Jo and I were up early as sunlight flooded our campsite and the air filled with birdsong. The tantalizing aroma of coffee drifted across from a nearby campsite and I wished I had thought of bringing a flask – even a cold cup of coffee might have taken the edge off the stiffness that had settled into my arms and legs overnight. I was paying the price for my frenetic struggle up Sauk Mountain the day before. Following the scent of coffee to a neighbouring camp site I found an older couple and their black lab seated around a campfire. We exchanged pleasantries and the lady peered at me, concern ruffling her brow. “Oh dearie, the bugs got you good” she said in an accent straight out of the movie Fargo. My hand shot instinctively to my forehead which felt suspiciously hot and sure enough, there were great big welts where the evil flies of Sauk Mountain had dive-bombed me in their thousands. I smiled wanly and scuttled back to our campsite where Jo confirmed the worst, my forehead was a mass of bumps and hollows resembling the surface of the moon.
I pinched some ice from our cooler to soothe the bug bites and after a hurried breakfast of bagels torn apart and stuffed with cheese and cold boiled eggs, we set off on the road back to Washington Pass to take in the views during daylight. It was a glorious day and Liberty Bell towered majestically against blue skies.
We followed the trail we had taken the previous evening, clambering over rocks, past twisted, gnarled, windswept trees…
…to a stony plateau that gave us the most splendid view of the Liberty Bell massif. In my book, it ranks as one of the most breathtaking sights in all of Washington State. Mother Nature must have been awfully proud when she finished this particular masterpiece.
Back in the car, we drove east along highway 20, past our camp site to the head of the Rainy Lake Trail. It was the name that captivated my imagination and as I eased my aching muscles into action at the trail head, I hoped it wouldn’t turn out to be another bug-infested struggle up the side of a mountain; I really wanted something a little more mellow today. Thankfully, my wish was granted; this was a leisurely amble with zero gain in elevation. We drifted past waterfalls, through forests of crooked trees, bent out of shape by “snow creep”. This area gets heavy snowfall in winter and as the snow piles up at the bottom of the trees it forces them to grow in a graceful curve.
Suddenly the forest cleared and we were on the shores of the most pristine of alpine lakes, gleaming a glacial emerald green under the rays of the sun. Off in the distance the Rainy Lake waterfall thundered down the mountain and the sound of the crashing water was so loud we could hear it on the opposite shore.
We stayed gazing at the sparkling water for a few blissful minutes before a crowd of people descended on the shoreline and the silence was broken. This is a busy trail and we were lucky to have had it to ourselves for even a few minutes. It was time to push on, and I was desperately craving coffee.
I was expecting to have to wait until we reached Winthrop to get my caffeine fix so it came as a pleasant surprise when we dipped down into the Methow Valley and came across the tiny town of Mazama.
This little town started out as a departure point for mining towns in the Harts Pass area, and was originally called Goat Creek after a nearby creek. In keeping with its goat-ish origins, its current name, Mazama, is an obsolete name for ‘mountain goat’. We made a beeline for the Mazama Store which seemed to be bustling with customers, always a good sign. Inside, we found mounds of freshly baked pastries and the most amazing array of coffees. I was in heaven.
One blackberry-peach tart and several strong cups of mighty fine organic Highway 20 house blend later, Jo and I were two happy campers ready to take on the world. Or at least the next part of our road trip. We drove further eastward, and further back in time, back to the days of the Old West and an ex-mining town called Winthrop.
The gold mining boom times of the 1890s had long since vanished and been replaced by agriculture in Winthrop, but then along came the North Cascades Highway and changed everything. A rough pioneer road was completed in 1968; the highway was officially opened in 1972 and that meant droves of tourists would now travel through Winthrop on their way around the North Cascades Loop. Locals started to realize that whilst their gold mining days were over, there was plenty of gold still to be had in them there tourists, so they gave the town a Wild West makeover and the rest, as they say, is history.
After wandering along wooden sidewalks, past hitching posts, saloons and dance halls, we stumbled upon the Shafer Museum, filled with memories and memorabilia of a bygone era.
Just as we were finishing up, there was a massive thunderclap and thick drops of rain started to thump down. We scurried to the car and bid Winthrop a hasty farewell as we continued along the North Cascade Loop.
Lightning blazed as we left town and drove over a bridge across the Methow River. It felt like we’d had a full day’s worth of adventures already, but we weren’t even halfway there.
(to be continued…)
Here’s a short video of our travels today.