On our second to last day in the North Cascades National Park (NOCA), we decided to check out the Newhalem Visitor Center and the surrounding area. The visitor center consists of an impressive building full of countless beautiful, interactive exhibits, and a series of trails. It is located across the Skagit River from the North Cascades Highway (State Route 20) near milepost 120 and the town of Newhalem.
When we first approached the visitor center, we were greeted by the friendly Masyih Ford, an interpretive ranger at NOCA, who eagerly showed us the difference between a black bear and grizzly bear skull. Masyih is quite knowledgeable about the North Cascades since he began working at NOCA several years ago through an internship with NPS. He will be graduating from Western Washington University this year and will definitely be pursuing his passion for the outdoors. He was also very interested in helping us brainstorm ideas for connecting urban youth to the great outdoors. His suggestions included providing food and transportation.
After speaking with Masyih, we decided to explore the interior of the visitor center. The natural light streaming through the large skylight at the center of the building highlighted the stunning photographs and paintings hung on every wall. We were quickly drawn into a room full of colorful, unique exhibits. In the center of the room was a cool, super-size slug that we all took turns sitting on. We were disappointed to learn that the slug did not move so our hopes and dreams of riding it around the park were quickly destroyed.
Classic photographs showed lumberjacks posing with huge trees, demonstrating the history of timber in the area. The park is now 93% designated wilderness, which means that logging is no longer allowed. Three hydroelectric dams in the park complex provide approximately 15% of the power for the city of Seattle. This means that the National Park Service works alongside Seattle City Light to manage the areas around the dams, making it an interesting case of resource management.
In the corner of the exhibit room was a fascinating section about the impact of natural disasters, especially forest fires. A lightning bolt lit up the area momentarily and then a screen showed a growing wildfire. It quickly took visitors through the succession of events that follow a wildfire, including the first-growth trees and the animals that live best in burn areas. The special effects of the exhibit were stimulating and exciting and it was wonderful to see tourists and Washingtonians (including our own Leila Mirhaydari) alike get engrossed by the visuals.
After exploring the exhibit we decided to let Sarah, who is quite an expert, take us on a tour of two lookouts that we simply could not miss. The first lookout was the Gorge Overlook at the bottom of Gorge Lake, where we were rewarded with an excellent view of a waterfall. The second lookout was of Diablo Lake in its entirety. From the railing, the turquoise Diablo Lake, surrounded by several luscious peaks, glistened in the sun. The water is such a gorgeous color because of silt washing out from under glaciers. The wind was strong but we took it in stride. We were thankful for a way to cool off on such a hot day.
– Sophie, SCA Intern