Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sedro-Woolley and North Cascades N. P.

DAY TWENTY-NINE (Sunday, July 21): Another beautiful day. We have had the most incredible run of good weather. We are very grateful.

Today, we had a very good and remarkably low-cost breakfast at the kind of café which has become a rarity - a family run café on main street in Sedro-Woolley. We each had a substantial plate of food, plus coffee or juice, for a total of $16.00!  Ellen found there another rarity - a rack of postcards of local scenes created by a local photographer - they were $1.00 each and she got seven of them.  Grab them while you can!

By the way, I learned that Sedro-Woolley is the result of the merger, in 1899, of two rival, neighboring towns, Sedro and Woolley. If you want to read a really fascinating history of this town go to

--> http://www.skagitriverjournal.com/S-W/Pre1900/Bughouse01.html

This town's history is a window on the almost unbelievable world of the early exploitation of the old-growth forests of cedar and fir in Washington in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth.

Sedro was founded by Mortimer Cook, who had moved to the area from Santa Barbara to take advantage of a railroad and logging boom. He wanted to name the town "Bug" because of the abundance of mosquitoes, but his wife and others talked him out of it. Instead he took the Spanish word for "cedar" - cedro - changed the "c" to an "s", and got "Sedro." The town was relocated almost immediately a bit higher because of flooding by the Skagit River, and in a matter of a couple of years, there were eleven trains arriving daily in Sedro!  Meanwhile, Philip A. Woolley moved to Sedro from - of all places - Elgin, Illinois! Take note family!  He founded a new town just northeast of Sedro to take advantage of the knowledge he had gained that three new railroads would soon cross there. (There must have been a beehive of railroads back then!). The town he gave his name to flourished and soon eclipsed Sedro. I guess that eventually it became obvious that the two towns should become one, but there was bitter rivalry over its name. Result? A hyphenated compromise: Sedro-Woolley.

An early Sedro-Woolley house
An even earlier house - living in a cedar stump!

This is the kind of log the early loggers found - over 9 feet in diameter.

After breakfast we went up into North Cascades National Park, to the Visitor Center in Newhalem, about an hour's drive. The NCNP is, in a way, the other side of the coin from the history of Sedro-Woolley: it was formed in 1968 to preserve what the exploitation of forests that created towns like Sedro-Woolley was destroying. The only thing that saved the forests in at least parts of NCNP was their utter inaccessibility due to the ruggedness of the terrain. The geology of the North Cascade mountains is very complex, and in some ways still somewhat mysterious to geologists, and thus controversial. These mountains are the result of massive shifts, lateral thrusts, volcanic  eruptions, glaciers, oceans, upthrusts, erosians - you name it - over millions of years.  Just to give you an idea, the result is places like the "Bell Pass Melange." 

"On top of the Chilliwack River terrane rests the Bell Pass mélange. Mélange is French for mix, and geologic mélanges are very mixed rocks; they are hodge-podges on a grand scale. Much of the Bell Pass mélange is made up of sedimentary rocks, including sandstone, shale, and chert. Basalt is also abundant in some areas. The chert, shale, and basalt are not only mixed, but highly broken up. The continuous layers of bedding are gone; only blocks and pieces remain. The rocks look faulted, or, more expressively, smeared. Blocks of hard basalt or chert stick out here and there as resistant knobs. But the mélange contains exotic rocks as well, things we do not expect to find mixed into unmetamorphosed sedimentary or volcanic rocks. Exotic blocks in the mélange are metamorphic rocks, such as gneiss and schist, which came from deep in the Earth’s crust, and ultramafic rocks dark colored, rich in iron and magnesium which came from deeper in the mantle. The sedimentary parts of the Bell Pass mélange are mostly oceanic in origin, but many of the exotic blocks are not. The blocks or "knockers" of gneiss (being hard, they resist the knocking of a geologist’s hammer) in the Bell Pass mélange were called the Yellow Aster Complex by Peter Misch, who named the formation for Yellow Aster Meadows, which is underlain by a large slab of gneiss. The gneiss was formed deep in the crust, at relatively high temperatures. Associated with it are igneous rocks. Both the gneiss and igneous rocks have been smashed and further metamorphosed at cooler temperatures. The origin of much Yellow Aster gneiss is obscure, but on Park Butte, gneiss rich in calcium minerals and associated with marble indicates that some Yellow Aster rocks were sedimentary rocks before high-temperature metamorphism. The association of metamorphosed sedimentary rocks and plutonic igneous rocks is suggestive of a continental setting, although it is surprising to find such rocks amidst the relatively unmetamorphosed oceanic rocks that comprise most of the Bell Pass mélange. Even more startling in the mélange are blocks of ultramafic rock. They began existence in the mantle. Most ultramafic chunks in the Bell Pass mélange are small, a few feet to a few hundreds of feet across. The largest block of ultramafic rock in the Bell Pass melange is the Twin Sisters Mountain massif, made mostly of dunite, a rock consisting of the mineral olivine. Except for the remarkably unchanged Twin Sisters dunite, many of the ultramafic blocks are now partly or entirely made of serpentinite."

I don't pretend to understand that paragraph, but it is clear that a series of unimaginable and varied cataclysms have formed what is today North Cascades National Park.

This chart shows the geological diversity of North Cascades
We watched, as we usually do, the film at the Visitors Center which gives an introduction to the park. This particular film was a more extreme example of a phenomenon I had already noticed at the other parks we have visited - a strong religious dimension - not Christian or any other organized religion, but more a religion of nature, or more precisely, a religion of wilderness. It was particularly noticeable in this film (which was titled  "Return to Wildness") in the sound track, which I took the trouble to find out was taken from CDs with titles like "Inside the Cathedral," "Sacred Ceremonies," and "Healing Solar Winds." The narration was heavily larded with words like "spirit," "healing," "vision," "redemption," "renewal," - all words from the vocabulary of religious thought and experience. I'm not sure what to make of this phenomenon. At a superficial level, it is a form of propaganda to support and advance the concept of the National Park System. Inevitably, the narrators of these films advise us that our materialistic and over-harried society needs wilderness as a refuge. But it is tempting to seek a deeper explanation. Is there a deep hunger for religion which is basic to human nature, and which, when you close the front door against formal organized religion, will inevitably sneak in the back door? Maybe.

We took the River Trail along the Skagit River for a short hike. My foot wasn't up for a long hike, but the foam inserts I had gotten the previous evening did help. It was a trail not unlike the Hoh River Trail in Olympic Park - large firs and cedars, nurse logs, moss. Mimi went through the Junior Ranger program and got a lovely badge.

River Trail
Then we hit the road again and headed for our destination: Davenport, WA, west of Spokane, where we had a reservation at the Davenport Motel. The ride took us by an overlook of Diablo Lake where we stopped and admired the incredible turquoise color of the water.

Diablo Lake
The scenery remained beautiful but changed as we went west and became first extensive orchards and then endless wheat fields. It also took us by the Grand Coulee Dam, and we were treated to the sight of an almost full moon rising over the dam.

The moon over Grand Coulee Dam
We reached the motel after 10pm and found it to be very nice, maybe the best yet.

DAY THIRTY (Monday, July 22):  Today was a driving day. We've decided not to go to Glacier N.P. - just too much driving - but instead to try to spend some time in Yellowstone N.P. before returning to Alpine. The problem is that all lodging inside the park is booked. We thought we had gotten a place at Canyon - we were using the phone reservation service - but just as we were wrapping it up the operator said, "Uh oh - they're overbooked." No dice. So today we drove from Sedro-Woolley to Bozeman, MT.  Along the way we stopped at a visitor's center in Butte, MT and also stopped for a picnic out of the box at a rest area. 

Rest Area Picnic
We had hoped  to get closer to Yellowstone tonight - Livingstone or even Gardiner, MT -  but everything seemed either to be booked or frightfully expensive (like $200!). So we're at the Ranch House Motel tonight and we are actually in a little house, not a motel room. The huge living room/dining room is bare of furnishings, the kitchen has stove and frig but no utensils, there are two bedrooms (which have beds!), and a bath. You just never know what you're going to find. All along the highway today we all listened to an audio version of The Life of Pi. Both Ellen and I had read the book and seen the movie, but it is still incredibly engrossing, even to Mimi.  Great writing.  We finished "Son," and are getting near the end of "Homecoming." Mimi has been a great traveler.

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