By Mike Benbow Special to The Herald
Everett science teacher Jack McLeod broke the mold with his guidebook on the North Cascades Highway.
Instead of telling you everything you might want to know about the highway in his new book and illustrating that with a few photos, McLeod filled it with beautiful photos and included essays, text boxes, and maps as needed.
It’s more of a photography project because you see these amazing views,” McLeod said. “The text is illustrating the images.”
The result is “The North Cascades Highway, A Roadside Guide to America’s Alps,” a visually stunning look at one of the nation’s most scenic drives. McLeod shows you what you see from Rockport to Mazama, about 82 miles, and tells you the stories behind the photos.
A science teacher at Cascade High School and an avid hiker and cross-country skier, McLeod takes you off the highway to explain the things you’re seeing as you drive it: from plant and animal life to the area’s amazing geology.
He also provides stories about things like gold mining in the area and the building of the road itself, which opened in 1972.
“Every photo had a story behind it,” McLeod said.
He said the highway has fascinated him for decades since he and his wife first drove it at the end of a honeymoon trip to the Canadian Rockies.
“The main reason I love this place is because it’s magnificent,” he said, “It’s called the American alps for a reason.”
“As you drive across, you see these fabulous peaks,” he said.
A friend of a friend once asked him about those major peaks, prompting him to put together what he thought would be a small booklet with labeled photos. About 10 years later, he had a book.
McLeod hopes readers will learn to love the North Cascades as he does.
“I want people to come away with a deeper understanding of the complexity of the natural ecosystem they’re driving through and that we have an impact on that ecosystem,” he said.
You can do that simply by reading the book, which explains things like how Diablo Lake gets its extraordinary blue-green color or how rocks from the sea floor wound up thousands of feet in the air.
While the book is a good read and a visual feast, McLeod hopes you don’t stop there.
“Beyond the glass is an extraordinary realm, understood best on foot,” he wrote.
McLeod, who lives in the Mill Creek area, does something in the mountains about every other weekend. “Part of my soul is being in the woods,” he said.
He also helped create the Environmental Arts Club at Cascade High School so that students can understand the science of nature and the environment using the visual arts, like photography or illustration. Some of the students’ work is in the book.
The group takes monthly field trips to places like the Cascades or Seattle’s Arboretum.
“I want people just to connect with this incredible environment because if we connect with it, then we take care of it,” he said.
McLeod said he tossed out some of the early text he’d written about the highway because it was boring. He said he worked hard to make the stories interesting to explain the science of the area in simple, understandable terms.
Thankfully, he succeeded.
The book does a good job of explaining the rocks you see on the route, how they got there and where they’re going next.
More importantly, the roadside guide also shows why the area is fascinating and why continuing to protect it is important.