January 22, 2011

Skagit River - Eagles, Waterfalls & Snow

Usually we find ourselves up in the Skagit River valley in February. But it's in January when the bald eagles arrive to feed on the salmon in the river. I wanted to go a couple weeks earlier, on the 8th, but we went to the Aquarium instead. That weekend, they counted 450+ eagles in the stretch between Sedro-Wooley and Newhalem. This weekend the count was about 150. Not the peak, but still quite impressive.

I had made up a picnic and had everything ready to go for the morning. Dan and I got showered and dressed quickly and headed to catch the 7:05a ferry. We got there with just enough time to grab some breakfast at Commuter Comforts. When I say just in time, I mean it. We had to stop traffic getting on the boat to cross in front of them and get to our car before it was time for us to move.

We had a pretty uneventful drive up. But when we got outside Mt. Vernon, I was amazed at how wet everything was. It seemed like all the fields were flooded and I wondered how that would effect the Tulip Festival in a couple of months. That was when I noticed two big white birds swimming in this one field. Hey, those birds look like......

Trumpter Swans

SWANS!!!! This was the first time we'd been up here that we saw the Trumpeter Swans in Mt. Vernon. I immediately started yelling, "Swans! Pull over! Swans! Pull over!" Poor Dan was doing 65mph at the time on I-5, so that was easier said than done. :) There were a couple of cars on the shoulder taking pictures, but we went up to the next exit and worked our way back on the frontage road.

They were beautiful, even though they were tromping through all that mud. How do they keep their feathers so clean and soft looking? They are also really noisy. I thought the Canadian Geese could be annoying, these guys were LOUD!! I'm sort of glad they aren't by our house. HA HA We watched for awhile and then headed off towards Concrete, WA on Hwy 20.

Trumpter Swans

We had planned to stop in Concrete for a potty break, but the information center wasn't open yet. So we continued on to Rockport and Rockport State Park. We wandered around looking at some of the impressive Douglass Firs. They were HUGE. I also noticed a trail, but just a little ways up the trail, it was totally blocked by blow down. Must have been a big storm up there.

Skagit River

We headed just a bit down the road to Howard Miller Steelhead Park. This is where they had the big Visitor Center and most of the events were taking place. There were patches of snow everywhere, but we didn't have to really walk in any so I was happy.

We went into the visitor center and looked at all the things on display. They had some eagle talons from bald as well as golden eagles. I really don't want to ever see those coming towards my face at a high rate of speed. Yikes! :)

When we first moved to Washington, Dan discovered a writer he really liked, Seabury Blair Jr. He writes hiking guides for this area and we have a couple. But I saw a perfect book for me. "The Creaky Knees Guide: the 100 best easy hikes". SCORE! It has 40 hikes rated either a stroll or easy hike. That should keep us busy this coming spring/summer.

From there we wandered around the park, keeping our eyes open for eagles in the trees by the river. We got over to the "clubhouse" and they were about to have a live bird show of rescued raptors. They had a Golden Eagle they were going to display. *GASP* I haven't ever been close to a golden that I can recall. I was tempted. But we both wanted to get going and didn't really want to spend the money so we decided to leave and maybe we'd come back for the afternoon show. (We didn't. Darn it.)

We crossed the river just past the park to go to an overlook we haven't been to before. We saw a few eagles, but all of them were a good distance away. That was when I started wishing I had gotten a Digital SLR for Christmas. One with a nice long lens! But we took photos of what we could and spent the rest of the time looking through our binoculars, scanning for more eagles.

Skagit River Eagles

We headed down to Milepost 100, where we usually are able to spot birds. We couldn't find any. Even the spotting scopes of the "Eagle Watchers" didn't have much. Then I spotted a brown blob way off to the left on a sand bar. I quietly asked Dan if he saw it and we walked over that direction. We found a spot and started looking through our binocs and saw one and then two eagles on the sandbar. One of them flew away and Dan said, "That other one flew away" and all of the sudden we were surrounded by people saying "There's one over there" like they discovered it themselves. :) We knew the truth.

We kept going along the river, seeing eagles here and there along the way. We spent a lot of time saying 'There's one!' but there were few pullouts and we didn't want to pull over where it would be dangerous. Traffic was light, but those driving around out there weren't really watching the road.

At Marblemount, we crossed the river at the turn up into the Cascades. As we were going over, Dan looked left and I looked right. I saw two eagles sitting together in a tree just down the river from us. Dan pulled into the first parking lot, which turned out to be a boat launch. It was also the spot that the river tours put in and then they picked up at the Howard Miller Park back in Rockport. But they all seemed oblivious as Dan and I dashed down to the water and shot some pictures.

Skagit River Eagles

Aren't they beautiful? We looked at them for quite some time. We were able to get pretty close, but I wanted to get closer. As we made our way back to the parking lot where I had seen a trail headed off that direction, one of them flew away. But the other seemed rather content and didn't plan on going anywhere. We headed down the trail until we were directly under the tree. Wow!

Skagit River Eagles

Skagit River Eagles

So amazing! We looked for other eagles, and saw the boats starting their float down the river. (Brrr!) and then decided to try to follow the trail on the loop back to the car. We got about halfway and then we hit a giant lake in the middle of a field. OOPS! Backtracked to the car and drove on to have a picnic by the Fish Hatchery.

Unfortunately the hatchery was crowded and not very scenic. We looked at maps and decided to keep heading up towards Newhalem and we would stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center. I had read there was a nice trail that had some good vistas of the river up there too. And it wasn't much further up the road.

It was getting snowier as we got higher on the road. By the time we got to the turnoff for the North Cascades, we had to drive through a little snow to get off the road. We slushed around the parking lots by the visitor center until we found a nice view and parked in the lot. We were the only people there as the visitor center was closed for the winter. Wonderful and quiet.

I put together our turkey wraps and they were pretty good. I think I'd wait and put them completely together from scratch right before eating next time, but it hit the spot. Turkey, blue cheese, avocado and creamy parmesan dressing. YUM! I wrapped them up in tortilla wraps with some baby spinach. Next time I'll add some red onion to give it crunch and maybe romaine lettuce instead of spinach.

Dan got out and walked around in the snow a bit to enjoy the quiet. When he got back to the car, we were just sitting there looking at the map and talking about going up past Newhalem to this waterfall overlook that we never stop at in summer because it's always too crowded. Just then I heard a car coming. We looked and looked and finally it came around the corner and drove through the parking lot.

There are 3 parking lots there by the center. There are lots of other roads and places to park besides those lots, but it is a huge area. So where did the car decide to park? Directly behind us. Not 10 feet behind us, but right behind us, bumper to bumper. That irritated Dan a LOT, so we just put food away and drove up to Newhalem and had a restroom break.

Newhalem was a ghost town. It was eerily quiet there. So strange for us as it's usually bustling with tourists. You could see cars in some of the driveways and slivers of smoke coming out of a chimney here and there, but it was totally quiet. Scary!

Also, from Newhalem we got our first glimpses up into the North Cascades. It sure looked inviting up there! Maybe we'd have to drive up to where the road was closed for the winter. How could we resist getting closer to views like this one?

North Cascades

On our way up to the pullout for the waterfall, the mountains were spraying water out from everywhere. You literally couldn't drive more than 25 feet without seeing another and then another and then another. Stunning! They were everywhere.

North Cascades

We stopped at the falls by Gorge Lake and Dam. We were the only people there for a little while. We crossed the road and walked out to the bridge to take a look at the falls we usually just saw from the car. I had never noticed that the bridge was a metal grate. I really tested my acrophobia out there. Scary!

North Cascades

Then we crossed back over the road and went up the trail from the parking lot. It had an overlook of more water falls and the dam. We saw a couple of people on the trail, but it was far from crowded.

I wanted to keep going up higher to see more waterfalls and Dan agreed. We made it up to the Diablo Lake vista where we have stopped many times before with Lucy to have a walk around or a picnic. There was enough snow that I was ready to turn around, but the views from up there were so great. All those saw tooth like mountains were pure white with snow.

North Cascades

North Cascades

We looked around for a long while and then headed back down towards Rockport. We shot some fun video of the waterfalls on the way down.

Once we got to Rockport, we wanted to stop again at the Howard Miller Park for a break before the long drive home. Unfortunately we had too much fun and didn't notice we had missed the 2nd bird show. Oh well.

As we were pulling into the park, we noticed something we hadn't seen before. Don't you think we would have noticed something like this the first time we were there in the morning?

North Cascades

If it was there before, we totally missed it. We got one last perfect view before we left. Be sure to click to see the big version of this one. There are eagles in the tree to the right and that snowy mountain in the distance. It summed up our day perfectly.

Skagit Eagles

We decided to cut through Darrington for the more scenic way back to I-5. I had told Dan earlier that if we had time, we could stop at the Outlet Mall and get him some new Nikes. We got there about 5pm and found a parking place. We got him two pairs of shoes. One regular shoe and one that's more like a light hiking shoe. Then we walked down to the Calphalon store to check out their prices. They had some big discounts, but it was still a lot of money for an omelet pan.

Then we wandered over to the Sony Outlet so Dan could touch all the stuff. We watched some 3D TV. Meh. I always get a headache from that and I'm not going to sit in my living room with those glasses on. I'm willing to wait for the technology to get better.

We finished at the mall a little bit before 6pm and wandered over to the Tulalip Casino to find some dinner. Unfortunately we were not the only people who had that idea. 2 hour wait at the restaurant we wanted. 1.5 hours at the other. 1.5 hours at the coffee shop and the buffet line was HUGE. Nevermind. Back to the car.

We got down to Lynwood and stopped at the Alderwood Mall. Parked - walked - 2 hour wait at PF Chang's, Parked - walked - 1 hour at Blu C Sushi, Parked - walked - 1 hour at Claim Jumper (whatever that is!). Finally Dan called the Red Robin on the other side of the mall and they had a 20 minute wait, but let us put our name in over the phone. I was bonking hard from all that walking through the parking lots when I was overdue for dinner. I was really glad when I heard them call our name.

Red Robin is always so loud and their food isn't the most healthy. But our waitress was quick and attentive and I got a drink in me and a grilled chicken sandwich. Dan had a blue cheese burger. Much better!

Then it was a quick drive back to Seattle. When we were coming into downtown, I looked at the ferry schedule. It was 8:55pm and I was pretty sure we wouldn't make it on the 9pm ferry. But Dan wasn't ready to give up and started racing around the shortcuts to get down there.

We got to the left turn into the ferry and the light had just turned red. We sat there for what seemed like forever. Before the light turned green, we saw our boat pull away and head for home. :( Oh well. We'd be on the 9:45pm boat for sure.

We parked and walked up to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, but it was closed. I was tired of walking and it was cold out, so we just headed back to the car and the ferry arrived not too long later. We got home and got the car unpacked by 10:30. Phew!

Long day. But what a nice day out of the house. We should do that more often.


Added: Here's a video that Dan edited together for us.


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