Okanogan and Cascades

July 9 – Okanogan, I love saying it, at least after I learned how to pronounce it – emphasis on the nog. Beautiful Indian word and beautiful area in both Canada and US. Last night in Canada was at Okanogan Lake Provincial Park, first night in US in Okanogan National Forest, in Okanogan Co., WA. I’d never heard of it, stopped because its on the North Cascades Scenic Highway and I passed through a charming little town called Winthrop and decided this is where I wanted to stop. Checked in with the Forest Service to find campgrounds and went to one called Falls Creek just north of Winthrop. Tiny no frills campground on the Chewuch River, 5 campsites, I got a spot right on the River. I can’t imagine a spot so perfect. After 2 weeks in the Canadian Rockies trying to see ALL the things with cold and rain and snow, and 2 long driving days, and having to OPEN (it’s a pop-up folks) my camper at the border!!! I needed a rest day and what better place. There’s lots to see here too, but sitting by the river for a while was first, and often, and Xena sure loved it. Was rewarded with lots of visitors – a mamma common Merganzer with 2 littles (Zoom in and you can see she has long frizzy looking reddish plumes on her head). I’ve seen hooded Merganzers, even in my own pond, but not familiar with the common. Also another unidentifiable duck mom with littles. Spotted a number of yellow headed black birds too, another one I’ve never seen. Didn’t get a photo but look it up, very cute. I had the best access to the river so also has human visitors. There is a primitive camp area down the river a bit and there was a group of teens on a canoe week camp. The river got rocky just passed my beach so they beached at my spot. I’m sitting there and all of a sudden 8 canoes and 1 kayak landed! I loved it. Also next door was a dad and son (daughter was at the canoe camp), I invited them to get in the river at my spot. And then the grand finale – my last day there, just look at the photo!! I squealed with excitement!! All my travels out west and I think the only resident wildlife I hadn’t seen was a moose. WOW!!

The campground’s called Falls Creek because it’s very near a waterfalls so a convenient good first day hike. Next morning, I went into Winthrop early to beat the tourist rush and sit in the very wonderful coffee shop wifi to catch up with emails, bills, blog etc. Early it was all locals, very interesting folks, artists, nature lovers and political activists. Table next to mine was a group organizing some action I could overhear. Refreshingly inclusive. The town was restored years ago to an old west theme since it’s on the North Cascades Scenic Highway, to catch the tourist, but has flourished to more than that. I guess like a lot of our NC mountain towns and a lot of other places. Pictures don’t show it well but I’ll post a couple. I didn’t know ahead of time but this is where friends MAC and NAK came last year when they were in WA. They actually stayed in a little cabin here in Winthrop and explored the area. Small world, and lots of tips on what to see.

I stayed at Falls Creek for 4 days, and I wasn’t even planning 1 day!! One day I drove up the Falls Creek Rd to explore. It climbed and climbed, switch backs and cliff hanger road at times. Wonderful views of the mountains across and looking straight down my stomach flipped a few times. Views of the Falls from above from a few vantage points, but pretty far away and lots of trees so not such good pics. Pretty dramatic tho. Ventured up another gravel road that had 5 of these small campgrounds on it with interesting names I wanted to check out. Names like Buck Lake, Ruffed Grouse and Honeymoon. Just wonderful little rustic campgrounds in beautiful settings. Off of that road was another – 8 Mile Ridge that was really a cliff hanger, got really rough and rocky, actually ended (for me at least) where there had been a rock slide! That’s the most remote, steep, rock-rubble, scary, jeep-driving place I’ve been. Nope, don’t have a jeep.

We finally left that ideal spot and headed west into the North Cascades National Park. Went to some of the most exciting hikes and views, actually just east of the NP. Must see stops if you’re there – Washington Pass, Liberty Bell Mtn. & Early Winters Spires. Rainy Fall & Lake, Lake Annie, Blue Lake.

Blue Lake wasn’t as blue as Rainy (my fav), but the hike was the best. Go early, I tried twice when the parking lot was crammed full and lots of cars parked out on the highway. Came back early the next morning. Lots of huge rock/boulders and creeks to cross, great views.

and wildflowers, including the western pink heather

More fantastic views of majestic mountains of course

Next we moved farther west into the NP itself, very winding road with more mtn views. And then great overlook view of Ross Lake, Crater Peak, Glaciers and Diablo Lake, both these lakes created by dams on the Skagit River and fed by lots of creeks. Went into Colonial Creek area for some really nice hikes along the creeks. These lakes are huge, but just as blue as the smaller more remote lakes.

We camped at Newhalem, on the Skagit. By this point in Cascades, the trees are massive,  200′ high, 5’+ diameter, and very dense. I’ve never seen so much old growth forest. Lots of very old but still not decomposed Douglas Firs and Western Redcedars, dead on the ground for 100 yrs!! Getting very moist too, with huge chest high ferns, mosses covering everything, dead and alive. Newhalem has some great little hikes along the river in several places with great interpretive trails about the trees.

And the river runs through it all, to Xena’s delight.

All kinds of tree beauty that tell so many stories.  A giant redcedar that fell across the trail, what’s left of a so-called children’s cave. The 3 giant redcedars grew together and when alive formed a cave that children played in. In ’67, they lit a candle in the hollow center which set the trees on fire. The hollow center formed a chimney so the fire raced upward, the trees too tall for fire hoses, were felled to extinguish the fire. The charred stumps still there. Another charred Douglas Fir “snag” from 1922 forest fire! A fun “see-thru” Redcedar. Most mature Western Redcedars are rotten in the middle. A fungus causes the rot in the heartwood but a toxic substance in the sapwood resists it and keeps the outer tree alive since it feeds through the sapwood. We all know if you girdle a tree, it will die, but I didn’t really know it could live without the heart. 😦

On Tues, the 17th, we left the North Cascades and continued our journey west to catch the ferry and cross into Olympic National Park. Which is where we are now. Almost caught you up with us.  Next time.

Still loving the world of travel, in the dense, magical, old growth forests of WA,
Lynn and Xena


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