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Sauk Cover

The Mountain Behind the Name: Sauk

December 8th, 2015 | Posted by in Naturalist Notes

The North Cascades Ecosystem has many features to discover for naturalists, students and day hikers alike. Behind all the charismatic megafauna and flora including bears, wolverines, Douglas Firs and Western Hemlocks are the mountains that make it all possible. In this series, we take a look at the “charismatic mega-rocks” that make the North Cascades one of the greatest natural wonders of this nation. First up, Sauk Mountain.

Sauk Geo map

Geologic Map of part of the North Cascades courtesy of USGS


The above map is as informative to local geologists as scores are to musical composers. Each color represents a different rock type. The many rock types can be grouped into three different regions. The northeast part is the Methow Domain, containing “sandstone and conglomerates deposited by streams and shallow, fresh, and saltwater” colored in reds and greens. The southern and middle parts, named Metamorphic Core Domain, contain metamorphic rock that has been pushed toward the surface (colored in earthy browns and yellows).

And to the west, in the Western Domain colored in blues, contains a mixture of volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Mt. Baker, the second most thermally active volcano in the North Cascades, contributed so much to the geology of Sauk. Located 19 miles south east of Baker, Sauk is covered in mostly sedimentary and igneous rock.

Sauk Geology

Confluence of the Sauk (Upper) and Skagit (Lower) Rivers.

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Trans Trek Mike Coffee

Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

November 18th, 2015 | Posted by in Adventures

For the North Cascades Institute’s 14th cohort of Graduate M.Ed. students, it was a year marked with adventure, struggle, triumph and togetherness.

Our cohort is a very tight-knit, close community where we all share our various skills and talents with one another to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable living arrangement, and family for that matter. From Petra’s primitive skills to Kelly’s crafting projects and to Kevin’s rock climbing, we each bring something special to the group, sharing our lives, talents, hopes, dreams and abilities with one another to improve and enhance each other’s lives and to make the world a better place.

After a year of living in the North Cascades — a year that saw “fire and rain and sunny days that we thought would never end,” to quote James Taylor — it was time for our cohort to transition to the second year of the program at Huxley College of the Environment on the Western Washington University campus. (After a cohort does the residency program at the North Cascades Institutes’ Environmental Learning Center for a year, they “trek” down to Bellingham to finish the degree.) It seemed only fitting that leave our homes in the mountain for the city of Bellingham by traveling the river that connected us from the Environmental Learning Center to our new home on the Salish Sea: the mighty Skagit River. We realized that eventually our time at the Environmental Learning Center and campus portion in Bellingham would merge into one, and a river runs to it.

» Continue reading Transition Trek 2015: At the Confluence of the Graduate Residency and Campus Programs

The Cascades Butterfly Project: Citizen Scientists Unite!

August 1st, 2011 | Posted by in Institute News

On July 23rd, a group of volunteer scientists joined biologists from the North Cascades Institute, North Cascades National Park and Western Washington University to say farewell to “the winter that would never end” by kicking off the Cascades Butterfly Project.

The Cascades Butterfly Project is a collaborative effort between biologists and citizen scientists, who will work together to monitor butterfly populations throughout North Cascades National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 
After a brief classroom session where we reviewed the basics of butterfly ecology and identification, we headed to Sauk Mountain to test our new skills and learn the field study techniques we’ll use to gather this important data.

Satyr Comma perched on the thumb of photographer, graduate student, and volunteer wildlife biologist, Elise Ehrheart.

Mountain ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to climate change, with alpine meadows expected to shrink dramatically throughout the Cascades Mountain Range. Butterflies make ideal indicator species of alpine ecosystem health because they are particularly sensitive to climatic changes, and are relatively easy to identify in the field by scientists and volunteers alike.

Hiking home after a successful day in the field

If you’re interested in joining in on this exciting (and fun!) research, it’s not too late, and no previous scientific experience is necessary.  There will be another volunteer training at Mount Rainier National Park on August 13. For more information, contact North Cascades Institute’s Science Coordinator, Jeff Anderson, at or (206) 526-2574.

Wildflower photography with Mark Turner

August 13th, 2010 | Posted by in Field Excursions

By Jessica Haag

It’s hard to imagine a more inspiring place than the blooming, alpine meadows of the North Cascades to take a wildflower photography class, or a better instructor than Mark Turner, co-author of the Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest handbook.

On July 19-21st with 15 photographers under his wing Mark embarked on a 3-day wildflower photography workshop. On day 1 we did class work (ie: learning your camera and some tips and techniques) and on days 2-3 we undertook amazing hikes and field excursions to implement what we learned.

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hiking Sauk2

A Fitting End to a Wild Season: North Cascades Wild 2009

October 21st, 2009 | Posted by in Youth Adventures

We’ve just now wrapped up our final events of our North Cascades Wild 2009 season. And what a season it’s been! Forty-seven students from Skagit, Lake Forest Park and Seattle participated in our summer wilderness 12-day canoe camping and backpacking trips on Ross Lake in North Cascades National Park. During the trips, students learned about and practiced leadership, community building, stewardship and natural and cultural history. We built and brushed trails, conducted Park-led research to count non-native red-sided shiners, cleaned campsites, picked native plant seeds, stuffed ourselves with huckleberries and thimbleberries, and hiked and canoed for miles. Together, we contributed more than 1400 hours of service to North Cascades National Park!

t2 trail work

Students from Trip 4 built a new trail along Ross Lake in late July.

Trip 1 students canoeing on Ross Lake.

Trip 1 students canoeing on Ross Lake in early July.

Our summer season culminated in two events this fall: Our North Cascades Wild Reunion at Camp Long in Seattle on September 12th, and our final Day Trip for Skagit students on October 3rd.

» Continue reading A Fitting End to a Wild Season: North Cascades Wild 2009