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A Natural and Cultural History Guide to the Blue House

August 3rd, 2017 | Posted by in Graduate M.Ed. Program

By Angela Burlile, graduate student in the Institute’s 16th cohort. 

During our Place-Based Learning in the North Cascades course this past summer, I discovered the power of place and the role that place has on our sense of self and the development of our ecological identity. A sense of place can be developed when one purposefully considers their relationship to the landscape and builds meaningful and personal connections.

Throughout much of the summer, we examined a pedagogy of place, reinforced through experiential practice and supportive reading material. In David Gruenewald’s, “Foundations of Place: A Multidisciplinary Framework for Place-Conscious Education”, he states:

“A multidisciplinary analysis of place reveals the many ways that places are profoundly pedagogical. That is, as centers of experience, places teach us about how the world works and how our lives fit into the spaces we occupy. Further, places make us: as occupants of particular places with particular attributes, our identity and our possibilities are shaped.”

I carried Gruenewald’s words and the idea of purposeful examination and connection to land with me as I moved into my new graduate residence at the Blue House in August 2016. Purchased in 2015 by the North Cascades Institute, the Blue House provides residential housing space for graduate students and staff. It was built in 1912 and currently sits on 7.7 acres of land, along the confluence of Diobsud Creek and the Skagit River.

» Continue reading A Natural and Cultural History Guide to the Blue House


Listening to Coyote

May 13th, 2016 | Posted by in Adventures

By Emily Ford, part of the Institute’s 15th Graduate Cohort.

After a rainy and dark winter, I’ve started to recognize the North Cascades as I remember them when I arrived last summer. Pyramid Mountain’s East wing is shaking off the snow, reminding me of summer as if it were an old friend. Soon again, Pyramid will be the snowless, chiseled, gray spire that taunted my stout climbing heart, and proved to me that its summit remains sacred beyond tired muscles, novice skills and terminal daylight. It is no longer capped by cornices like ice cream cone swirls that soften its thrust into the clouds. Pyramid stands out along the Diablo Lake skyline once more, and reminds me how deeply at home I have become.

Ok I got a little carried away. This blog is not about the North Cascades. In fact, I desperately needed to leave. I needed to go back to the desert, where I’ve returned to backpack and guide river trips for many years. When water has been scorned in the Northwest for being too much, the water in the desert is praised – and as Edward Abbey notes – exactly the right amount. Which is hilarious because it was 90 degrees in Seattle, but it rained every day, and even hailed, during my spring break trip in the Canyonlands.

Eating dinner in a slickrock alcove, I watched a storm approach at sunset.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
Shadows danced among the spires creating quite the dinner theater.

» Continue reading Listening to Coyote

Jon Reidel

Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist

October 11th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

What do you do if you are a young midwestern college graduate with a degree in geology and a yearning for adventure, wilderness and outdoor work in the West? “You go to where the action is,” says Jon Riedel, and for him, that meant the North Cascades.

The North Cascades’ superlative features would excite any geologist: it’s the most glaciated region in the Lower 48, with the most vertical relief; the bedrock floor of Lake Chelan sits more than two thousand feet below sea level; dozens of ice ages and glaciations have contorted the landscape into an infinite number of “problems” waiting to be solved. And better yet, the region had largely been ignored by geologists due to its remoteness and difficult access. Riedel found his calling and soon landed a job with North Cascades National Park as a geologist.

“The deductive approaches used in geomorphology—the study of the earth’s surface—caught on with me,” he explains.“The ability to read the landscape and see into the past was intoxicating.”

Coming from the Midwest, Riedel found that everything in the North Cascades was different: the brush was thick and the slopes steep, making exposed rock difficult to find and study sites challenging to get to. So Riedel focused on more easily visible surficial geology features such as alluvial fans, floodplains, terraces, moraines, valleys, and of course, glaciers. With persistence and many miles underfoot, Riedel began to understand what makes the North Cascades unique.

» Continue reading Jon Riedel: Glacier Geologist


The Last Days in the Rain Shadow

December 3rd, 2013 | Posted by in Adventures

The weight of a winter storm has whisked away the opportunity to further my exploration of the Methow Valley for another season. The fragile thread of concrete that is Highway 20 has crumbled under the piles of snow and biting wind, cutting me off from the expansiveness of this high desert refuge. There, the strange arid landscapes spread out thin and dry from the rain shadow of the North Cascades. Abundance lines the banks of the Methow River: fresh produce, fine wineries, excellent coffee and recreation aplenty. I have found it challenging to move myself beyond the borders of this Nirvana, but recently my curiosity was sufficiently piqued.

As one who called Oregon home for many years prior to my arrival in Washington, I had always claimed the Columbia River by right as an Oregonian. I have explored its reaches from every vantage on the Oregon side. Upon meaningful examination of a map, however, I had to admit that it was much more a Washington river, which did not alter my adoration. I set out to find the Columbia Plateau: my river beyond the Oregon border bend.

Upon my exploration of the flood lands to the East I embarked. The Columbia carved its mighty way, reflective and deep through the sagebrush-spotted hills of brown grass and exposed rock. Bighorn sheep leapt along the upper reaches of its banks, darting with ease over the steep slopes and loose terrain. Once a glacial lake at the southernmost edge of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet, the Columbia River’s geologic origins held a dramatic history that starkly contrasted its now tranquil presentation.

IMG_1793A male bighorn sheep amongst the rocks near the Rock Island Dam on the Columbia River in eastern Washington.
IMG_1831Once the largest waterfall in the world, Dry Falls remains a dramatic monument to its turbulent past.

I had entered the Channelled Scablands, and it felt like Oz. I was in disbelief that I was still in the state of Washington. Between 14,000 and 20,000 years in the past, the landscape had been repeatedly rocked by cataclysmic floods. Ice up to 4,000 feet high scored deep channels into the landscape which would fill with water. The water would become trapped behind enormous walls of ice until the colossal pressure shattered them and sent inconceivable torrents though the valley. It would have been like Armageddon around every dozen years or so.

» Continue reading The Last Days in the Rain Shadow

The Long View: Geology, John McPhee and me

February 11th, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

Graduate student Jacob Belsher writes a natural history book review on John McPhee’s Basin and Range

According to James Hutton, a Scottish geologist working in the late 18th century:

“To a naturalist nothing is indifferent; the humble moss that creeps upon the stone is equally interesting as the lofty pine which so beautifully adorns the valley or the mountain: but to a naturalist who is reading in the face of the rocks the annuals of a former world, the mossy covering which obstructs his view and renders undistinguishable the different species of stone, is no less than a serious subject of regret.”

Entertainment value aside, Hutton’s remark may be of some use in inspiring a more informed perspective of how our biotic lives play out upon the earth’s abiotic bedrock. An understanding of the primary geological forces shaping our planet helps elaborate this perspective, and writer John McPhee rises to the task in his first in a series of books on the geology of North American landscapes: Basin and Range. This largely accessible book focuses specifically on the physiographic province of the United States ranging from eastern California to eastern Utah.

The rigid, outer most shell of our rocky planet is called the lithosphere. All life, from Hutton’s “green slime” to the suspended inhabitants of the marine world, act out their roles on this stage. It turns out that these roles are all minor ones.

The actors remain on stage and deliver their few lines and are gone so quickly that it was not until the late 1950s and early 60s that some scientists noticed the stage was moving. The current widely accepted theory that describes this motion is called Plate tectonics.

» Continue reading The Long View: Geology, John McPhee and me

Congratulations Jon Riedel!

November 6th, 2012 | Posted by in Institute News

North Cascades Institute heartily congratulates our friend Dr. Jon Riedel of North Cascades National Park. Last week, National Park Service Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz  announced the 2012  Awards for Natural Resource Management and Riedel, based in Sedro-Woolley, was rightly recognized. Here’s the official statement on Jon’s award, followed by some appreciations written by staff and students of the Institute who have worked with Jon in the field over the years…

Dr. Jon Riedel, North Cascades National Park geologist, has been recognized for three significant accomplishments. First, he led the team that, over the course of four years, developed the Stehekin River Corridor Implementation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. This comprehensive planning effort uses the best available science to protect natural and cultural resources, support the private community of Stehekin, and establish sustainable administrative facilities – all while continuing to provide high-quality recreational experiences for the public. Second, he developed the landmark North Cascades Glacier Monitoring Program. This program, which is in its 20th year, has set the standard for glacier monitoring in the National Park Service and is at the forefront of understanding the impacts of climate change on the North Cascades ecosystem. Third, he has passionately served as a teacher and mentor. He uses his extensive professional knowledge to serve as an informative and entertaining instructor for youth and adults. He also inspires youth to consider science-based careers through his work with the North Cascades Institute, including the nationally renowned Cascades Climate Challenge.


“Jon is one of those rare scientists who is also a superb teacher and mentor. He has been inspiring people since I met him in the mid-80’s—with his unique blend of enthusiasm, deep curiosity, academic rigor, and a love for this special part of the world.Chinese Teapots Wholesale Chinese Teapots Amber Spiral Bracelets
I remember one of his early presentations on glaciers in the North Cascades. After a thorough introduction to the science, he moved us with a series of amazing mountain images combined with music. He speaks to both head and heart, and both at a high level. It’s been an honor to work with him over so many years.” – Saul Weisberg, Executive Director

» Continue reading Congratulations Jon Riedel!

Road Trip: Exploring the Grand Canyon, part 3

January 1st, 2011 | Posted by in Adventures

[The third installment in our ongoing Road Trip series, in which Institute staff visit other amazing places around the country and bring back stories and photos to share! This article is the final installment in a three-part series.]

After spending 11 days on the Colorado River, we took a rest on our twelfth day and set forth on land to discover the wonders of Tapeats Canyon.  There are stories that a waterfall cascades down the canyon wall for hundreds of feet to the canyon floor with feats of grace.  Cottonwoods grow along the river’s edge while mosses and ferns carpet the canyon wall.  After 11 days on the Colorado, where the majority of the plants we saw were of the cactus family, Cactaceae, we were driven up the canyon to explore paradise.

» Continue reading Road Trip: Exploring the Grand Canyon, part 3