Friday, August 31, 2018

Dams of the Skagit River Hydoelectric Project

Posted from near Chimacum, WA

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Dams Along the Skagit River

On the last day of our stay in Concrete, WA we decided to hike several of the trails to view the dams along the Skagit River which make up the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. There are three major dams on the Skagit River which are controlled by Seattle City Light.

In 2012, hydro-electric dams provided 89.8% of the power for Seattle. The Skagit River Project makes up 20% of the entire electricity generated by Seattle City Light Company.

There are three major dams on the Skagit River. The first dam, the original Gorge Dam was only nine feet tall and was constructed of stone and rocks. This first dam was completed in 1921. It was located just north of the unincorporated town of Newhalem. There are no signs to mark the original dam today, but it was located below the Gorge Dam which was completed in 1961.

The existing Gorge Dam is 300 feet tall and 670 feet wide. A short hike along the Gorge Dam Trail allows folks to view the dam from above.

The next dam to be built was the Diablo Dam and was completed in 1930. At the time, it was the tallest dam in the world at 389 feet. With all of the strict security at most dams, we were surprised to find that anyone could walk or drive across the dam without any security checks.

Here's a view after driving across and looking at the outflow side of the dam.

Lake Diablo is formed by the dam. The left side of this picture shows a tourist boat landing where visitors can take tours of the lake.

The final dam on the Skagit River is today named Ross Dam after the longtime superintendant of Seattle City Light J.D. Ross. The project originally began in 1937 as Ruby Dam.

Ross Dam was to be constructed in 3 phases. The first was completed in 1940, while the two remaining phases and powerhouses were not finished until 1953.

The final height of the dam was built to 540 feet.

There is a short hiking trail which leads from the trailhead along Rt20 down to the dam. Again, you can walk across this dam, as well. Here's Karen standing on a bridge near a very nice waterfall as we hiked down to the dam.

Near the end of the hike, you can divert toward the ferry if you'd like to stay at the Ross Lake Resort. The only way to reach the resort is via water.

The last dam we visited was not on the Skagit River, but was located just about one mile north of Concrete, WA and forms Lake Shannon. There are actually two dams in this area, but we only had time to visit the Lower Baker Dam.

It was completed in 1925 and is operated by Puget Sound Energy. The purpose of the dam is both hydro-electric production and flood control.

The dam is 285 feet in height and 550 feet in width. Unlike some of the previous dams, no driving or walking across the dam is permitted.

Well, that's about all of the dams in this area. We enjoyed our stay in the Concrete area which allowed us to visit Mount Baker, Newhalem, and hike just a few of the trails in the North Cascades. There are certainly plenty of things to do on a return visit.

We'll be moving along to the Anacortes, WA area next.

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Concrete, Dams, and a "Dam Good Chicken Dinner"

Posted from Chimacum, WA

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The town of Concrete, WA
Skagit Tour of Newhalem, WA

The closest town to our Thousand Trails Grandy Creek Campground is Concrete, WA. Concrete is located about 6 miles east of us along The Cascade Highway (Rt. 20). The land area now known as Concrete has undergone several name changes throughout the years. The earliest settlers arrived in 1890 and a small town was established and named Baker. In 1905 a settlement across the Baker River was established by the Washington Portland Cement Company.

In 1908 the Washington Portland Cement Company constructed a silo. The two groups got together and the name of "Concrete" was decided upon. The town was officially incorporated in 1909. The letters "Welcome to Concrete" were painted on the silo in 1992 during the filming of This Boy's Life.

As is always important to learning about the history of an area, we visited the Concrete Heritage Museum. Although the outside of the building is somewhat unassuming, the inside was actually very well done.

As there was absolutely no one else visiting the museum while we were there, we received a one-on-one tour by the very nice docent. She took us "area by area" explaining the different phases in Concrete's history. In the early days, logging was very important to most areas in this part of the state.

For those interested in a wonderful walking tour guide of the town please click on this link. A brief history of the area is included in the guide.

To be honest, we didn't walk the entire town, but we did head over to the Henry Thompson Bridge. This bridge crosses the Baker River and was constructed between 1916 and 1918. The bridge was named after the Skagit County Commissioner who promoted its' construction. Unfortunately, Mr. Thompson was killed by a logging train in 1918 before the bridge was finished.

One source we saw stated that the bridge was the longest single-span reinforced concrete bridge in the world at that time.

Further east along the Cascades Highway is an interesting little place called Newhalem. Newhalem is truly a company town owned by Seattle City Light. Only employees of this company and surrounding local and federal government employees live here. Newhalem's earliest settlers logged the area, but in the early 1900s Seattle City Light harnessed the power of the Skagit River by creating several dams in the area. This unincorporated town was home to the workers and their families.

We decided to take an evening tour of Newhalem. The tour was promoted as a "Dam Good Chicken Dinner and Ladder Creek Falls By Night". Although the tour is run by Skagit Tours, the National Park Service also is jointly involved with the presentation. The Chicken Dinner is $19 per adult and was excellent. The dinner precedes the slideshow and walking tour of the area. The dinner is prepared in the same manner, and served in the same reconstructed hall, used many years prior to serve the dam workers daily.

Here's Ranger Todd giving us an insight into the history of the early lives of people who lived and worked in this area.

Seattle City Light was led by J.D. Ross from 1911-1939. Ross was the driving force behind the creation of the Skagit Hydroelectric Project. A dam and lake are named in his honor. His desire to show the possibilities of the new technology known as "electricity" was evident when Skagit Tours was created to bring masses of people from the city to the Upper Skagit River area. Ranger Todd told us that you could stay overnight in Newhalem, tour the facility, eat the "Dam Good Chicken Dinner, go for a boat ride tour of the dam project, and even have your car washed for a total of $4. Now that's promotion!

One of the first powerhouses created was the Gorge Powerhouse. The primary function of this was to power the area of Newhalem to provide electricity for the workers and their families while they created the dams and infrastructure on the river.

J.D. Ross went so far as to create gardens behind the powerhouse and to illuminate the waters of Ladder Creek which flows behind the powerhouse. The illumination must have seemed pretty spectacular to visitors in the early days who were not yet accustomed to electricity on a regular basis.

On a separate day we returned to Newhalem to hike a short trail named Trail of the Cedars. The trailhead begins by crossing a suspension bridge across the Skagit River.

Evidence of the 2015 fire near Newhalem was still clearly visible on the hillside to the north of Newhalem.

The trail was flat and wound thru the old growth trees of the area. Here's Karen standing in front of a western red cedar tree.

The abundance of moisture and generally shady conditions create a perfect environment for ferns and moss.

I was going to detail our hikes and pictures of the area dams, but realized that this blog post is getting a bit on the lengthy side. The dams will have to wait for next time.

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Crossing the Cascade Mountains and Landing in Concrete, WA

Posted from Graham, WA

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Travel Along the Cascade Highway
Mt. Baker, WA

After leaving Twisp, WA (on the east side of the mountains) we were very much looking forward to our next stop in Concrete, WA (which is on the western side of the Cascade Mountain Range).

The move was only 117 miles, but it took a bit over 2:46 because of the twisty roads and occasional pull outs for pictures.

The North Cascades Highway (Rt. 20) is closed from mid-November to April because of heavy snowfall. The drive was beautiful and there's certainly no reason to be rushing as you travel through this area.

We reached our destination for the next 12 days at the Grandy Creek Thousand Trails, located approximately 6 miles west of Concrete, WA. This is a bit of an odd TT, as it shares the property with the Grandy Creek KOA.

We were able to select a spot under some towering trees. As always when parked under trees, there is an upside and a downside. We loved the cooler temperatures provided by the shade of the trees, but it also meant NO television (either satellite or over-the-air) for the entire stay. Oh well, we survived. LOL

As in most campgrounds we've found in Washington during this time of the year, the TT here is very popular. During the week it was pretty quiet, but during the weekend it was pretty much full.

One of the areas we wanted to visit while here was the Mt. Baker National Recreation Area. From our campground, Mt. Baker is almost due north and only 17 miles away. Unfortunately, that is "as the crow flies". The drive by car was about 85 miles.

We followed SR542 all of the way to the end of the road (past the Mt. Baker Ski Area). The road ends in a large parking lot which leads to several trailheads for hiking. We began with the longest hike of the day to Table Mountain. Although it was July, the remains of snow and ice are still present. It did make finding the start of the trail a bit more challenging.

Don't let the snow fool you, it reached 90 degrees on this day. This whole area is beautiful. Here's a view of Mt. Shuksan as you look toward the north.

The final 1/4 mile is a bit steep, but the views from the top of Table Mountain are wonderful. We're looking toward Bagley Lakes here.

Of course, if you look the other direction, the view of Mt. Baker isn't too bad either.

The second trail of the day was named Artist Ridge. I can certainly see how people with artistic talent (certainly not me) would be inspired by the views in all directions from this area. Here's Karen taking a rest for a bit of introspection.

With the snow melting, beautiful small pools are formed at several locations along the trails.

The final two hikes of the day were short in length, but long in beauty. The first, Fire and Ice, was so named because the landscape showed the effects of both glacial and volcanic activity through the years.

This large lake was nestled at the base of Table Mountain.

The final hike of the day was named Picture Lake. The trail is comprised of a short walk around the lake. The "money shot" is the reflection of Mt. Shuksan in the lake. Unfortunately, there was a slight wind while we were there and capturing a mirror surface wasn't possible, but I still like the view.

In the next blog post we explore the little town of Concrete, learn about the creation of the dams in this area, and eat a meal of "dam good chicken".

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Wrapping Up Our Stay in the Twisp, WA Area

Posted from near Anacortes, WA
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North Cascades Smokejumpers Base
Lake Chelan, WA

The week we spent in Twisp with our friends Bill and Debi flew by. Although we have since moved on to a different area of Washington I still wanted to blog about two really interesting places we visited.

The first was almost right across the Methow River from our campground. This is home to the North Cascades Smokejumpers Base. The base is the home of a group of very brave men and women who jump from planes to fight forest fires. Rather than go into a lengthy history of this group, just click on the link above. Just briefly, the idea of jumping from a plane to combat forest fires began in 1939 when a small group made 58 experimental jumps into the nearby forests to determine whether or not this was even feasible. No injuries were sustained and the first actual fire jump was eventually made on August 10, 1940.

Today, there are approximately 400 smokejumpers throughout the western US and Alaska. The teams fall under the jurisdiction of the USFS and BLM agencies.

When we drove over to their base, we walked into the office and requested if a tour might be possible. The guys in the office were very accommodating and radioed for the "rookie" to respond and lead our tour.  Our guide took us into the parachute loft where a few team members were packing chutes.

Our guide did an excellent job of detailing the history of the unit, along with showing us the equipment used by smokejumpers. In front of the main office is this plaque commemorating the early beginnings of the smokejumpers.

We climbed inside the plane currently used to carry out the firefighting missions. (The plane is pretty old and I thought he was showing us an example of what was used in the past.)

We concluded our excellent tour with our guide taking a group picture of the four of us in front of their plane.

If you are ever in this area I would recommend spending about an hour and take a tour of the Smokejumpers Base. It's free and no reservations are required.

Our last adventure before leaving the Twisp area involved an all-day trip via ferry on Lake Chelan to the small village of Stehekin. Stehekin is a very small village located near the north end of Lake Chelan, which is approximately 50 miles in length. This little place is located in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The village is so remote that there are no roads leading to it. The only way in is via ferry (which we took from the city of Chelan), private boat, seaplane, or by hiking in.

During this time of year visitors wishing to travel via ferry can either ride the Lady of the Lake II or the Lady Express. The difference between the two is the amount of time for the layover in Stehekin. We boarded in Chelan at 8:30 AM for the 4-hour ride to Stehekin.

The ferry ride is very relaxing and passes by a variety of landscapes along the route. The lower part of the lake consists of many residences and businesses near Chelan.

As you travel northward evidence of many vineyards come into view. At one point Lake Chelan reaches a depth of 1485 feet. The area was formed by glacial movement long ago.

About 1/3 into our journey and all roads along the lake cease. It's still possible to view a few homes dotting the hillsides ever so often, and you wonder how all of the materials were brought in for their construction. The more remote the area, the prettier the scenery became.

There are vehicles in Stehekin to move tourists about and to facilitate activities of the NPS, but they all must be brought in by ferries which only handle such equipment.

We arrived at the dock at Stehekin at 12:30 PM and only had 90 minutes before departure. Just enough time to eat a quick lunch we had brought along, and to visit the NPS Visitor's Center in town.

There are places to stay for overnight lodging and if I return again I believe that we would like to spend a couple of days visiting the remote area. From what I understand, reservations need to be made well in advance of an intended stay. The whole area was beautiful and the feeling of being "away from civilization" was very alluring.

I want to express our appreciation to Bill and Debi again for taking time to bring their RV to the campground where we were staying for the week. They were excellent "tour guides" and directed us to many places which we probably would not have found on our own.  Thanks again guys!

The next blog post will be about our activities in the North Cascades Mountains.

As always, thanks for stopping by to take a look!