We had already had several very peaceful days on Samish Island. Part of that time was spent going through some old documents and items in the house, and some was spent exploring. As the weekend approached we wanted to get out and do some more extended trips. One of Laura’s former colleagues at Furman, Casper Wright, was now teaching in Washington State, and would be joining us for our explorations.
Casper Wright (no relation to Laura) grew up in South Carolina and did a two-year post-doc at Furman. She moved to Washington a couple of years ago to teach at the University of Washington at Bothel. We invited her up to spend a couple of days with us, so that we could show her some of our favorite places.
Thursday our adventure started with lunch. There was a little pub at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere on the flat farmlands between the islands and town. Appropriately enough, it’s known as simply The Corner Pub. We had passed by this dive for the past 30 years of coming up here, but had never stopped in. This time we decided to give it a shot.
It was a bar. There were several tables, but it was apparent that this was a local hangout, or, at least, had been.
The place had changed hands a couple of years ago, and was definitely leaning toward the upscale.
The three of us skipped the alcohol, and just ordered sandwiches. Laura and I got the lunch special, which was a prime rib French dip. It was fantastic. Casper got a burger.
In the corner was an old-style pinball machine. Pinball has always held an attraction for me over video arcade games because there is something physical in play. I love the mechanics of the game. I couldn’t resist. I had to play a couple of games.
We left the pub and headed on up through the former logging town of Sedro-Woolley. The name always amuses me. From there we connected with Highway 20 and the Cascade Loop. The road follows the Skagit River up into the Northern Cascades National Park.
Speaking of weird town names, the Cascade Loop passes through the town of Concrete. We diverted down the Main Street just so that Casper could say that she had driven through concrete.
Just east of Concrete the Baker River meets the Skagit River. We took a dirt side road down to the confluence. It was amazing to see such a clear difference between the rivers, and a demarcation where one stream met the other. The Baker is a clear aqua color, but the Skagit is a creamy blue from glacial siltation. I put my hand in the water, and it was as cold as it looks.
There are several spots we like to stop on our way up to the mountains. One pull-out in particular has a great view of the Cascades, as well as an interesting old farm and church across the road. Sadly, the barn has now collapsed, but the church is still there.
We continued on past the communities of Rockport and Marblemont on the Skagit. It looked like many of the resort businesses in these communities had died out, but some were still making a go of it. From Marblemont the road enters the North Cascades National Park and begins an ascent to the community of Newhalem. This small neighborhood was built to to support workers at the Skagit Lights Power Station.
Newhalem also marks the start of said power facilities along the Skagit. From here a series of dams provide power to the communities down below. From Newhalem up to the Gorge Lake Dam the Skagit is completely rerouted. It looked like the river bed was almost completely dry as we drove by, with most of the water being used for power generation.
Highway 20 takes on a much more mountainous feel, hugging tight passes and going through a couple of tunnels along the way. Soon we reach another of our favorite stops, the Gorge Lake Overlook. A well developed trail leads out to a point where one can view the namesake lake, dam, and a couple of the waterfalls along Gorge Creek.
A harrowing metal grate bridge crosses the Gorge Creek canyon, with equally harrowing pedestrian walkways on either side of the bridge. All three of us started across, but Laura’s vertigo got the better of her, so Casper and I continued. The views from the bridge are pretty spectacular. We walked down one side and returned on the other.
One thing we noticed was that the trees on the mountains seemed a bit thinner. It looked like there had been a fire or something since the last time we had been up this way. We didn’t see any scorch marks, but whatever had done the damage had affected all the trees – not just one species as a disease or pest might.
Highway 20 continues along Gorge Lake. We noticed that even the lake levels seemed low. At the upper end of the lake there were even a few rapids where the river entered. The road went up and over a ridge, then descended to Colonial Creek Campground.
Colonial Creek is another spot that holds memories for me. I remember coming here to fish with Laura’s dad, and we’ve brought her mom up here for many picnics. It’s also one of the places where I’ve been dying to launch a kayak. I searched online for a place to rent them up here, but…alas, no luck. On this day it was quite crowded. We just drove through without really stopping.
Our next stop was the Diable Lake Overlook, and our endpoint for this trip. The overlook has amazing views of the Cascades and the lake, which is a distinct shade of blue from glacial deposits. Of course, I took lots of photos, and these are probably the same views I’ve photographed multiple times. You just can’t help it.
This time there were kayaks braving the stiff wind and white caps on the lake. There was also one canoe kind of struggling along. Even with the white caps, I wished I was down there with them.
We drove back down from the overlook and reached Diablo Dam. There was a road across the dam that we had never taken before, so we decided to try it. The road led across the dam to another lake access. This was also the place to catch the boat ferry to Ross Lake Resort, further on up.
We drove back down without stopping. The afternoon was getting away from us, and we weren’t sure what the evening would hold. We did take one more detour, though. Just past Concrete we crossed the Skagit and took the old Cascades Highway back toward town. In my opinion, it’s more scenic, with better views of the river.
There was a stop in Burlington for supplies, then we headed out for dinner. We had decided on one of our favorite venues, Chuckanut Manor. We always try to have at least one meal while we’re here, but it doesn’t always work out. The place was crowded, but we were able to get seats out on the porch. From here we had incredible views of Samish Bay, Samish Island, and the sunset.
The food was just as good as I remember. I had the seafood pasta and she-crab soup. Casper had a burger, and Laura had crab cakes. The real stars, though were the desserts – a chocolate moose cake shared by Laura and Casper, and a blueberry pana cotta for me.
As we drove home the sun was setting over the Samish River, Samish Bay, and Lummi Island. We stopped at a couple of strategic locations to take photos.
A couple of kayakers were also out on the bay. It made for a perfect scene, but I must confess to some jealousy. I had visited several wonderful paddling venues, but have yet to put a blade in the water.
Back at home we enjoyed a glass of wine while watching the stars come out. There were a few more meteors, and we watched the constellations appear. So far, quite a good day.