May 21, 2012

North American Alps

The weather forecast for the next few days in Washington State was lousy – rain, much colder temperatures and snow at higher elevations.  We’ve had amazing weather for more than a week, so we really shouldn’t complain.  We decided to begin our climb over the Cascade Range to outrun the worst of the predicted weather.  We really didn’t want to be caught in the snow as we crossed the mountains.

Before we headed east, we detoured through the small town of La Conner.  Known for its Rainbow Bridge, Victorian buildings and arts community, La Conner seemed to be a charming place and one to return to.  We drove through the downtown area and passed by some of the fields that had been carpeted with glorious tulips just last month.  The Skagit Valley is home to the largest commercial bulb industry outside of Holland, and it must be a sight to behold when the tulips are blooming.

Rainbow Bridge
Downtown La Conner
Great Victorian Architecture
The North Cascades Scenic Highway, one of the nation’s most spectacular mountain drives, was our route today.  The drive was magnificent, even though the mountains were mostly obscured by rain, fog and low-hanging clouds.  The North Cascades have long been known as the North American Alps, a fitting description for this rugged, wild and steep mountain range.  There are more glaciers here than anywhere outside Alaska.

Most of these mountains are included within North Cascades National Park.  The park is primarily wilderness, and the highway doesn’t actually go through the park.  In fact, it is almost impossible to drive to the park.  The main highway actually passes through the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which encompasses three beautiful lakes that were created when dams were constructed here before the national park was established in 1968.  I’m not even sure we touched the park, although we learned about it through the excellent interpretive exhibits at the Visitor Center.

The Picket Range Is Usually Visible from the Visitor Center
The Snow Never Melts on Some of the Peaks
Through the fog, we were able to catch glimpses of the rugged peaks, the Skagit River and oodles of rushing waterfalls.  Today’s weather didn’t lend itself to a hike, but we took advantage of the many viewpoints and admired Diablo Lake from above.

Skagit River
Waterfalls Were Flowing Freely
Diablo Lake
The Color of Diable Lake Is Beautiful
As we climbed higher in elevation, we once more encountered snowbanks along the sides of the road.  The highway is closed in the winter and had only reopened ten days ago.  We descended into a lovely valley on the dry side of the Cascade Range, and almost immediately, the rain began to lessen and the sun soon peeked out from behind the clouds. I think I like the dry side of the Cascades.

At the High Point on the Highway
Now, Where Do We Go?
(Most of the Viewpoints and Trailheads Are Still Snowbound)
A Wild and Rugged Part of the Country


  1. the photo from Diable Lake reminds me of the fjords in impressive! ..a little red wine for the rainy ferry ride? AG

    1. AG, I would love to visit the fjords of Norway. And no, there was no red wine on the ferry, but it has been my duty to sample some of the great Washington wines. Sarah

  2. The high point on the highway reminds me of the mountains in Colorado . Beautiful.

    1. There are a lot of similarities between the two mountain ranges. I agree that they are beautiful but I am a mountain girl! Sarah

  3. It does look like the Alps up there! It seems like you drove through all 4 seasons crossing that range. LV

    1. LV, I would also love to visit the Alps. I think we did hit all of the seasons on that drive. It was amazing. Sarah