It was the first of August and the purple fireweed, the bright-red Indian paintbrush, treacherous Devil’s club and daisies were everywhere. The thimbleberries were ripe, depending on the elevation. The meadows were a mass of orange, yellow, blue and pink, joyfully decorating the banks of the Nooksack River and the 24-mile Mt. Baker Scenic Byway to Artist Point, the end of the road and the edge of the wilderness.
At Artist Point (5,140 feet), I stood totally awed, feeling I was nose-to-nose with rugged Mount Shuksan (9,127 feet), one of the tallest non-volcanic peaks in the Cascade Mountains, but I was still roughly three air miles from it. Six air miles would take me to 10,778-foot Mount Baker, Washington State’s northernmost volcano. Mt. Shuksan’s seven and Mt. Baker’s 13 glaciers help make the North Cascades the most densely glaciated mountains in the lower 48.
The weather fluctuated drastically. One minute we were in sunshine and the next, in a cloud. If the photo op wasn’t to your liking, waiting five minutes would find the scene changed dramatically again.
Although I had seen fresh snow on the highest peaks on the drive up, according to statistics, Artist Point is snow-free from mid-July until the end of September. This must have been a winter that exceeded the typical 600 inches of snow because it was still deep on portions of the trails. Little kids and big kids alike were screaming and skimming along on inner tubes and blasting each other with snowballs. Bodies shivered in the cold, forgetting the “layered” clothing they needed for the higher elevations. Open floppies weren’t exactly good footwear for playing in the snow.
My walking poles steadied me over the crusty snow with a lot more confidence than if I had been without them. I didn’t want to undo the fabulous month of physical therapy that Annie at Leavenworth’s Cascade Hospital Physical Therapy Department had given my back all through July.
Heather Meadows encompasses Artist Point, Austin Pass Picnic Area and the Visitor Center, originally a warming hut. It was still warming with a lovely fire crackling in the fireplace. This looks out over Bagley Lakes and up to Table Mountain. Numerous trails in varying degrees of difficulty leave from these areas.
Although I wouldn’t hesitate to drive my RV to Artist Point, with steep elevations, switchbacks and views too great to miss, it is easier and safer to drive a tow car.
Just north of Maple Falls, the last place to top off the fuel tank, is Silver Lake County Park. It is a very nice park with full hookups. Douglas Fir and Silver Fir Forest Service campgrounds welcome RVs, but very few campsites allow for a large rig. I barely fit The George into Douglas Fir, and he is only 26.5-feet. There are no hookups, and campsite spaces have mammoth, old-growth-forest stumps with trees growing out of them.
Information for both the National Forest and the National Park Service is available in Glacier at the Glacier Public Service Center. They have interpretive displays, plant and animal identification guides, and a gift shop. If you are into serious hiking, check the National Forest Guidelines. Northwest Forest passes, required at trailheads and in the Heather Meadows area, can be bought there (or just tape your Golden Age Passport in the window). Passes are also available at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. The Civilian Conservation Corps built both buildings in the 1940s, more reminders of the marvelous work that they did all around the country.
A side trip to Glacier Creek Road led to Mt. Baker Vista and for whatever reason, I thought it was a main road, but at least it was mainly paved. Flowers, though beautiful, threatened to take over. It is one lane with a 25-mph speed limit and lots of places to pull over. It goes up in elevation 3,100 feet in roughly 10 miles. It is infinitely more negotiable with a small car and will give fewer heart attacks to anyone coming around curves.
This route also leads to Heliotrope Ridge Trail for hiking right to the glacier edge. Mt. Baker was determined to only show me glimpses, but what I saw was awesome. The glaciers were four air miles away but I could bring them to the end of my nose with the zoom lens. The actual picnic area-vista point has grown trees obliterating the view, but down the road a short ways is a perfect place for pictures.
Don’t miss Nooksack Falls on Wells Creek Road with its hydroelectric project history. The river cascades under the bridge, then plunges 170 feet on either side of a boulder cliff. It is worth a bit of climbing on a rocky path to see it, but stay behind the fence. Many have perished for a better view.
I took off on Forest Service Road 3075 for a couple of miles and another view of Mt. Shuksan, but Cavy the Tow made a very weird path, working his way around the deep ruts to keep from bottoming out. It requires something with higher clearance if you go on the gravel side roads.
Although closed in the summer and fall, the Mount Baker Ski Area White Salmon Day Lodge is a spectacular building. It must be so much fun to see all this when it is deep with snow, but if you think I’m coming back from Arizona’s winter warmth, forget it.
Hiking is a great way to see everything up close, and scenic trails range from easy to difficult. Activities abound for all seasons, mountain and rock climbing, skiing, river rafting, mountain and road biking, camping, photography, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, sliding, and snowboarding. Snowboarding had its beginnings here.
It is fabulous. Go experience it. God Bless.
Autographed copies of Revised RVing Alaska and Canada ($16.95); Adventures with the Silver Gypsy ($14.95); Full-Time RVing: How to Make it Happen $14.95); In Pursuit of a Dream ($8), and Freedom Unlimited, The Fun and Facts of Full-timing ($9) are available through author Sharlene Minshall, Box 1040, Congress, AZ 85332-1040, www.full-time-rver.com or Amazon.com. Postage and handling are $4 for one book and $1 for each additional book.