Two More National Parks in Washington

Well here we are again… in an NPS campground with no Internet connectivity and no Verizon signal.  I’ve grown accustomed to this situation now as we’ve encountered it before, but it sure is frustrating, especially when I am trying to catch up on the posts from our travels!  In order to get this posted, I will be driving seven miles down the road to what is known locally as “the phone booth” – it’s the place nearest to us where we can pick up a Verizon signal and use our hotspot to get online.  Ah, the “joys” of traveling in remote places…!

In an effort to get us caught up, I’m going to commit a mortal sin and include two national parks in one post.  Both of these parks are in Washington state, and they’re both known for fire and ice — volcanic mountains and glaciers — so that’s my justification for lumping them together.  Besides, Fred has photos from both places that he’s sharing so you’ll surely get the gist of both parks from his photos.

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier NP

The showpiece of this park is obviously Mount Rainier.  Towering at 14,410 feet, this mountain is a monster easily visible from western Washington.  Mount Rainier is an active volcano overlaid by snowfields and glaciers, as nearly every photo of the park depicts.  Our favorite conservationist / naturalist, John Muir, said of this place in 1906, “Of all the fire-mountains, which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest in form.”

Jule, Bob, Fred & me -- getting better with the selfie stick

Jule, Bob, Fred & me — getting better with the selfie stick

We stayed six days/nights in a campground just outside the park, and during our stay we had day-visitors, Bob & Julie B., with whom Fred worked back in the 1990s while at Arthur Andersen in Chicago. Now living in Seattle, they drove down to the park, met Charley, had a picnic lunch with us, and we all enjoyed a nice afternoon hike together. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, meeting up with friends like this is one of the greatest joys of our life on the road!

North Cascades NP

We enjoyed some more hiking in the park, including making an early morning drive some two hours over to the far northeast side of the park to get to an area in the park called Sunrise.  We hiked nearly eight miles as we made our way out to a very cool fire lookout tower, around some trails next to nearly-dried-out lakes; up and down and up and down and back around to the visitor center, all the while having Mount Rainier and some of her 20-some beautiful glaciers as our backdrop.  We were excited to learn that we were supposed to be here during peak wildflower season, but due to the drought and other out-of-whack seasonal forces this year, they bloomed much earlier and we weren’t left with much color.  Oh well… it’s clear why the nearby population chooses to visit Mount Rainier National Park frequently, and we would be frequent visitors, too, if we lived out here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest! 

This park deserves more attention than I’m going to give it, but unfortunately, due to the fires raging out of control in this area of the country, we didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked.  We were actually en route to North Cascades following our visit to Mount Rainier when we got a call from the National Park Service regretting to inform us that they were cancelling our reservation in the NPS campground due to fires burning within the park.  We chose to drive on up to the park anyway and found a campground with room just outside the park.

North Cascades National Park

There are actually three units to this park: North Cascades National Park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. Just one road traverses the park and it was, unfortunately, this road that was closed. With that, so, too, was the North Cascades Visitor Center and the little village of Newhalem where we were to have stayed. Fortunately, in the little town of Marblemount just west of the park [where we found an available spot to camp] there was an NPS Wilderness Information Center.

Road closed due to fires
Shortly into the park we were met with smoke & road closures

Normally these are much smaller than full-blown visitor centers; people usually use these lesser-crowded centers to get their backcountry permits and register their hiking routes, but fortunately this one had a passport stamp so we could officially record our visit to North Cascades NP in our passport books.

Map of park road and trail closures
Map of active fires & road closures

Since we couldn’t cross through the park to get to the east side, we had to dramatically change our approach to visiting North Cascades.  We did find a section of the park that was south of the active fires and we were able to hike in this area of the park.  We also dipped our toes in the water — literally in the Skagit River — so we were officially in the Ross Lake NRA, as well.

While not the experience we had expected in North Cascades National Park, we did visit for three days and especially enjoyed our hike up to Cascade Pass.  It was here that we met a Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) thru-hiker, Chris, with whom we hiked back down to the trailhead, then gave a ride to the nearby town.  Fire-related trail closures kept him from hiking through a 15-mile section of the trail so he was having to re-route his journey, as well, and was going to hitchhike from where we dropped him off to a town a little further south where he would continue his hike.

While the closures kept us from getting through to the east side, down through the little towns Twisp and Winthrop, and down into the Lake Chelan area, this minor inconvenience during our visit to North Cascades was nowhere near the tragedy that was happening in real time around us.  It was outside the town of Twisp that these wicked fires overtook and tragically killed three National Forest Service firemen the night before we arrived.  The locals knew these men and the sense of loss was all around.  This sadness shrouds our memories from our visit here, but also reminds us all to be thankful for all those who put themselves in harms way while doing their jobs to keep us safe.

On a happier note, and as it’s “Throwback Thursday,” I’m going to share a couple of photos from a long time ago — 1978, I’m pretty sure — when my family visited this national park with a few families and some of the youth group from our church.  Among many fond memories I have of this trip, I also remember a long (nearly 2,000 miles!) bus ride that took us straight through from Neenah, Wisconsin, to Lake Chelan where we all enjoyed a week of cabin camping and hiking in the Washington wilderness.  Ah… family vacations and the oft-awkward photos that went along with them!