Great Hike: Thunder Knob
First, I have to admit that until two or three years ago I had never even heard of North Cascades National Park. Second, I went expecting to appreciate one thing and came away also appreciating something very different. Third, I can’t believe how lucky I was to have had perfect weather. This visit for me was to virgin territory and once again I recognized that the National Park Service manages some wonderful parks.
My orientation pass through North Cascades gave me confidence that its nature was going to impress. Glaciers here had molded impressive mountain shapes, had carved valleys down which wide rivers now flow and which contain great lakes of clear blue waters. But what I also realized is that man had come in and harnessed all this for power, for recreation and for preservation. While I did choose a Great Hike, it’s not all that impressed me.
Thunder Knob was the hike I expected to select as my great hike and did. It’s a hike to the summit of a hill between two lakes with many opportunities for great views. It was impressive. Washington Pass Overlook provided breath-taking vistas of mountains with the stark character of glacier carving and an amazing example of man’s efforts to tame nature in the form of a major highway project. Diablo Lake Overlook made obvious how natural beauty could be enhanced through development such man-made lakes. There’s much to appreciate in this park but the engineer in me became distracted by what else I was seeing.
When I first saw a little train named Seattle City Lights a lightbulb lit in my head. The second prominent character of the park started to make itself known to me. I had looked down onto Gorge Dam, driven across and explored Diablo Dam and hiked to Ross Dam. This place was a hydro-engineering wonder, tapping nature for renewable clean energy. Furthermore there were power stations to be seen, towns with names alluding to their contributions (e.g. Concrete) and evidence of the vast construction projects from the past (e.g. a vertical lift train). Seattle went to great lengths to tap the energy of this region and that impresses me. The National Park Service came along decades later, recognized the natural beauty, and began protecting it and making it accessible to all Americans. This second dimension of engineering achievement is worth appreciating too.by