Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero

Skagit Tours: Gorge Powerhouse Insider’s Tour

My family is all about Skagit Tours, having taken the Diablo Lake & Lunch Cruise in 2017, they were determined to get back for another tour. This summer they made it to the Powerhouse Insider’s Tour, a popular Skagit Tours that goes behind-the-scenes of how power gets made in the Upper Skagit Hydropower Project.

I joined them for the day to see this tour for myself. What a special treat! Here’s a break down of our experience on this tour:

First, stop by the Trail of Cedars bridge while learning about the pros and cons of hydroelectricity. These tours are offered in partnership between public utility Seattle City Light, nonprofit organization North Cascades Institute and government agency North Cascades National Park.

Trail of the Cedars in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero

You’ll be guided along by an Interpretive Park Ranger from the National Park and a Naturalist from the Institute. The talk covers everything from the technical aspects of dam construction, cultural history of this river valley and natural history of flora and fauna seen along the walk.

Suspension bridge in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero

Cross over the Skagit River via suspension bridge to outside of the Gorge Powerhouse – the art deco architecture compliments the natural beauty of the teal waters rushing below.

Gorge Powerhouse in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Gorge Powerhouse visitor gallery entryway in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Gorge Powerhouse visitor gallery in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero

This pretty powerhouse has a beautiful visitor gallery which is open to the public to come in and learn more about the history of the Skagit Hydropower Project, but this is the Insider’s tour so we get to explore quite a bit more!

Richard, Gorge Powerhouse Operator answers questions about a generator. Photo by Kiley Barbero

Richard has answers to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about hydropower dams and how this process works. Our curious group wasn’t able to phase him — he’s heard it all!

In 2015 the town of Newhalem was threatened by the Goodel Creek wildfire. Durign this time, Diablo and Ross dams were put in autopilot while the Gorge Powerhouse remained in operation. Richard was here and explained looking out into the plant through smoke in the air. We owe him a lot for keeping these generators running during such a scary and difficult time.

Photo by Kiley Barbero

Continue on through a labyrinth of hallways and over four huge red pipes which the entire volume of the Skagit River flows through!

Photo by Kiley Barbero

I’m not exaggerating, here’s my family standing under a quarter of the Skagit River.. this is the true mark of an Insider’s Tour!

Photo by Kiley Barbero

On our walk back to the Gorge Inn for lunch, my dad spotted a Red-breasted Sapsucker in the trees — I started snapping photos and realized the juvenile on a parallel branch.

Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero

It looked like a parent teaching its’ fledgling how to feed at sapwells! Sapwells are rows of shallow holes these birds drill in tree bark, returning often to lap up the sugary sap along with any insects that may get caught there.

Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Red-breasted Sapsucker in Newhalem. Photo by Kiley Barbero
Red-breasted Sapsucker field markings from Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

Thank you for reading my trip report from this particular Skagit Tour. Now is the time to reserve your space for Summer 2018 tours. Learn more about the different types of Skagit Tours at ncascades.org/skagit-tours

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