Summer of 1969: What a great time. We had just moved to Washington State and were living a couple of blocks from Silver Lake near Everett, Washington. I got a job at Valu Mart and spent all of my spare time hanging out at the swim beach on Silver Lake. Made some great friends and had some wonderful times. Then came the bite of the reality sandwich. Long about September 1, most of my friends stopped showing up at the lake. Seems they were all back in college…and I wasn’t. I had no intention of attending college but being the only person on the beach at Silver Lake made me think I was probably missing out on something. So I enrolled for the winter quarter which started just after the New Year.
Don’t ask me why but I chose Forestry Technology as my major and at first it was awesome. Learning to tell a Douglas Fir from a Western Red Cedar…learning that crushed spruce needles smell just like gin. Great stuff, and even better, I got a job working for the Forest Service for the summer when school was out. I was stationed at the Mount Baker National Forest ranger station in Darrington, WA. Pretty heady stuff for a kid from Wichita. I worked in Darrington the summer of 1970 and again in 1971. I made some great friends in town and even spent a few months dating one of the town girls….and boy, did the town boys hate me for it. I could have participated in as many fights as I wanted to…but I didn’t want to so I avoided the townies as much as possible. It was a really exciting time in my life.
Fast forward to the present: I had business meetings in Burlington and Bellingham, WA last week and have meetings in Seattle on Tuesday so rather than flying home Friday and back on Monday I cut a deal with my boss to pick up the rental car for the whole week and used some points to secure a hotel room in Burlington for the weekend. I have a couple of days to kill since most of my friends are either out of town or have previous engagements so I decided today to drive up the Skagit River to Concrete, the boyhood of my friends Tim and Dennis, then head south to Darrington, then turn west to Arlington and back to the hotel in Burlington. Great plan to burn some daylight and a chance to see and photograph some places I remembered as being photogenic.
The drive up river to Concrete was pretty much as I remembered. Except it wasn’t as much along the river as I remembered. I had ridden up here with Tim a few years ago when I was visiting for a couple days on my way from photographing the Olympic Peninsula to the Palouse region. We stopped that day at the Concrete Swap Meet and I was a heartbeat away from buying a classic pickup but couldn’t figure a way to get it home to Colorado without spending a fortune to ship it. The Swap Meet was going on today so I stopped in. Great place to go if you’re looking for tools or fishing tackle. But pressing on, I headed on to Rockport and turned south towards Darrington.
The Sauk river seems larger than I remembered. It has that greenish color that all glacier fed streams have. Once during the summer of 1971 one of my Forest Service co-workers and I put on wetsuits and floated a few miles down the Sauk. Through rapids and still water, it was a blast. A few miles further upstream I caught some huge Dolly Varden trout and one of the local ladies cooked them up for a pot luck at the Baptist Church. All along the riverbank were some beautiful flowers. I have no idea what they are called but they are very cool.
Rolling into Darrington, past the lumber mill, the first familiar thing I came to was the Ranger Station. I spent 2 summers there living in the bunkhouse. Lots of memories including the night (or morning) when I woke to the sound of voices: “Where’s Bill Bean? We need to find Bill Bean.” Seems my friends from Concrete, Tim and Dennis, had been um….entertaining a couple of Darrington girls up in the forest and ran down the battery of Dennis’s car. I had consumed more than a couple beers the night before and at 4:00am their presence was not welcome…but what can you do? They’re your buddies, right? We got their car going and had breakfast as the sun came up.
Next came the main intersection of the Arlington highway and Concrete highway and reality began to set in. On one corner there was a new Shell service station. Directly across the street the bar where I once saw a couple of old school loggers beat the stuffins out of a “long haired hippie freak” (their words not mine) and cut his hair with a chain saw was gone. Torn down. A block west, the Pioneer restaurant where I met the local girl I dated for a few months, is now a pawn shop. Times change.
Most disturbing was the fact that the river road running up the east side of the Sauk is now closed and abandoned. There was a big flood in 2003 that washed out all the bridges over the creeks and washed away most of the road. Rather than rebuild, it was decided to close the road and all the campgrounds along the river. What a drag. I had intended to drive that road. At one of the campgrounds I had helped blast out a reservoir and run pipe to provide running water for a campground. My first experience with high explosives…..what a blast. Then I was going to head up the Whitechuck River past a peak where we always were able to spot mountain goats a couple hundred yards off the road. Alas, the road is closed and those roads and campgrounds are gone forever. Clear Creek campground is now on the other side of the river directly south of Darrington. I took a drive out that way and found a couple of images but my disappointment was palpable.
Since I couldn’t fulfill my desire to see old places I decided to head back to Concrete and drive up the North Cascades Highway for a while. I made it to Diablo and a little further but didn’t have the heart to go all the way to the top. With a heavy heart, disappointed at all the changes I saw, I turned the car around and headed for the hotel in Burlington, stopping once to shoot a picture of the Skagit.
They say you can’t go home. I guess this is an illustration of that since I didn’t see any of the things I was expecting. 45 years can really change a place.