The North Cascades are a topographic jumble, consisting of two national park units (North and South), as well as two national recreation areas (Ross Lake and Lake Chelan). All four are administered by the National Park Service. A road through the Ross Lake area, which was completed in 1972, divides the North and South units and makes the alpine wonderland of the park readily accessible.
Native Americans first lived in this region at least 8,000 years ago. In the Newhalem River area, tribes supported themselves through fishing, hunting, and gathering. High-altitude archeological sites have yielded many stone tools and other artifacts from these early inhabitants.
More recently, 19th century European and American fur traders and explorers hunted and trapped in this mountain range. Miners and homesteaders followed, making a permanent home for themselves in the North Cascades.
The little community of Stehekin lies on the shore of Lake Chelan, which extends south for 55 miles and in some places is 1,500 feet deep. The town of Stehekin was staked out by 19th century prospectors, and its one-room school house was used until 1988.
The valley offers a fascinating look into the history of the North Cascades. The Buckner Homestead gives visitors a sense of the hardships as well as the joys of life on the frontier. Elsewhere there are several mines that can still be explored. Gold, silver, and copper drew hordes of prospectors to this area more than a century ago.
The rugged terrain of the North Cascades that so challenged 19th century explorers calls out to modern-day hikers and adventure-seekers. Visitors today come to test themselves against this rocky and beautiful landscape.
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