Skagit River Gorge North Cascades
Skagit River Gorge #53819
In my last post I covered a spring wildflower trip to the Methow Valley on the east slopes of the North Cascades. This time I will be talking about last week’s trip to the Skagit River Gorge and Diablo Lake, located in the Ross Lake National Recreation Area on the west side of the North Cascades. All of these areas are easily accessible via State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway.
As with the Methow Valley, the west side of the North Cascades offers great opportunities for spring photography, along with gorgeous lower elevation day-hikes, fishing, boating and general sightseeing. On this trip I concentrated on several areas where I needed some new photographs to add to my portfolio, mainly the Skagit River Gorge and the Hydro-electric dams of Seattle City Light. The Gorge itself between the town of Newhalem and the Diablo Dam is a fascinating area. Before the dams were built the Skagit River flowed full force through this narrow chasm, however the creation of the dams diverted the flow through a tunnel carved into the side of the mountains to facilitate the operation of the powerhouse in Newhalem. Except for the rare occasion of unusually high water levels the river channel contains a small flow of water with several still pools in spots. It’s these still pools that have some interesting photo possibilities, here the still water is a deep emerald green set amongst giant moss covered boulders and old growth forest. While the Gorge remains green throughout the year it’s especially magical in spring when the new leaf growth and ample rainfall intensifies the colors. Photographing here during the few weeks the colors are this saturated can be quite difficult however. Since this a narrow gorge providing access to more open areas to the east it is often quite windy, spoiling the tranquil affect. In a testament to the constant wind there are trees along the river totally lacking branches on their windward side. Another serious hazard when photographing along the river is the danger of spillways on the dam upstream opening without warning, causing the rushing water to flood the channel. There are ample warning signs along the road to remind visitors of the danger.
Diablo Dam #53786
There are three dams that make up the hydro project, Gorge, Diablo, and Ross. Diablo is the most accessible and photogenic, it provides vehicle access to the opposite side of the river where there are many hiking trails, and also access to the renowned North Cascades Environmental Learning Center. I find this dam photographically interesting for several reasons, after crossing the top you can make some excellent compositions which includes the dam and snowcapped peaks of the North Cascades. Also from this vantage point on certain rare occasions when the spillways are opened you can see the full force of the river cascading into the deep ravine below. One of my favorite aspects of this dam however is the placement of lamp posts, fashioned in an art deco like style, along the rim of the structure. Aside from making some interesting architectural compositions they create a wonderful mood at dusk when turned on, whether seen from the dam itself or further off from the overlook with Diablo lake in the foreground.
Several excellent hikes in the area provide relaxing outings and photo opportunties into valleys of beautiful old growth forests along rushing creeks. Some of my favorites are Stetattle Creek, Thunder Creek and the Big Beaver trail of Ross Lake. Thunder Creek trail is highly recommended as a day hike as far as McAllister Camp, from there it penetrates deep into the heart of North Cascades National Park to Park Creek Pass and beyond. Along the way there are old growth groves of giant Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir, and tantalizing glimpses of glacially fed Thunder Creek rushing through narrow chasms. In spring the displays of a wide variety of forest wildflowers is impressive.
All of the above makes for an excellent photo outing of one to several days and can help keep you occupied while the high eye watering country is still emerging from the winter snows.
To see more photos from this trip go to our Washington Archive or use the Search feature to find a specific subject or location. All of the images on this post and website are available as fine art prints and commercial licensing.