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.
|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|