After returning from Vancouver Island on the Sidney BC to Anacortes, WA ferry we decided to head east, and right there in town is state Highway 20, so we fueled and provisioned up, did laundry, and set out up the Skagit River Valley, catching occasional glimpses of Mount Baker covered with snow. Road signs warned of coastal elk herds, the farmers were growing hay, and a series of small towns lined the route. And many large trees. It was all coastal rainforest before the farmers got here, and 200 foot Douglas-fir trees still exist in small patches. We pulled into Rockport State Park and saw a few of them.
The Skagit River is a wonderful greenish-blue color with a hint of milkiness – ground up rock from the glaciers at its headwaters – and we pulled over to make coffee along its banks. There are three hydroelectric dams on the portion of the river above the coastal section where it starts to climb into the mountains – Seattle’s electricity is 90% hydroelectric thanks to the extensive Cascade system of dams begun in the 1920s, and we saw one old turbine house that reminded Sharon of home on the Niagara River.
Past the dams, we entered Cascades National Park, which is the steep and rugged part of the journey. Highway 20 is like the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park – they close it down in November and wait until snowplowing becomes something more than an exercise in futility around mid-April or so. My GPS steadfastly refused to plot a path through this section of highway – I guess it’s more afraid of cold weather than I am.
These are the Cascades, so they get the first shot at the humidity coming off the Pacific. Annual snowfall amounts are 700 inches in some areas, as compared to the drier, inland Glacier National Park mountains, which get “only” 175 inches or so. Take a look at the Washington DOT website’s map of avalanche areas through 5400 foot high Washington Pass and you’ll get the idea why travel through this area becomes difficult in winter. The slightly lower Rainy Pass just east of there is where we crossed the Pacific Crest trail. The other highways through the Cascades – Highway 2 and Interstate 90 – top out at 4061 and 3022 feet, respectively.
The mountains at the top are very steep and jagged- the Cascades are young mountains, and still retain their rough edges despite all the precipitation. You could easily see the change as we reached the crest and started descending into the rain shadowed eastern side of the mountains – the big trees disappeared and open areas of scrub and grassland became predominant. We started down the valley of the Methow River, through the touristy town of Winthrop, where I lost Sharon briefly in a clothing store and bookstore. I was anxious to keep moving because I wanted to camp on the banks of the Columbia River in a beautiful county park we had discovered many years ago when traveling by car, and wanted to go back and spend a while now that we have a Roadtrek. Sharon wanted to saunter along, and I knew the campsites were first come first serve.
I was worried for nothing – we came out onto the Columbia River, which runs south here, past some lava flows, and a few miles later we crossed the Beebe Bridge and there was the park on the left. It’s a county park, but like all green spaces here it’s irrigated and has a beautiful expanse of vigorously maintained grass. And there was still a campsite for us. Fifteen bucks a night after Labor Day for seniors – WITH hookups and showers. It looks like the national AARP convention here. The kids are back in school, and people who are old enough to know better are out playing, savoring the last warm days of the season. Maybe Sharon is right – I should slow down, worry less, and enjoy the journey more.