Saturday, December 31, 2016

Notes from the South Skagit Highway

I had a few site visits in the Northwest Cascades that I wanted to get in before another round of snow. Two of the sites were already pushing it for access; one with snow scraping the undercarriage and the second requiring a bit of hike through the snow on the road.
My first stop gave me a good view of a site I visited last summer.
Snowy patch in the center at the snowline is a snow covered landslide scar
The failure was a shallow failure of soil off a bedrock slope leading to a debris

My trip involved driving up the South Skagit Highway. This road is on the south side of the Skagit River and can be used as an alternative route up the valley versus the more typical Highway 20 route. It is a bit slower, but in my case was the route needed to get me where I was heading. It is a road far less traveled than Highway 20, but has its own scenic advantages.
The cold ground created lots of ground fog and the south side of the valley is shady in the winter. The river is just beyond the line of cottonwoods.

Unlike Highway 20, the trees close in over the county road along a number of stretches. This stretch of road passes through a mix of mossy big leaf maple, red alder and cottonwood.

I stopped at the Larsen Tree. A portion of the tree trunk is set on concrete blocks and has a roof covering. The display is memorial to the Danish grandparents of Herb Larsen and in way to another time. The tree was 1,303 years old when it was cut down in 1972.

For the most part the tree rings are hard to see and where visible (excepting near the trunk center) are very tightly spaced.

As when gets further up the valley, the rainfall increases substantially and the thick coverings of lichen and moss are a substantial feature in the forest.

There are places where the view opens up. There were too many clouds to get the one great view of Mount Baker, but I had sever views of Sauk Mountain.

The snow plastered upper slopes of Sauk Mountain
The road deviates from the Skagit Valley at the Sauk River and heads up the Sauk for a few miles to a bridge across the Sauk.
Parts of the Sauk are rather violent and the Sauk has recently taken a hard aim at the South Skagit Highway. The high bank and the angle of the river is posing a serious threat to this road section which is now down to one lane with stops at either end.

The bridge across the Sauk is a one-land steel-deck, steel girder bridge. I paused to take a picture of a couple of natural log jams that have caused abrupt river course changes in past. I have done a few geology assessments along this river reach so like keeping an eye on how the river is acting.

From bridge you can head to Darrington, or head back to the another road that follows the south side of the Skagit up to the Cascade River at Marblemount, or cross the Skagit and get back on Highway 20. In my case I took another path up a snow clogged gravel forest road.

After my field ventures, I did take the road back to Highway 20. Before reach the bridge across the Skagit, I caught the last rays of sun touching the peak of Sauk Mountain.
The south side of the Skagit has changed a lot over the past few decades. Some of the former bottom land farms are still active, but many of given over to forest and flooding. The railroad line that formerly headed up the valley is long gone and there is not a lot of evidence of it left (the rail line on the north side has been converted into a trail). The gas station/grocery at Day Creek has been closed. Floods and channel changes along the Skagit have forced some of the changes. A fair bit of river flood plain is being restored post timber harvest and farming with fish passage blocking culverts removed and forest plantings. The river is still a great salmon river and elk are returning to the bottom lands. 

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