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North Cross ranks among favorite spots

Liberty Bell stands as a signature view of the highway

Liberty Bell, shown from the head of the road to the overlook, is the signature mountain for the North Cascades Highway.

Liberty Bell, shown from the head of the road to the overlook, is the signature mountain for the North Cascades Highway. Elizabeth Widel

I don’t know that I could name my favorite place in the county. There are so many lovely ones!

But among them surely would have to be the North Cascades Highway, locally known as the North Cross.

I remember an article written years ago by Charlie Kerr on the struggle to locate the proper route for it. They tried several and gave up each one.

But firmly in mind is the day that my husband Glen and I were north of Winthrop, and he pointed out to me the stub of an unfinished road and said it was the beginning of a new highway.

It wound off mysteriously into the trees, still in the gravel stage.

As time passed, the highway stretched out, and I will always remember the evening I was driving up that still-unfinished road and got my first glimpse, in the late light, of Liberty Bell Mountain and Early Winters Spires. They were purple in the late-day light.

Only later did I learn that they are called a sort of signature mountain for the highway.

I drove the road as often as I could as it stretched on, reaching Lone Fir Campground, then winding up an unnamed mountain, finally up the flanks of Liberty Bell, and to the day when I met a road engineer who took me to the end of the road, where the crew was still falling trees for the lengthening route.

They were still trying to decide, then, whether to make a bridge over State Creek or cross it in some other way. As we now know, they didn’t bridge.

From the other end crews were working their way up the Skagit Valley to a meeting point with the lengthening line from the east side.

I sat in my car and watched some of the first cars to make the crossing of the new route, and later drove it also, only from east to west instead of the west-east of those first trips. How many times since then? I haven’t kept count.

In the last several years, my friend Marsha has made it a mark of my birthday to drive over a modest distance beyond Newhalem, sampling the wonders of the highway. Always there is something new to see: a bear making his way up the mountainside above the road, a moose climbing a steep slope beside the road, fish leaping from the water in the Skagit, the marvels of the gardens and Ladder Falls at the power plant in Newhalem, the wonderful visitor center there and the campground of which it is a part.

The rock types, the plunging river and a feeling of always more just ahead. We have not gone farther west than about 23 miles west of Newhalem, where the Skagit Valley makes its run to tide water.

Marsha fixes a lunch of just the right size. Once, at the visitor center, we had a private rainstorm, getting only a little wet. Around are tree giants, soaring to the sky.

Granite Creek, running in a surprisingly straight valley down from Rainy Pass (a glacier signature), serves as a sort of dividing line between the east and west sections of the area.

There are many other wonderful things to see, with the mountains towering over it all. We have been there many times, and always there is something new for the three of us to enjoy.

Three? Marsha’s dog, Katie, is always a member of the party.

And this marvelous area is only one of the many this area has to offer.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for

The Chronicle. This is the 2,845th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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