Coming down from the heights of the North Cascades the road drops steeply. There is a noticeable difference in the vegetation—the trees are predominately pine and the underbrush is dry and brown. Soon we were following the course of the Methow River, twisting and turning, while losing several thousand feet of elevation. Formed in the high Cascade mountains, with numerous tributaries adding to its flow, the Methow River flows through the eastside desert, enabling the land to become a fertile agricultural area. Of course, it should go without saying, if you don’t irrigate, it won’t survive.
Yet all too soon there was a dramatic shift to the scenery. We were aware of the situation . . . but we thought the worst was passed. We had heard the coast was clearl. Then suddenly without any warning, we rounded a curve and there it was before us—obvious evidence that the wildfires were still around.
Washington’s wildfires had made national news this summer of 2014. Oregon had a few of its own, but the eastern Cascades, this fertile valley in particular, seemed to be hit the hardest. Yes, we could have backtracked and avoided what lay ahead, adding many many extra miles to our travels and foregoing our next planned destination. After making inquiries in the nearby town of Winthrop, we were informed that the route was clear and open, so we decided to forge on through.
Still, there were ominous signs as we drove on.
Then, the signs of devastation began turning up . . .
Burnt hillsides and charred roadsides.
What was once an obvious scenic landscape, was now completely scorched and turned to ashes.
If what we were seeing wasn’t wretched enough, it soon became apparent that we were entering a region of orchards and vineyards. All kinds of fruit trees covered these hillsides, perhaps most prominently, the Washington apples.
Incredibly . . . miraculously . . . the orchards still were green! How was that possible???
Mile after mile, the orchards
were saved. The scorched ground had ended at their borders.
Many blackened miles later, with similar sights continuing, we made a turn west where another scenic road, Highway 2, would slice through the Cascade Range again. Our next destination was a town built at the start of dramatic Tumwater Canyon, where the mountains rose dramatically into the sky. Unfortunately, it was a sky still filled with smoke and ash. So much for the picturesque setting.
The town of Leavenworth was a boomtown in the early 1900s. By the 1960s it was a moribund timber town. Civic leaders were determined to bring back the town’s vitality and soon arrived at what was arguably an inspired idea. Leavenworth, situated at the base of towering mountains, would make an ideal Bavarian village! They got to work selling the idea to the townspeople.
Obviously, they bought into it. Research records that architects were brought over from Germany, helping to redesign the buildings. Hotel and restaurant owners traveled over there, learning how to create lodgings and cuisine as authentic as possible.
Everyone seems to have done their homework and contributed the touches that a Bavarian town would need.
On a closer look, some might say the town is rather contrived . . . others might say a little kitsch. From our standpoint at least, it had the look of a town you’d find in a storybook.
It seemed apparent (at least to us) that if it wasn’t quite the authentic look, businesses were told just smother the town with flowers and people will get the message.
Can there be too many flowers?
But through it all there was a constant reminder (as if the ever present haze wasn’t convincing) that fires were still blazing and men were still fighting.
Their helicopter base was located near to our campground.
And the beautiful scenery seen near our campground was obscured in the smoky skies.
Despite the conditions, Leavenworth gave us a lift. And a respite from more primitive living. We cleaned up, and did laundry; ate some meals out, and had a couple leisurely days. Three days later we were ready to hit the road and move on. The Big Event was coming—our last Washington destination. Can’t guess? Stay tuned—all will soon be revealed.
Closing on a better note, we are happy to report that just beyond Leavenworth the skies began to clear. Fires were still being fought behind us, but the country ahead was still unscathed. Orchards were flourishing and a beautiful clear day made all the difference.
From a little Bavarian town in the Cascade Mountains,
Airstream Travelers, mingling in . . .
Chris—and Melinda (taking the picture)