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Home / United States / Washington State / Travel Tales /
The Cascade Loop East Side
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The Cascade Loop East Side
  Washington State Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

cascade_loop_blueview.jpg The road wraps around mountains like a black silk scarf and drops to the sea so low you can smell the seaweed. It embraces lakes the color of sapphires, crosses parched heaving fields, and cuts through woods that shields forest creatures. It ties old west towns to Early America villages and hurdles futuristic dams. At times it leads to noisy celebration and exhilarating adventure; at times it enshrouds you in blissful silence. In the spring, summer and fall, it's thick with apple blossoms, festivals, rodeos and harvests. In the winter, it sparkles with skiers, jingle bells and a thousand snowflakes.


wash_loop_highway_curves.jpg It is the road called the Cascade Loop, a 400-mile circle located in the state of Washington. And every year, millions of rubber-tire travelers come away inspired by its natural beauty and the diversity of the stops along the way each a gateway to a different place and a different time in history.

A good place to break into the loop is at Highway 2, running east from Everett on Interstate 5 and just minutes from Snohomish.

The main street of Snohomish is flanked by rows of red brick buildings, tilting slightly, like an old man who has long since seen a hundred. Pieces from the past tumble from weathered doorways and press against the plate-glass windows. High-buttoned shoes point their toes at you from beneath heaped chenille bed spreads; wood stoves gleam blue steel from under a stack of 1920 calendars; mahogany wardrobes lean in corners, straining from the excess of fox stoles, lace doilies and feathered chapeaus crammed behind their mirrored doors. Poke about these pockets of time; you never know what you're going to find, or what memories you'll jog. Why, some relics, like the cumbersome nickelodeon, might start you warbling to put another nickel in!

The city, established in 1859, has blocks of beautifully restored Victorian homes -- best perused with a self-driving map found at the Chamber of Commerce. Plotted before television, their friendly front porches reveal a time when gossiping with the neighbors was the window to the world. Today, the rocking chair is more of a decoration. However, on a still Sunday morning, muted by the rustling leaves of the giant oaks that shade the peaked rooftops and hug the wide streets, you can still hear a rhythmic squeak, squeak, squeak.

index_rafters2.jpg Sultan, Startup, Goldbar, Index and Skykomish, the towns next up, are separated from the modern world by pine- scented forests, challenging Alps and rivers that tempt and tease you. In fact, the biggest change in decades to these ex-railway and logging communities is their blossoming popularity with the tourist. Index, the prettiest of the bunch, sits at the base of a mountain that is usually crawling with professional climbers and faces a river that is usually churning with scared but excited amateur rafters. Join them by signing up at the shop on the river's bank and discover what it feels like to be rushing with the river, the spray slapping at your face.

Step into the town's general store, too. It's typical of a small town general store, packed with goods that reflect the wilderness area and the activities possible therein. Shelves are crammed with gold pans, fishing rods and hiking gear; fishing licenses are available, too, and popcorn, hotdogs and fresh coffee.

" We offer you a bite to eat and a place to rest . . . and a chance to peek into the railway days of the 1890's." say the proprietors, pointing at the museum across the street.

They also offer you hints on where to go gold panning, hiking, fishing, mountain climbing and river rafting.

"... the joys of the wilderness! ", they passionately announce.

As you continue along the highway, over the Stevens Pass, delicate birch and alders replace the green pines and thick cedars. Soon your in Tumwater Canyon, a valley of gurgling brooks, cotton clouds and Leavenworth.

You don't have to do anything in Leavenworth except stare. The town is a picture straight out of a German tourist brochure, the one with the village ensconced in an alpine forest -- scrolled roofs, strolling minstrel, blue skies and all. Even in the dead of winter, when a quilt of snow colors the town white, a picture of Leavenworth is worth the proverbial thousand words. The rest of the year pansies, petunias, daisies, geraniums, fuchsia and marigolds fall from pots and planters everywhere, stitching the town with fragrant red, blue, purple and yellow embroidery.

The town is a veritable kaleidoscope of sounds. Shops selling porcelain ornaments, beer steins and cuckoo clocks, chime, hum, and jingle with inviting musical notes, a costumed musician plays his accordion for all who'll listen, and beer gardens throw out hearty German songs to the wind.

And, if you can imagine, during festival days the scene above intensifies.

The good fortune of this once dying railway town began with a festival -- The Maifest. The festival's success created another festival -- The Autumn Leaf Festival. And then another -- The Christmas Lighting Festival.

It sounds simple, but it wasn't. It took determination, persistence and hard work. Just how much is disclosed in a 30-minute movie that will leave a lump in your throat. See it at Der Markt Platz at Front and 8th Street and book far in advance if you plan to stay in Leavenworth during the festivals.

Cashmere, your next stop, depicts Early America. While it doesn't have the razzmatazz of Leavenworth, it does have an excellent museum.

Cashmere's Chelan County Museum has one of the finest collections of Indian artifacts in the northwest. Examine over a thousand pieces here, some dating back ninety centuries, such as whalebone clubs, pipes, arrowheads, beads and bowls.

cashmere_pioneer_village.jpg A recreated 19th century pioneer village sits in an idyllic green clearing next to the museum. From a distance, with children running from the schoolhouse and men milling about the saloon, the village looks real. However, as you stroll from cabin to cabin, you'll notice the people are wearing Adidas and baseball caps and there are barricades across the doors.

Wenatchee, eleven miles east of here, and the Rocky Reach Dam just beyond, also have excellent museums and are worthy of a visit.

The North Central Washington Museum is housed in Wenatchee's old post office. This huge building has room for life-size street scenes from different time zones. For example, turn the corner of 1890, and you're in the 1920's! It also has room for a giant 1919 theater organ: the "Mighty Wurlitzer", a toot-tooting model railroad, and a clanking apple packing belt.

Rocky Reach Dam, besides providing Seattle with power, exhibits genuine samples of every electrical gadget ever invented -- early radios, telephones, old light bulbs, phonographs, even original television sets are represented. It's literally a road map of enlightenment and runs the length of the dam.

To get to Rocky Reach Dam and on to the Cascade Loop, cut back after you visit the museum in Wenatchee and go north on Alt 97. Be sure you're on the west side of the Columbia River.

This portion of the loop crosses dry rolling hills that reek with the scent of tumbling sagebrush. It is sparsely populated until you get to Lake Chelan.

Lake Chelan penetrates deep inside the Cascade Range for nearly 55 miles. The third deepest lake in the U.S. ( 400 feet below sea level at its deepest point ), it splashes with bathers, boaters and sun worshipers on its south side all summer long. However, the only splashing heard on its north side is when a trout rises from the water to catch a fly, or when a grizzly stops to fish.

You can stay in the summer resort town of Chelan and participate in the water sports ( rentals of all the latest water toys are available ) or board the Lady of the Lake ferry for Stehekin, a remote village at the head of the lake. It's a round trip, however, you can spend the night at a primitive lodge and get in touch with nature. Besides horseback riding, there are ranger-led nature walks and shuttle bus service to trailheads, fishing holes and campgrounds.

Continue traveling on Alt 97 north and swing left to 153. 153 runs into Highway 20 and Winthrop, an authentic- looking replica of the old west.

winthrop_museum2.jpg Winthrop doesn't look at all out of place in its wilderness surroundings. The old-fashioned clapboard buildings, the wooden sidewalks and the descriptive saloons straddling the highway look entirely appropriate. However, the Chevron tanks look a little strange. So do the Broncos and the Pintos parked on the blacktop -- wrong kind of horsepower for the 1890's!

Mosey on over to Three-Fingered Jacks Saloon and rub shoulders with the real cowboys. They'll tell you where the one-horse power is, if your hankering for a ride.

When you're through playing ride'em cowboy begin the climb over the once-unconquerable Washington Pass. A hundred years in the making, even now, the 5,447 feet summit section of the North Cascade Highway is closed during the winter season because of the constant danger of slides.

Do stop at every viewpoint: the overpowering landscape will no doubt convince you nothing can compete with Mother Nature. That is, until you descend into the Skagit Valley and see what James D. Ross, father of the Skagit River dams, accomplished. The lakes produced by his monumental dams are liquid sapphires -- an illusion created by the reflection of the sun against the glacier silt in the water. Ross Lake is the most stunning of the three. Be prepared. Its sudden appearance as you come around the bend is so vivid, is such a startling blue, it's guaranteed to elicit an involuntary wow! from your lips.

The road begins its drop to the sea here. Soon it will connect fishing villages to forts to the oldest city in Washington. It will infringe upon acres of tulips and rhododendrons, skim over marshland and rattle seashells on the seashore. Then it will hop on board a ferry, roll through Everett and the Boeing Plant and catch up with Snohomish and I-5 once again.

The Cascade Loop consists of four highways in Northwest Washington State. Highway 2; Alternate 97; Highway 153; and Highway 20. Highways 2 and 20 cross Interstate 5. The entire loop is 400 miles long. The portion described in the above story is between Snohomish and Ross Dam on the east side of I-5 and is about 250 miles long. To enjoy its scenery, it takes roughly two days to complete.




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