Trip report #8 – The Cascade Loop Highway
After knocking around the Seattle area for more than a week, Scott and I decided it would be fun to broaden my admittedly narrow view of Washington state. We packed a bag, threw it in the truck and headed north on I-5. Less than an hour later, we turned east onto Highway 20 to begin our drive of the Cascade Loop. Described by National Geographic as “one of America’s grandest, most spectacular drives,” the Loop circles “through the North Cascades mountain range, along the semi-arid Columbia River Valley, past glacier-fed Lake Chelan, through the North Cascades National Park and into the Puget Sound.”
We began at the Skagit Valley, a site held dear by the Davis clan for its magnificent salmon fishing. In September of every odd-numbered year, the male members of the family head to “The Bunny Cabins” for several days of fly-rod fun and perhaps a little harmless whiskey drinking. Never one to intrude on this boys’ ritual, I had heard much about – but never seen – these cabins, which are nicknamed for the large rabbit population that live and frolic near here. Let’s just say that if the Davis women who fly-fish joined in (that would be me), we’d be staying somewhere else, as “rustic” doesn’t even begin to describe this place. But in the guys’ defense, there are no other accommodations remotely close to this perfect water.
The next point of interest was the town of Concrete. Named for its primary industry and still comprised almost entirely of gritty concrete walls, towers and silos, it enjoys fame as the location where The Postman was filmed. We looked for a lunch spot but given it was mid-week, traffic was light and nothing was open.
Driving through the North Cascades National Park, the pointed granite peaks reveal themselves as fairly young in mountain years. We were happy to see a number of viewing areas which allowed us the opportunity to see the peaks from a number of vantage points including the outlooks over two lakes – Ross, which is teal colored, and jade-hued Diablo. Signage at the pullouts explained that the difference in color is caused by the dust suspended in the water reflecting the forest and the sky.
The Loop continues on into the Methow Valley where we had reserved a room at the Methow Valley Inn in the small and charming town of Twisp. Photos on its website had provided a sneak peak of the Inn’s gardens but did not do them justice.
I was enchanted by the bounty of the flowers, fruits and vegetables and spent a good hour with my camera trying to capture even a portion of their beauty in the golden, late-afternoon sun. Those included here are just a few of those I took before Scott suggested we mosey on down the street in search of dinner, particularly as lunch had never materialized.
As if viewing them wasn’t enough, we enjoyed the fruits and vegetables at breakfast the next morning as the innkeepers used them in a delicious vegetable quiche with side dishes of plums, melons, pears and plums.
Before we left, I spent an hour rocking in a big swing on the front porch while Scott scouted the river for future fishing opportunities. It was a pretty idyllic stay, and if you ever get a chance, I highly recommend you visit this inn.
Fruit is plentiful in the Methow Valley and we couldn’t resist the lure of a roadside stand. It didn’t take long to be persuaded that I needed to taste the fresh-baked-this-morning nectarine and peach crisp, and of course how could Scott ever forgive himself if he didn’t sample the marionberry pie? We grabbed forks to share and sat in the shade of the orchard contemplating our future and wondering if central Washington factored in our plans.
A little later down the road I was surprised to see how dry and barren the landscape quickly became. What – a desert here in Washington, the Evergreen State? Yes, it’s hot and dry and finds relief at Lake Chelan, a narrow body of water known for its recreation opportunities. According to a sign at one end, the lake is very deep – nearly 1,500 feet. In fact, it was shared with us that a school bus lays at the very bottom. The local lore is that the bus was involved in an accident, went over the guardrail and plunged so far and so deep into the water that it and its occupants could not be rescued. I confess I haven’t taken the time to research the validity of that tale but needless to say, the lake is indeed deep.
The Loop highway continues into the Columbia River Valley and if you love apples, you will love this place! Everywhere we looked, we saw acres and acres of apple trees, dotted by the occasional pear and apricot. Apparently harvest time was near as large crates had been placed throughout the orchards. We also saw activity around what must be cabins occupied by the pickers during harvest.
Seeing this brought back memories of an annual family tradition – the purchase of a case or two of Washington apples. My dad loved the Red Delicious variety and we’d keep them cool in our basement. I would make regular treks down the stairs and sneak them into my bedroom to enjoy while I read. I say “sneak” because we weren’t allowed to have food in our rooms and I would eat the apples whole, core and all, to avoid being caught. To this day, I eat apples this way. Odd, I know, but I like the taste of apple seeds and hopefully I won’t ingest enough arsenic to send me to the Great Airstream in the Sky before my time.
Our last stop before heading back to Seattle was the town of Leavenworth. Russ and Charity had told us about this community but nothing could have prepared us for what we saw. The entire town is decorated in a German theme. Every building, every business, every traffic feature, EVERYTHING, looks Bavarian. (The communicator in me was wrestling with the thought of how they’d obtained the permission of all the corporations represented there to modify the logos. I mean, really, have you ever seen a Bavarian McDonald’s or Conoco station?) We agreed that Leavenworth is Disneyland’s Matterhorn on steroids … interesting but weird, although we’re told it’s very charming at Christmastime.
We walked the streets of the downtown, laughed at the piped-in polka music at the town square, and then found a seat outside at the Icicle Brewery where our fun at Leavenworth’s expense suddenly came to a halt. After all, there is nothing funny about good beer and a thick, chewy pretzel with creamy brown mustard.
We ended our drive on the Cascade Loop by driving through Stephens Pass and back into the Seattle metro area. It was a fun and interesting two days, and we’ll save the Puget Sound portion for another visit. And I now know firsthand that Washington is more than what one sees in Seattle.