We got home from our grand travel adventures a week ago today and I’ve not shared one story…and very few photos. I’ve actually been posting a lot in Instagram (hint-hint), but the accompanying stories belong here.
Last Saturday morning we set out to explore part of the Cascade Loop Scenic Byway. If you take a look at the map on that website I’ll walk you through our route. We started off the map in Olympia (south of Tacoma). We drove up I-5 to Arlington (mid-way between Marysville and Mt. Vernon), jogged east on 530 and connected with 20 at Rockport. We stayed two nights at a little motel between Rockport and Marblemount, then continued on 20 through the North Cascades National Park to Winthrop. We stayed three nights in Winthrop, exploring the Methow Valley, then dropped down to Chelan for our last two nights. Leaving Chelan we connected with 2, jogged west slightly, then dropped onto 97, from there to I-90 and home. Looking at the map, we did half the loop. But, we’ve been to most of the other areas on the loop. Somehow, though, we, lovers of mountains and hiking trails and wine, had never been to the North Cascades, Methow Valley or Chelan. I know! It’s a travesty that has now been remedied! I feel much more at peace!
We arrived at the Totem Trail Inn about 2:30 pm. I had reservations when I made the reservation for this place. You see, there isn’t much in the way of lodging on this side of the National Park. The towns are tiny. The lodging sparse. It was really this place or one other, which I discounted after reading the owner’s venomous responses to anyone who dared leave a negative review on Yelp (and there were more negative than positive). Totem Trail had decent reviews, though it was obvious that we weren’t talking 4 star hotel. Which I’m okay with. But, clean is important to me. Followed immediately by quiet.
The Totem Trail is an old motel. One level, L-shaped, eight rooms. The rooms do not have refrigerators, but there is a full-sized community refrigerator outside against the wall between rooms seven and eight. We packed a cooler.
The owners, a husband and wife, were not quite ready to check us in formally as they were still cleaning other rooms, but our room was ready and they allowed us to dump our stuff. The room was small and was made more so by a clutter of mismatched furniture. But, it was clean. I felt a wave of relief.
We piled our belongings here and there and headed out to go to the North Cascades visitor center in Newhalem. Our plan was to hike the next day and, though I had a couple of trail ideas, we wanted to make sure we weren’t missing anything. We visited, chatted with a ranger about hikes, picked up a refrigerator magnet and then wandered a gorgeous little 1.8 mile loop that started at the visitor center, wound down to the Skagit River (where we watched salmon struggle upstream) and then back. It was a beautiful fall afternoon. Not too hot, not too cold, warm afternoon light.
After leaving the visitor center we proceeded on to Newhalem. The history of this area is really quite interesting. The Skagit Project, which began with a small dam at Newhalem creek in 1921, expanded to encompass three additional dams (Gorge, Diablo and Ross). The last, Ross, was completed in 1953. Today the dams are owned by Seattle City Light and produce 25% of the electrical power used by Seattle.
The small dam at Newhalem creek resulted in the Gorge Powerhouse captured here (also the lead photo at the beginning of the blog):
The power it initially produced was used to power the additional dam projects, not to power Seattle. The entire project was not an easy one. This is rugged territory with steep mountains and deep gorges. And in the winter? It snows. A lot. So much so that, in present time a large stretch of Hwy 20 is closed from November until April.
After visiting the powerhouse and wandering around Newhalem (which definitely has a historical feel, particularly given that it was completely quiet and closed up in late September) we wound our way back to the Totem Trail. Cocktails mixed, we reclined on the bed and spent the evening watching Everybody Loves Raymond. A good start to a vacation that would only get better.