rolling thunder greeted us the first time we stopped to check out the Skagit River, and rain soon followed. The only hike we did was the next day, on a very short paved trail to Rainy Lake, where a few interesting wildflowers, like queen's cup (Clintonia uniflora), were still in bloom, as well as several patches of coral fungus. 

We enjoyed the busy tourist town of Winthrop and found the plant-based food at Three Fingered Jacks Saloon and the Jupiter Cafe to be well above expectations, except for the prices which were surprisingly reasonable. We might have seen even less of the park if we'd arrived later in the month, when the tiny town rocks to the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival.

I thought many of the tree-tops were dead until I realized the brown was the color of dense cones clustered at the tops of the spruce trees. In this view from the visitor center overlook, the distant mountains were completely obscured by clouds. Light rain with sprinkles of thunder gave the atmosphere a moody and beautiful Twin Peaks vibe.

Phone snap of maple leaves in the rain along the overlook trail.

The Twin Peaks vibe still held as we pulled into the Washington Pass Overlook, where we got our first look at this peak of the Early Winter Spires as soon as we got out of the car.

By the time we made the short walk out to the vista point, the rest of the spires had come out from behind the clouds.

After walking up and down Winthrop's boardwalks to look in the windows of the tourist shops, we caught the sunset from a pedestrian bridge over the Methow River just a short walk from our hotel.

The sky was clear the next morning when we drove back into the park.

A very short hike on a paved trail led us to this peaceful vista at Rainy Lake, where a tall waterfall cascaded down the cliffs at the opposite end.

The parking area at Rainy Lake was surrounded by deep woods and this sunny meadow.

Because I wasn't traveling alone I couldn't take all the time in the world to seek out nature's details within the vistas, so I felt lucky to have this swallowtail butterfly show up at one of our pull-outs.

The Early Winter Spires from Hwy. 20, the sole driving route through the park.

Panoramic vista from the Washington Pass Overlook.

Fireweed in a fire-scarred forest.

Google maps gave us the option of a route to our next destination (Olympic National Park) that avoided ferries, but added about 100 miles of driving and went east and south from Winthrop. It was tempting because we were unable to get a reservation for the ferry and would have to take our chances on stand-by. However, we had planned to return through the whole length of the national park, so we opted to take a chance on the ferries.

I'd seen these multitudes of roadside yarrow patches on the downhill to Winthrop, so I was ready to stop to photograph them on our way west the next morning.

The double-bunk log truck (used on winding roads) that we'd just passed a while back managed to pass us just as I was about to fold up the tripod and get back in the car. We saw many log trucks on our trip of course, and when they were traveling empty, the rear bunk would be folded onto the fifth-wheel plate on top of the front one. I wondered how they did that folding and finally saw the simple winch mechanism in operation later in Port Angeles.

Fireweed patch and forest along the Skagit River.

The skies had become overcast again by the time we reached the Diablo Lake Overlook. We had hoped to get a clear view of the mountains from the visitor center on our way out of the park, but it was not to be.

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