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Finding Joy


Patterson Lake Reflection, Twisp, Washington State.

My family has had a good friend visiting from France. So rather than my often great far-flung adventures, I have been sticking closer to home and finding (and sharing) joy in the local beauty and wilderness here in Washington State.


While I’ve never taken the splendor of my home state for granted – Cascadia and the Salish Sea makes that impossible – it is refreshing to inhale fresh clean air off the water each day and partake of the resident mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails. Joy comes when you realize just how great the place you live can be.


“The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to. Rivers without salmon have lost the life source of the area.”

Timothy Egan

Diablo Lake, Route 20, North Cascades Highway.

Wanting to impress, we traveled up Washington’s Route 20, along the Skagit River and then across the forests, waterfalls, and valleys of North Cascades National Park. This climbing and hiking park contains over three hundred glaciers (more than any other US park outside Alaska) and makes up most of the 634,614 acres of the Stephen Mather Wilderness. It is the northern portion of the four hundred and forty-mile Cascades Loop Byway which takes you from sea to mountain and back again.

Blue Lake, North Cascades National Park.

We revisited some of our favorite fall hikes. Blue Lake sitting at over 6,000 feet, and amazing green Larch (deciduous conifers) and bright red huckleberry bushes that adorn the trail from the parking lot to the summit at the lake. This hike starts just before you pass Liberty Bell Mountain and the Early Winter Spires. Then we stopped further east across 5,477 foot Washington Pass, past the first stands of aspen on our journey, and hiked along the Cutthroat Lake trail (1,669 meters for our friend from Paris). My wife and I love these beautiful but relatively easy trails, but this year we were perhaps a few weeks early as the Larch had only just started turning to its fall vibrant yellow, and there was no snow on either trail.

Cutthroat Lake, North Cascades National Park.

Winding down west into the foothills of the North Cascade mountains, we spent a few idyllic days at a cabin in the Methow Valley, and evenings hiking along and photographing the Methow River with its headwaters in the remote Pasayten Wilderness. Flowing downstream, the Methow joins the Twisp and Chewuch Rivers before joining the Columbia and eventually turning back west on its journey to the Pacific. The small towns that we visited, Mazama, Twisp, and Winthrop, are all home to world class outdoor recreation, good food (the bakeries!!), and the arts. Besides hiking and a long-history of climbing and ski-mountaineering, the Methow valley is also a great destination for mountain biking, Nordic skiing, and fishing.

End of Day Along the Methow River, Washington State.

On our return trip back across the mountains, we were presented with some wild skies courtesy of local fires in the Cascades. No visible fire from Highway 20, but smoke, ash, and weird and strangely beautiful clouds and sun.

Clouds & Smoke. Headed west on the North Cascades Highway.

Magic is both in the mountains and in the water, so the following morning we took a leisurely ferry over to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Joy is experiencing both sea and mountains on the same day (or alternate days) and the relationship between the mountains and water is a special magic realized here in Cascadia.

Clouds & Smoke 2. North Cascades Highway.

Two days later, we drove further north along the iconic Mount Baker Scenic Highway (State Route 542). Our destination that morning - uphill on the Canyon Creek Road to Damfino Lakes and then a six-mile roundtrip to Excelsior Pass in the Mount Baker Wilderness, with endless views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and the Canadian border peaks. We just missed the peak of wildflower season in the high meadows along the trail – but (oh my!) the tiny mountain blueberries and huckleberries were amazing and delicious. Even my dog Willow was willing to take a break and eat them off the bush.

Evening in the Methow Valley. Washington State.

This morning, we were beat. Too much fun! So a slow morning, breakfast, and a short trip downtown to Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park on Whatcom Creek to watch Chinook salmon find their way up this cascade. Salmon and the Pacific Northwest go hand-in-hand, so this was a great way to show our friend something unique and special to Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Cascadia. If we were tired, it was nothing compared to how these salmon jump, surf, and fling themselves against the rocks as they return to the same river or stream to give birth to a new generation of salmon.

Patterson Lake. Twisp, Washington State.

Joy is home, friends and family, wilderness, salmon, dappled sunlight through the firs, and all the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.


Here in the corner attic of America, two hours’ drive from a rain forest, a desert, a foreign country, an empty island, a hidden fjord, a raging river, a glacier, and a volcano is a place where the inhabitants sense they can do no better, nor do they want to.

Timothy Egan


Endnotes:

· Cascadia is a unique coastal bioregion that defines the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. It incorporates all of or parts of southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Northern California.

· In researching this edition, I found that in 2019 North Cascades National Park signed a sister park arrangement with Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal. Formed by glaciers, both protected areas feature mountainous terrain and rich biodiversity. Both parks are also transboundary in nature, sharing international borders -- North Cascades with Canada and Peneda-Gerês with Spain. While you can find the park on many sites, I used the link above because it is in English and has some great photos.

· I have been lucky enough to hear Timothy Eagan speak a number of times. Tim is an author and journalist who was born in Seattle and is a weekly op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

· Is Washington’s Cascade Loop the Most Beautiful Road Trip in America? Outside Magazine, 2022.

· The Stephen Mather Wilderness honors Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. It is located within North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and Ross Lake National Recreation Area. It is surrounded by the Pasayten, Mount Baker, Noisy-Diobsud, Glacier Peak, and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness areas.

· As with all rivers and streams in the Pacific Northwest, salmon are in trouble. Historical salmon and steelhead returns in the Columbia River (and its tributaries, including the Methow) were estimated to be between 10-16 million fish. Current returns are around 1 million.

· As of last week, there were over ninety fires across seven western states. Thirteen in Washington, including the Bolt Creek, White River, Suiattle River, and the Chilliwack and NW Pasayten Complex Fires in the North Cascades.

· Chinook salmon are the largest species of Pacific salmon and are also known as king, tyee and blackmouth salmon. Chinook are the first salmon to travel through the Nooksack, Whatcom Creek and other local watersheds starting in September.



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