Monday, July 18, 2011

Return to Seattle - North Cascades National Park

Exactly after an year, we were back in Seattle for a weekend trip to North Cascades National Park. It felt more special this time with our family, my 2 year old nephew and 4 year niece joining us on their first hike/National park visit. Our plan was to take the Cascade loop scenic highway covering the nine regions, as much as we could.
Day 1 - Ross Lake Recreation Area:  
From between the Mount Baker- Snoqualmie National Forest, we drove on WA State Route 20 along the Skagit river(Region 7), the most scenic mountain drive in Washington. We stopped at Buffalo Run restaurant in Marblemount for lunch where we had to wait over an hour to get four burgers! After collecting maps at visitor center at Newhalem, we visited Gorge creek falls and Gorge dam. 
We took a small detour to North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and strolled along the Diablo dam on Skagit river. Once the world’s tallest dam, it has art deco design, still admired in the graceful arches and original lampposts and was very windy. Diablo lake overlook offered great views of Diablo Lake with its unique, intense turquoise hue attributed to the surrounding glaciers, Sourdough Mountain and other peaks. 
As we drove past the Ross lake overlooks, there were small waterfalls on one side and creek to the other side of the road. A short hike at Washington pass in Okanogan National Forest, highest point on the cascades hwy, provided breathtaking views of the Cascade Mountains. We spent the evening in the little downtown of Winthrop, had a great dinner and stayed there for the night.
Day 2 - Lake Chelan Recreation Area: 
It was a rushed morning as we had to get ready and drive to Chelan to catch the 8:30 ferry in Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in US(after Crater lake  and Lake Tahoe). The passenger ferry called “Lady of the Lake” was one of the three ways to Stehekin, a small wilderness-edge community in the north end of this 50-mile long lake (other options being float plane and hiking). The ride was 2.5 hours in “Lady Express”, making brief stops at point landing and Lucerne with splendid views of fjord-like lakeshore, waterfalls, and wildlife: mountain goats and dears.

Soon after reaching Stehekin, we took the bus to Rainbow falls. The guide explained us about the place and living there with a set of laminated pictures and the facts amazed us(population 95, no medical facilities!). The 312-foot falls drenched us and the bus got us back showing historic Buckner Orchard, one room schoolhouse and Stehekin pastry company. We had lunch at a picnic area near boat landing and kayaked to the other side of the lake to see petroglyphs on a rock face on Lake Chelan by ancient Native Americans. 
The Golden West visitor center, just up the hill from Stehekin Landing and the Crafts shop(the house that Jack built) were other attractions overlooking the beautiful lake amid towering glaciers. We took “Lady of the lake II” in our return, which allowed us to stay back and enjoy this quiet paced isolated valley longer. Also, this one had a better layout and came at a comfortable pace(4 hour long), so we enjoyed the views better. Sitting on the top deck in cold breeze with a hot cup of cocoa was a reason for delight! But, it was late to take the Cascade loop further as the kids were exhausted already. We stopped at the Rocky Reach dam in Wenatchee on the Columbia River with beautiful park arboretum and drove back to Seattle.


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