The middle dam along Washington Route 20 in the middle of the Cascades is Diablo Dam — once the tallest dam in the world. You can drive across the top of the dam, but if you’re headed east, the first turn off the main road will instead take you into the town of Diablo.
I’m not sure the use of the word “town” is accurate. Maybe you could consider this to be a company town, or just a settlement. There are no businesses here (at least, none that I saw), and all the houses have a creepy cookie-cutter feel. If you drive through the town and keep going…
… you’ll reach the entrance to the power works, which are located just below the dam. A gate keeps you from driving any further, and even if you could, the road doesn’t connect with the road that crosses the dam. So, turn around and head back to the highway.
[tmt_info =””]To better appreciate the “town” of Diablo, and the fun you’ll have driving across the top of Diablo Dam, check out the Drivelapse video on the Newhalem page.[/tmt_info]
The next turnoff from Washington 20 takes you across the top of the dam. It feels like the kind of place you’re not supposed to be, but it’s okay to drive across here. Really, I should have stopped, gotten out of the car, and taken a better picture of the top of the dam, since its streetlights make it quite pretty. On the far side of the dam, there are a few parking spots…
… which allow you to take a few photos of Diablo Lake…
… and the dam.
[tmt_info =””]Don’t be confused! There is a sign at this parking area that says “Ross Lake Parking” — which is weird, because this is Diablo Lake, not Ross Lake. The sign is here, because this is the parking area for a boat that takes visitors to the Ross Lake Resort (the boat travels to the end of Diablo Lake, where visitors transfer onto a truck, to ride the rest of the way to the secluded resort). Of course, you can also park here for some quick pictures of the lake.[/tmt_info]
Drive all the way to the end of the road, and you’ll find the best view of Diablo Lake. The North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center is a short walk from this parking area, but it doesn’t offer much for the casual visitor. It’s more meant for pre-organized visits for students who want to attend classes and study alongside researchers.
Backtrack once again to Washington Route 20, and continue the drive east.
Diablo Lake Overlook
Highway 20 crosses one arm of Diablo Lake, then climbs a hill before passing this overlook spot at the side of the highway. It’s probably a better picture in the morning, since you’re looking west. But no matter the time of day, you’ll gain an appreciation for Diablo Lake’s stunningly turquoise-blue water — a result of the silt from melting glaciers upstream.
Looking east, the depths of Diablo Lake taper off, and you can once again see the Skagit River, though it isn’t much further until it gets bottled up again, at the third dam on this tour, and our next stop, Ross Dam.