June 3, 2013 by Deb W. Trotter
We have all heard it said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression. But does that apply to National Parks? Or does it apply to the people visiting them? I’m not sure. Maybe both. But I’ve been to North Cascades National Park just once, in 1997, when our kids were still young, and I know that something didn’t quite click in the first impressions department!
The Visitor Center at Newhalem was engaging, with hands-on exhibits and several video presentations, and we took a pleasant walk out behind the VC to the beautiful, fast-flowing Skagit River. But then it got kind of weird. The road from the Visitor Center passed by three lakes of that lovely glacial blue color, but they were created by three dams built by Seattle Power and Light well before the establishment of the National Park in 1968. The area was rife with power poles, wires and substations, and there were even a couple of company towns. Hmmmm . . . there must be a better way to see what this Park has to offer. Tomorrow we’d get off the road and do some hiking.
The first hike we took, based on a recommendation at the Visitor Center, was quite strenuous for our crew, a 1500-foot climb in 2.5 miles up to Pyramid Lake. The day was hot and muggy. The shady forest of thick evergreens that hid the trail from the sun kept us cooler, but also foreclosed any views. We were eager to get up higher and see what we could see.
When we got to the lake, this is what we saw.
The only vista was of a ghostly Pyramid Peak in the distance, shimmering in the midday sun, but it was not photographable with the camera I had. And we felt like fresh meat for the clouds of bugs rising from the lake. We were disappointed. But at least in the end we had gotten a good workout.
The next day we hit the trail a little bit earlier for a one-mile hike in to Rainy Lake, recommended by a Ranger at the Visitor Center just that morning. Having learned our lesson the day before, we sprayed on the bug repellent and were glad we did. The trail through another lush forest was mostly level, so we quickly reached the lovely little lake, cupped in a small, waterfall-fed cirque.
Unfortunately, someone else had beaten us there!
The asphalt trail and lake overlook were being repaved that day (the Ranger who recommended this hike did or didn’t know that?), and we continually had to move aside on the trail to let workers push past with their carts carrying asphalt. Another disappointing hiking experience.
At least the 60’s-era motor court where we stayed for two nights had all the amenities the kids could wish for, including friendly resident felines, a hammock, a basketball hoop and plenty of open space in which to run around. Making it even better than home, the hot water in the kids’ unit was not working, so no baths were required!
Perhaps two days was not enough time to get a feel for the alpine paradise that is North Cascades National Park. But first impressions do last a long time.