Day and night at Skagit project: Ride the ferry, visit old-time store, explore enchanting lighted trail.
Late summer is the perfect time for a drive through the stunning North Cascades National Park along State Route 20 (the North Cascades Highway). The little "company town" of Newhalem home to Seattle City Light's Skagit Hydroelectric Project, makes a refreshing stopping point along the way.
Plan to pick up snacks or supplies at the Skagit General Store. You'll recognize it when you see "Old Engine Number 6," a reminder of the historic Skagit River Railway. Trains were once the primary means of travel into the Upper Skagit area. Let the kids climb aboard this monument and ring the engine bell, just like in the old days. The General Store is listed on the National Registry of Historic places and offers ice-cold refreshment and fantastic homemade fudge. The store mails out fudge to locations worldwide as a tasty, unique gift.
While Newhalem is in the mountains, summer temperatures often soar into the 80s and 90s. The area offers some great ways to cool off. Park in Newhalem and stroll across the pedestrian suspension bridge over the Skagit River near Gorge Powerhouse. You'll enter the rock garden trail leading to Ladder Creek Falls. The trail makes a nice shady walk. Ladder Creek, a small stream that rises in a glacier on the shoulder of Pyramid Peak, tumbles down 4,000 feet in a series of waterfalls over granite cliffs and into granite pools. Climb the stairs, reach the top and look over the side. On a hot day the shade of the gardens and the cool mist off the Falls makes a natural air conditioner.
For a totally different experience, climb the Ladder Creek Falls Trail at night. After dark, the spray of the falls and the moss-covered boulders are illuminated in all the changing colors of the rainbow. The lights are on each evening from 8 p.m. to midnight, through September 30, 2002. The red lights shining on the water conjure up a vision of lava flowing in the darkness.
While certainly not like today's special effects or theme-park thrills, the red, white, green and blue lights still evoke lots of "oohs" and "ahhs." A 1938 tourist wrote in his diary that it was "a spectacle never to be forgotten." Bring a flashlight since the trail may be dark in certain places.
Ladder Creek Falls was first lit-up to charm visitors in the late 1920's. Back then, City Light Superintendent J.D. Ross started the tradition of Skagit Tours to show the power of the mighty Skagit River to Seattle residents who use its electricity.
A mini-hike on the Trail of the Cedars is another great way to cool off. Just a few steps from the Skagit General Store stands another pedestrian suspension bridge over the Skagit River. Follow the bridge into the cool shade of towering old growth cedars and Douglas fir trees. The Newhalem Powerhouse originally, built in 1921 as a temporary power supply for Skagit Camp still operates today to power to the town of Newhalem. Visit the powerhouse and either continue up to Rock Creek Shelter, which is a 1000-year archaeological hunting site of the Skagit tribe, or take the return loop trail back into town.
The loop trail takes about 45 minutes and is a leisurely stroll. The visit to Rock Creek Shelter adds an hour and half to twohours, depending on your pace. The Rock Creek Shelter trail travels up along a mild grade. It is also accessible from Newhalem Creek Campground.
Depending on the time of day, catch a scenic ride on the Fisherman's Ferry, a 20-minute trip across the turquoise-colored Diablo Lake. The ferry leaves Diablo's boat landing seven days a week at 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. At milepost 127 on State Route 20, turn onto Diablo Dam Road toward the Diablo boat landing. A one-way trip takes about 20 minutes and the fare is $5 for adults and $4 for children under 12. Although hikers entering the National Park Service backcountry and Ross Lake Resort customers are the primary users of the ferry, it also makes a refreshing short excursion. To contact Ross Lake Resort, call (206) 233-1974 or visit www.rosslakeresort.com.
The utility's tours of the Skagit Project are taking a leave of absence this year due to heightened security at the plant but City Light expects tours to resume next summer.
The Skagit General Store also offers information on other local nature walks and hikes in the area as well as souvenirs, snacks and refreshments. The store's summer hours are Mon.-Thurs. 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Fri.-7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Sat.-10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sun.-10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
For more information about the greater North Cascades area and suggestions for overnight lodging, visit www.marblemount.com or the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center www.nps.gov/noca.