Newhalem, Washington: North Cascades National Park


As you drive along Washington Route 20, you’re not technically in North Cascades National Park — though the mountain peaks that surround you are part of the park.  The road, its immediate surroundings, and the Skagit River are contained within Ross Lake National Recreation Area.  There are no roads that lead into the North Unit of the National Park, but you can visit the South Unit by way of a dirt road that departs from Marblemount.

Even though you won’t set foot in North Cascades National Park, while driving through, you can still visit its Visitor Center, just outside the company town of Newhalem.

After stopping there, continue on into town…

… which consists of just a couple of businesses…

… and another information center.  Out front, there’s a huge turbine wheel, or “runner”, that spun for 70 years inside the Gorge Powerhouse.  It was replaced in 1992.

Behind the information center, there’s a sculpture that reinforces the importance of electricity in this tiny town (as if the ever-present sight of high-tension power lines wasn’t proof enough).  The Temple of Power uses recycled bushings from the nearby Diablo switchyard, which were originally filled with oil, and used as giant circuit breakers.

Newhalem is a company town, existing solely to support the power generating operations at the dams along the Skagit River.  Privately-employed citizens aren’t allowed — only employees of Seattle City Light, the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, or government employees are welcomed as full-time residents. 

Also nearby, there’s a totem pole, carved by a local Native American craftsman in 1935.  At the top…

… is a Thunderbird.  Legend says that the sound of thunder comes from the beating of its wings, and the flashes of lightning are from its eyes.  Two bears and a raven are also depicted on the pole.

Once you’ve stretched your legs, hop back onto Washington Route 20 and continue driving east.  The next stop, with a brief opportunity for hiking, is just minutes away.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Newhalem to Diablo, across the Diablo Dam, then on to the Ross Dam Trailhead:

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