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Reflecting on the North Cascades Highway

Longtime resident remembers first days of the route

There is something exciting about seeing something being built.

Take, for example, the North Cascades Highway.

There were several early attempts on different routes than the one we know today, but somehow they didn’t come off.

My consciousness of it goes back to the day when my husband and I, driving in the upper Methow, passed the end of a nicely graveled road heading off into the mountains. He explained that it was the end of a new highway being built through the Cascades.

He did not live to see its completion, but I was a devoted sidewalk superintendent of that road until the great day they opened it and the first cars drove the route, triumphantly bearing signs of its first crossing.

The day came for me to cross, and I marveled at the dignified giants lining the route.

How many times have I crossed since then? I did not keep count.

With friends, I kept going over the lengthening route, driving as far as Lone Fir Campground, and walking from there.

The road punched its way up the hairpin curve that underpins Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires, a pair which have become the signature mountains of the route.

Farther and farther the route progressed, pushing to meet the crews working from the west end of this stunning country.

There was the day I met an engineer helping to build this route and heard him say the most expensive parts of it were at both ends.

A long stretch between Rainy Pass and the canyon approaching Ruby Creek, and then the canyons of the Skagit with its own suite of mountains with their perpendicular sides plunging down into the lakes at its other end — Ross, Diablo and Gorge — now joined in grinding out power for Seattle’s meals (and other things).

I also have come exploring the beauties and marvels of the waterfalls, lakes and the three great dams.

It was an excitement watching the highway go in, and it’s an excitement going over it now, passing by places by now familiar, with more than a lifetime’s worth waiting to be discovered.

The excitement has not left, and there are still hosts of places waiting to be found and appreciated.

There are too many wonderful things to be seen and appreciated to take them all in.

We won’t live long enough to take it all in.

This multi-faceted country, with all its wonders, is waiting for those who can appreciate it. Let us appreciate it broadly, not just for the resources we can wrench out of it, but as a whole.

I love it. Or had you guessed?

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,881st column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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