Do you have a place that you have been dreaming of to stand there just once in your life-time? A bucket list of locations? Well, the other day it just happened to me, and I was blown! Actually, I’m still living this moment when I got there, the time I spent there – and it felt out of this world, even though it was not that far away, here in Washington State.
It all started with the spontaneous idea to go to Mt. Baker over the weekend because we had never been there before. I was plain lucky to find a room, because the entire area was pretty much booked up. So much for being spontaneous AND lucky. The next day, we set out for a four-hour-drive through the beautiful foothills of Mt. Baker and then for picturesque Skagit River Valley. Or rather – what lies beyond: Diablo Lake.
Maybe you have seen pictures of it. I first came across the dammed lake decades ago when watching the movie “The Deer Hunter”; and I was wondering back then already, whether I’d ever see that gorgeous place in real life. Gorgeous, because there is a road across the winding dam, set with pretty lanterns. Gorgeous, because the lake is an incredible turquoise, and the mountains around are towering, some of them capped with snow even in late summer.
Diablo Lake is the Skagit River dammed, between the equally dammed Ross Lake higher up and the dammed Gorge Lake below. It is managed by Seattle City Light, who have also set up a modern learning center at one side of the shore and who offer guided tours and boat rides across the lake. As you have to make reservations for these, we just watched the boats from the dam.
This dam, when finished in 1930, was the highest of its kind in the world at 389 feet. Looking into Diablo Gorge below, I just wondered how they could have done it. I mean, just retaining the water pressure during construction; or blasting those huge granite boulders at the bottom to have the dam attached … Above all, though today we are seeing wilder architectural ventures maybe, this dam was built under way less technological advantages than we have almost a hundred years later. And it still delivers power to Seattle and surroundings after all this time!
We had planned to hike the Diablo Lake trail that starts at the learning center and reaches about 3.8 miles towards Ross Lake. Unfortunately, the clouds piling up behind the snow-capped mountains as well as some ominous thunder had us reconsider. And indeed, a few minutes later a thunderstorm turned loose and pelted the lake relentlessly.
We returned across the dam and drove towards Ross Lake. At one huge view point, we saw the sun come out again and more thunderheads moving in. Diablo Lake had returned to its intense turquoise tint (it’s mineral flour from rock abrasion that turns it so), and red, orange, and yellow kayaks were moving across, colorful needles contrasting with the vivid hue of the water. The ferry was leaving a glistening wake behind its route to another bay. And at the far end, the dam was curving and connecting the walls of Diablo Gorge.
When we returned to the Seattle City Light company town of Newhalem below all these dammed lakes, the rain was beating down hard again, but it left the Gorge Power House gleam in an almost surreal way. Huge power lines ran from it along the road towards civilization. Only the technological outcome of what is one of the most outlandishly stunning artificial lakes I have yet seen.