June 19 - Into the American Alps

This morning, Tuesday June 19, we found a hole in the clouds, danced around a few rain showers, hooked up the toad, and headed into the mountains. The past few weeks have been much wetter than "normal" (whatever normal is...). In fact, the weather guy on TV said we had the full month of June's "normal" precipitation... the FULL months worth... by the 10th. And the rain continues.

The route today took us north on I-5 to Arlington where we caught WA-530 through Darrington and up to WA-20, which took us all the way to Newhalem. Once we got off the I-5 racetrack the drive was relaxed and agreeable... quite the contrast with the craziness of the big cities and three or four lanes of concrete full of traffic going 80 mph. We were ready for the change.

Other than knowing we have to cross the Cascade Mountain Range as we head east, I'm not very familiar with the lay-of-the-land in this part of Washington... and was a little surprised to find the elevation of Newhalem was only 500 feet. I thought we'd climbed more than that. The two passes we will traverse as we cross the top of the Cascades, just a few miles further up the road, are almost 5,000 feet. It appears we've got some serious climbing to do when we leave here on Thursday.

We first pulled into the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center RV parking lot so we could learn more about the place and see if we might fit in the campground just a short walk from the Visitor Center. The unusual thing about this NP is that the Visitor Center is not actually in the National Park, nor is the Campground, nor WA-20 itself. The National Park is divided into two units, north and south, split by WA-20 along with a significant buffer on either side of the highway. There is effectively no road access into the National Park at all... only hiking trails. It's wilderness... it's very steep and rugged country... and it's purpose for being is to preserve the wildness for future generations.

This is spectacular country. Some refer to it as the American Alps. These craggy mountains span the border between Washington (USA) and British Columbia (Canada). The Skagit River runs through Newhalem carrying rain and snowmelt from the peaks and surrounding high country... and this Spring the flow is strong. Back in the 40s and 50s, Seattle City Lights, the electric power utility for the City of Seattle, was able to gather support for a series of three dams to provide hydro-power for the city. The three dams are still operational and provide almost a quarter of the power consumed by Seattle-ites. The little village of Newhalem is a company town, populated entirely by employees working for the utility or the hydro project.

We found the Newhalem Creek Campground to our liking (lots of big trees, space, and few campers), and, perhaps more importantly, to the bus-house's liking (big paved sites, level, and no clearance issues getting the big old camper back to a site). So we snagged site 37, paid for two nights, and kicked back to enjoy a quiet evening.

Our campsite in Newhalem Creek Campground

Look closely... you might see a very relaxed bus-house driver.

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