“One day’s exposure to mountains is better than a cartload of books.”
— John Muir

The view from Artist's Point, the terminus of the Mount Baker Highway

The view from Artist’s Point, the terminus of the Mount Baker Highway

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir

My home in Seattle is well situated to heed the call of the mountains.  To the west lie the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the Cascades lie to the east.  On my wish list of things to do this summer was to return to Artist’s Point at the end of the Mount Baker Highway.  I had been there just once before in September 2012 (you can see my blog posts about that trip here and here and here and here), and I was now again feeling its call.  So when I read that the final stretch of the 57-mile Mount Baker Highway had been cleared of snow and was open for the summer season, I filled my car with gas, picked up my friend Carol to accompany me, and headed out.

The landscape looked quite different in early July compared to my previous late-season September visit.  It was less colorful (no oranges and reds) and most of the trails were still covered with snow.  This visit was beautiful in its own way.

Mount Shuksan seen from the shores of Picture Lake

Mount Shuksan seen from the shores of Picture Lake

Miniature sub-alpine lilies

Miniature sub-alpine lilies

Sub-alpine plant

Sub-alpine plant

IMG_8441

IMG_8444

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.”
— John Muir

Our first stop was Picture Lake.  We walked the trail around this tiny sub-alpine lake, listening to the sound of the meltwater all around, and marveling at the majestic Mount Shuksan dominating the scene.  When we continued our drive to the road’s end, we started gaining elevation more rapidly, and soon we were dwarfed by snowbanks on either side of the car.

Snowbanks along the Mount Baker Highway

Snowbanks along the Mount Baker Highway

Hairpin bends in the road

Hairpin bends in the road

At Artist’s Point, we were the only visitors.  The primary view onto Mount Baker was hidden in clouds, but there were visual rewards in other directions.  Occasional breaks in the clouds gave us short peeks of brilliant blue.  Low skeins of clouds set off the surrounding peaks like gauzy scarves on the shoulders of haughty models.  The sun broke through to warm our faces as we relaxed into the solitude of this spot.  Solitude.  But not silence.  The sound of the melting snow all around was almost as steady and loud as the drone of freeway traffic in our Seattle homes.

View from the parking area at Artist's Point

View from the parking area at Artist’s Point

Certain views gave me the feeling of being in an Arctic landscape

Certain views gave me the feeling of being in an Arctic landscape

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.  As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but nature’s sources never fail.”
— John Muir, from Our National Parks

We made one more stop at Heather Meadows before the long drive home.  Parts of the trails were still snow-blocked, but we wandered as far as we could, enjoying the views of distant lakes nestled like jewels in the cleavage of the surrounding mountains.

View from Heather Meadows

View from Heather Meadows

Patterns of shadows in the snow

Patterns of shadows in the snow

Better than a cartload of books?  Yes, I do have to agree that experiencing the mountains directly gave a deeper satisfaction than reading about them.  Reading comes a close second, though.  But together, words and visual memories give the deepest joy.

 

 

 

Early morning fog along the Mount Baker Highway near Bellingham

I do love a road trip.  Sometimes it still surprises me how I’ve yet to see many parts of Washington State, even after living here for more than thirty years.  This week I took a day trip along Highway 542, the Mount Baker Highway, and realized that this was unexplored territory for me.  I never knew what I was missing!

The Mount Baker Highway is designated as a Washington State Scenic Byway.  It starts in Bellingham (90 miles north of Seattle), and it’s just 58 miles to its end at Artist Point overlooking snow-capped Mount Baker. The outdoor adventure company, GORP, names this road one of the “Top Ten Scenic Mountain Drives” in North America.

I’ll devote several more posts to some of the spectacular spots I discovered along the way.  But today’s post will share the experience of the drive itself — a virtual road trip.  Enjoy the ride!

Fog along Hwy 542

A flock of Canada geese

Heading east toward the Cascade Mountains, blue in the distance

Towering trees in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Little bits of fall color amidst the evergreen

The road ascends

Surrounded by high peaks

Curving Mount Baker Highway near Artist Point at 5,100 feet of elevation