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Weekly Photo Roundup: November 12 2017

November 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Photography

Every weekend I will post photos collected from various NCI graduate students and staff. Please enjoy this glimpse into our everyday lives here in the North Cascades.

This week was the last session of Mountain School at the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center for 2017. Although winter approaches, we enjoyed three chilly days of sunshine by Diablo Lake. This week students in the Graduate M.Ed Residency also shadowed Mountain School, and learned a lot from their naturalist mentors. Scroll down to see more from the week!

The kiddos arrive and begin their “hike” from the bus to the Learning Center. They carry all of their things up the gravel road in a stampede of excitement.

Photo by Gina Roberti

Here is Naturalist Geneva presenting a fifth grader with their tree cookie name tag. Each student receives their very own to decorate and keep forever.

» Continue reading Weekly Photo Roundup: November 12 2017

Highway reopened, students safely back home!

March 14th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

UPDATE March 13, 4 pm: After WSDOT successfully reopened one lane of Highway 20 today, the Henry M. Jackson high school students, teachers and parent chaperones were able to leave the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center to return home!

More updates later, but for now we want to say thank you to the great students, teachers and parents, to WSDOT and to our Environmental Learning Center staff for keeping everyone safe and sane with educational activities, community building and fun through this unexpected long weekend of Mountain School!

Avalanche closes Hwy 20, students and staff get unexpected weekend at the Learning Center

March 12th, 2017 | Posted by in Institute News

On Friday morning, March 10, the Washington State Department of Transportation closed Highway 20 seven miles west of the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center due to a large avalanche across the road. This incident blocked the school buses that were due to pick up students from Henry M Jackson High School in Mill Creek, WA, who were participating in our Mountain School residential environmental education program. Forty-two students, seven teachers and parent chaperones and 21 Institute staff and graduate students are currently at the ELC until WSDOT crews can reopen the road; they are doing an assessment on Monday.

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center is a modern facility with 92 beds in three comfortable lodges, a dining hall, classrooms and other amenities, and we have plenty of food and supplies to get through the weekend. Everyone on site is safe, warm, well-fed and in good spirits. The Environmental Learning Center was deliberately sited away from avalanche paths and is not at risk for avalanches. We have two Emergency Medical Technicians on staff and our instructors are trained Wilderness First Responders. We are in close contact with our partners in the National Park Service and Seattle City Light and have contingency plans if any emergencies arise. Extreme weather conditions are a part of life in the mountains and North Cascades Institute has established procedures and risk management training to get through incidents like this.

Mountain School is a nationally-recognized residential environmental education program offered in cooperation with North Cascades National Park that brings local students to the North Cascades to learn about the ecosystems, geology and natural and cultural history of the mountains. Mountain School was recently profiled by National Geographic and The Seattle Times calls it ” a national model for wilderness education on public lands.”

Report from KING 5 NEWS


Contact WSDOT for more information about the road closure at (360) 707-5055 or visit We will post updates to our website at, on our Facebook page at and on Twitter at


Rain eases wildfire threat, SR20 reopens, evacuation lifted

August 31st, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center received 2.5 inches of rain over the last 48 hours, and more is expected through Friday! All of the wildfires in the Upper Skagit Complex are diminished and the Goodell Fire is no longer considered a significant threat to the Environmental Learning Center or Diablo. The Washington State Department of Transportation opened State Route 20 at noon on Sunday, August 30, and our evacuation order was lifted. North Cascades Institute is currently working to reopen the Environmental Learning Center and assume normal operations, including the start of Mountain School as scheduled on September 14.

As Learning Center Director Kristofer Gilje remarked, “This all ended as fast as it started.”



We still have concerns about travel in the Newhalem Gorge. Even during non-fire years, this much rain brings debris down onto the roadway. The DOT is keeping the road clear, but take special care when traveling through the Gorge. You may encounter rocks and trees on the roadway, and be prepared to turn back or to be delayed in your return. Temporary, intermittent closures may be required for helicopter and heavy equipment work on power lines and towers. For the latest updates, visit or contact the North Cascades Highway Hotline at (360) 707-5055.

North Cascades National Park reopened the Newhalem Visitor Center and many campgrounds and trails. For current park conditions visit,

North Cascades Institute thanks each and every one of you for the continued outpouring of support. You’ve helped us evacuate the Learning Center safely, opened your homes to our displaced staff, voiced your concerns and sent us countless messages of hope. We continue to be grateful for you, for our partners in the National Park Service, Seattle City Light and US Forest Service and for the firefighters, first responders, National Guard, U.S. Army servicemen and women and others working on the wildfires across Washington State.

Your financial support is another way to help us in this tumultuous time of program cancellations and restructuring, lost revenue and displaced staff. Thank you for making a gift today at

We also encourage you to support families in need on the eastside of the state. The Community Foundation of North Central Washington has compiled a list of resources at



North Cascades Wildfire updates

August 25th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Yes, Washington State is on fire; and we’re still here. We are posting updates on the Upper Skagit Complex wildfires and their impacts on the North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and North Cascades Institute on our website at and Facebook page at Additionally, we are uploading photos and maps on our Tumblr at


State Route 20, the Learning Center, Newhalem, Diablo and most North Cascades National Park facilities remain closed to the public. Wildfire conditions are changing rapidly, and the Institute is working with our partners around-the-clock to keep on top of things. It is becoming clear that the range of impacts to the Institute and our operations will have both near-term and far-terms impacts.


We are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from Institute supporters, partners and friends over the past week. Thank you.


Photographs from the Goodell Creek Fire in North Cascades National Park Complex on 8/19/15 by RyanLF. He writes, “I was one of the last cars to make it though the North Cascades Highway yesterday. The smoke was so thick it blocked out the sun. Lots of debris on the road and ash in the air…Hopefully they can get it under control soon.”



North Cascades Environmental Learning Center evacuated as Goodell Creek Fire grows, State Route 20 closed

August 19th, 2015 | Posted by in Institute News

Sedro-Woolley, WA 8/19/15 3:30 pm: We received notice that Highway 20 has been closed by the Washington State Department of Transportation at milepost 118 at Thornton Creek near Newhalem due to complications with a wildfire in the area. There is no passage across the North Cascades Highway at this time. The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center and town of Diablo are being evacuated to the east as a precautionary measure. We have cancelled all programs at the Learning Center for Thursday 8/20 and Friday 8/21 including Skagit Tours and Base Camp. 

We are closely monitoring the situation to decide whether our scheduled Anniversary Picnic Celebration at the Learning Center on Sunday will occur; we’ll announce information on our website at and on social media as things develop.

Photo by Jason Ruvelson

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The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps

September 1st, 2013 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

By Jack McLeod

Meet Jack and hear him present from his new book The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps, published by University of Washington Press, on Saturday, September 7, at 4 pm at Village Books in Bellingham; free!

It’s easy to fall in love with the North Cascades. Many writers in this blog have expressed wonder and joy with forest discoveries, amphibians, seasonal changes, canoe trips, the magic of winter, and connections to people and place. I delight in ephemeral beauty like unfolding fiddleheads and evening sunlight but as a nature-lover, I have to confess an odd love affair. It’s this road. Highway 20. The asphalt ribbon. It slices the wilderness and carries up to 1,000 vehicles a day. It’s invasive. A scar. Yet I’ve spent way too much time standing on the side of the road thinking about this place and taking pictures. It’s what brings us passage to trails and flowery meadows and alpine lakes and autumn’s feast of golden larch. A conundrum.



My interest in Highway 20 started with a question. A friend asked about the names of the peaks. I made a labeled picture which led to unearthing stories behind the views. I found myself eating breakfasts, lunches or dinners in a folding chair at choice roadside pullouts. Love that mountain air, but really? A few more photos, more research and ten years later, a book appeared: The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps (University of Washington Press).

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For most travelers, the road is a transparent tunnel guiding their car efficiently from end to end. Admire the view through glass but keep moving. As readers of this blog know, beyond the glass is an extraordinary realm, understood best on foot. This book is an attempt to bring familiarity and curiosity and perhaps the desire to slow down, get out and appreciate a deeper beauty and connections to a world more intricate than we had imagined. The book is based on a highway, but it’s about what’s on the sides: geology, natural history, and how miners, climbers, and poets have been inspired by the North Cascades.


HIGH ON THE RIM of Sourdough Mountain, evening light replenishes my soul. This is why we visit the North Cascades. To slow down, to decompress, to revive. I watch summer’s glow illuminate sepia cliffs and a kaleidoscope of blossoms while across the valley, steep, snow-covered pinnacles soften in warm pastels. The tiny road I left five thousand feet below twists around turquoise Diablo Lake. Alpine fragrances hang in the air—sun baked fir mingles with ephemeral aromas of wildflowers and the earthen smell of sixty-nine-million-year old Skagit Gneiss trail dust. I’ve arrived. I’ve walked into a miraculous convergence of August sun, a thousand blooms, and a North Cascade ridge looking over the world.

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» Continue reading The North Cascades Highway: A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps