Saturday, June 21, 2014

Lake Chelan and the North Cascades

Driving through the arid canyons of the Columbia River basin from Grand Coulee, we could never guess that that the beautiful oasis of Lake Chelan was down the road hiding above us on a plateau. We've heard about the place for years but we were caught totally off-guard by its beauty, the big town, the vineyards, the orchards, the snow-capped peaks, and above all, its sheer size.  It's 50 miles long, and 1,486 feet deep--the third deepest lake in North America.  At its deepest, it is over 300 feet below sea level.  
Vineyards and orchards near uplake from the town of Chelan

We camped among giant ponderosa pines in the nearly deserted Alta Lake campground 20 miles north. At the town of Lake Chelan we took the express 2.5 hour boat ride to the upper end of the lake to the village of Stehekin, which is accessible only by boat or trail.   Over 100 people live there year-round.  We rented bikes, hiked to a waterfall, then then hit its famous bakery.  The trip back on the four-hour boat seemed to take forever, but at least we were surrounded by beauty and not towing a trailer over winding roads.
Rainbow Falls

Departure dock to Stehekin
The demanding drive through North Cascades National Park the next day was quite a contrast, especially as we got into some very steep and curving roads west of Winthrop and over Rainey Pass. The peaks were often hiding in the clouds but we got a few glimpses.  Our almost empty campground in Newhalen was at an elevation of only 500 feet, reminding us of the lush vegetation just  up the Santiam Canyon from Salem.

Entering North Cascades National Park from the East

We had planned to spend more time at North Cascades NP.  But the trails still had snow on them and the mountains were clouded in.  We learned from the ranger that peak season really doesn't start until mid-july, hence the empty campgrounds and almost empty roads.  The forecast was for rain so we left for home on Thursday morning, getting to Salem eight hours later.  The traffic jams in Seattle and Portland were  at their legendary best.  

We now call this trip the Dam Tour.  We started out to see beautiful scenery and go places we hadn't been before.  We succeeded in that.   In the process we must have come upon 15 or more hydroelectric dams and actually visited two of them.  As a result, we now know just a little more about hydraulics, electricity, engineering, and the big complex world in which we live.  It was a damn good tour overall!

From the Diablo Lake overlook

Gorge Falls Near Newhalem

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Amazing Grand Coulee Dam

Fathers Day, 2014

Even though our daughters are thousands of miles away, it was a good Father’s Day.  We started off with a nice breakfast at the Airstream rally in Sacajawea  State Park.
Breakfast with fellow "Streamers"

Best of all, we got to explore new roads and see some truly spectacular things—the upper Columbia River basin and the Grand Coulee Dam.  We became very interested in the dam after listening to the book The Boys on The Boat, which was all about the UW rowing team preparing for the 1936 Munich Olympics during the Great Depression.  To pay for tuition, two of the team members spent a summer suspended from ropes high above the river jack hammering away at the granite cliffs.

The approach to the dam is like driving the Columbia Gorge, only on a small windy road with different formations, but spectacular just the same.

Along the way to Grand Coulee
We stayed in Steamboat Rock State Park, a very delightful surprise, and we wish we could have spent a couple more days for hiking and biking.
Steamboat Rock State Pa4k

Lush green campground

The Grand Coulee is reputed to be the largest concrete structure in the world.  Nearly a mile wide and 46 stories high, there is enough concrete in it to complete two four-foot sidewalks around the world two times.  Unlike the Boulder Dam on the Colorado River, it’s not much to look at because so much of it is under water.  What makes it impressive are its statistics, engineering breakthroughs at that time, and the sheer amount of effort it took to complete it.  Just one of the new generators, for example, processes more water than the entire Colorado River at the Boulder Dam does in a day—and there are eight of them, plus several smaller ones!

The Grand Coulee Dam from Vista Point
The Grand Coulee Dam fills you with pride about American ingenuity and what we are capable of doing.  However, it is also a depressing reminder of our current lack of vision, political will, and taxpayer unwillingness to invest in the future because “it is a government project.”  Never mind the fact that it helped us win WWII with the electricity for aluminum aircraft, the shipyards, and plutonium production.  It is now a hugely profitable economic engine for Washington that provides so much agricultural bounty, including our favorite, wine grapes.  Some of the power is shipped all the way to San Diego, but a good amount of that is lost during transmission.

 We highly recommend a visit to the visitor center (except for the annoying fake jackhammer that kids play with constantly, which I would have done if I had seen it at a young age).  We also recommend the guided tour.  After a security screening stricter than at airports, we got to go below the surface of the water, see a few generators, and ride across the top of the dam in a van, under the watchful eye of a cop in a bullet-proof vest toting an assault rifle shadowing us.
We left the place with two familiar feelings that we get when we visit impressive places like this:  1) we stand on really broad shoulders of giants that preceded us, and 2) we enjoy the shade of trees planted by someone who never knew us.

Next stop—Lake Chelan and the North Cascades National Park.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Let the Summer Begin!

A lot has happened since the last blog.  My elbow is much better, to the point where I have resumed Pilates twice a week and road and mountain biking.  Weight lifting or swimming laps are still out of the question until the end of summer.

I attended my last board meeting two weeks ago, our last symphony was three weeks ago, and last Sunday we attended our last fundraiser/auction for the season, so let the sumer begin.  Actually, the Rotary 70's party/fundraiser was fun. Even though I haven't been around very much, work has been exciting and business has been booming.  My book, The Confident Retirement Journey, is scheduled to be featured in the Encore supplement of the June 23 Wall Street Journal.

Kathy has been extremely busy with her national and local Assistance League duties, traveling twice to California since the last post. She has another 5-day board meeting in Burbank in late July.  Her 89-year old mother has physically recovered from her February stroke, but still has cognitive issues and is very unhappy and resentful about living in a retirement community instead of alone in a duplex.   It's up to her to find and execute an alternative and  and frankly, we'd be very surprised if she pulled it off.
And speaking of living arrangements, late May marked the 5th anniversary of our move into our condo at the Meridian. The place is now 92% occupied, mostly by renters.  That said, we love it here--the location, the convenience, the view, and our community of neighbors who live downtown and a few doors or floors down.
Summer view from one of our decks
We got the trailer out of mothballs and took it on a trip to the Redwoods and south Oregon coast.  I went tent camping on the Metolius River by myself. Initially Kathy couldn't go because she took her mom to the Portland rose parade and had too much Assistance League work to do.  But she got to go for just an hour or so because I lost my keys mountain biking, and she graciously made the four-hour round trip to rescue me.

Sunset at Sacajawea State Park
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We're now at an Airstream Rally at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco Washington. It's good to see some old friends and make new ones over good food and wine.  It's also the site of a big bluegrass festival, but after a couple hours of  the high nasal voices and the same repetitive banjo licks, we're ready to go on a long bike ride and do some wine tasting tomorrow.

Here's a link to some photos so far.


Summer 2014 (so far):