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).
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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