Thursday, August 25, 2005

Lake Chelan and points in between

Once in a while I like getting out into the northwest and experiencing nature, or at least getting outside and seeing a different part of the region. Instead of the usual camping places we decided to go to Lake Chelan in north-central Washington. I post this not to bore you all with my family vacations, but to give you a taste of the region, and perhaps inspire you to check it out yourselves.

Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures, and they are still on the film camera. You might think that I need to get into the 21st century and get a digital, as it would improve a post like this for the reader to see what I’m talking about. Perhaps, but things like modern camera equipment are pretty low on my purchasing priority list this year. Such is life in middle America.

This is taken from Emails that I sent friends of mine, and edited for the site, I didn’t just drill this out this morning.

The family borrowed a minivan, in temporary exchange for the blue Nissan, for our trip over the mountains and through the woods to Lake Chelan. We definitely needed the room. Especially since my wife wanted to take half of our existing wood collection so we wouldn't have to buy any for fires. I covered the back with a tarp, put the wood in and the coolers on top of the wood. It was still pretty packed.

The return trip was much easier.
Now, this van we borrowed has no air conditioning, so we traded cool driving for space. Wasn't the best time of year to do that. Ugh.

I also confirmed for my wife that we probably won't voluntarily be moving to a larger city than Portland in my lifetime. The traffic always raises my blood pressure to bottom of the ocean levels. How can there be stop and go traffic in Tacoma on a Saturday?

For that matter you may not be seeing me on the west side of the hills in Beaverton or something either.
Tacoma could actually take a lesson from Seattle, if you can believe that. The traffic in Seattle was a breeze in comparison. We came back from the trip on Tuesday at about 4:00, so I expected lots of stop and go. I got almost none in Seattle (all right, yes we got to use the HOV lanes, but that’s why they are there right?), but once again, in Tacoma we felt the steady heat of the asphalt at 2 MPH.

Highway 2, north of Seattle, is a really pretty drive through the Cascades, though. I love how rugged the mountains get up that north. It takes you up beyond some remote commuter suburbs, like Monroe and Sultan, and then up the Skykomish River valley. The peaks in this part of the Cascades are rocky and spiraling, so there’s plenty to see.

It was here that we saw a black bear (cinnamon in color actually, but black in species) scurry across the road. My wife thought he was going to get hit, but he made it all right, despite his bad decision making ability.

Lake Chelan is a short hop up Hwy 97 from Wenatchee along the Columbia River.

We were in a campground about 25 miles from Chelan on the south side. It's almost the last thing you can drive to. After that it's all wilderness. The other side of the lake is wilderness at that point as well. It's not secluded, though, as there are still lots of vacation homes along the road all the way up until that point (and a few beyond) and the campground is a popular boat slip.

Lake Chelan is one of the clearest lakes that I have had the pleasure of swimming in. The only reason you can't see the bottom is that it's hundreds of feet deep, and I was told reaches 1500 feet at one point. I swam out a bit with my goggles on, and I could see the slope of the bottom drop away to unreachable depths in a matter of 20 or 30 yards. It was impressive to behold, but you could really only get a sense of it because it was so clear.

I was also told by a local that they drain the lake about 25 feet in the winter time, but that it hardly makes a difference in the size of the lake or it's navigability.

Had fun watching Sucker fish (1.5 or 2 feet long) troll the bottoms in about 12 feet of water. The kids could see large schools of infant trout swimming around where they were swimming too. They thought that was the coolest thing.

The Wenatchee valley and many areas around Chelan are covered with orchards. We saw countless Apple orchards on the drive to and from Chelan from Leavenworth. There are two TreeTop (Apple juice/sauce) factories on the road too.

Lake Chelan has about 8-10 small wineries around it. We only got to one of them, a relatively new on called Tsillan. We discovered that they just built the place and planted vines about 2 years ago. Being that it's the largest and shmanciest looking tasting room and store in the area, it appears that someone came in there with a ton of money and plopped down a vineyard and winery with pristine grounds where they hold concerts (Chick Corea was coming soon). Nice if you've got the money. Most of the other vineyards are local, homegrown, and very modest. We only had time for one on Monday, though. (They get their grapes from the Yakima area, which is a HUGE grape growing region. The wine at Tsillan was good, but very dry, like California wines.)

We spent most of our time at the state park where we camped. It was definitely strange to sleep in a tent at the same location for three straight nights. Haven't done that before, but it was nice not having to set up the tent one day and take it down the next day. Although the tent got pretty dirty after a couple of days.

We took one trip into the city of Chelan, at the eastern tip of the lake. The dam that raises the level of the lake is there. It's not that big, so I would assume that the lake was there before and the dam just raised it up a bit for irrigation sake.

Chelan is cute, and quite the resort town. Lots of hotels with private beaches on the lake, boat rental places and city parks with public beaches, mini golf and bumper boats and the like. They have a major water park with big water slides and pools, but we didn't go this time, as our friends brought their dogs, and they didn't want to leave them in the car (or at the camp ground) so we couldn't stay anywhere too long. We did walk around their small downtown shopping area, which was fun for the ladies.


Driving home on Tuesday was sad, but a relief. We were eager to get away from the hot weather, and indeed once we got to Seattle things cooled off dramatically.

We stopped along the Columbia near Wenatchee and got fresh peaches and a bag of apple chips, and also stopped in Leavenworth. Leavenworth is the touristy German town, with all the buildings looking like they were imported from a Bavarian hamlet. It must be a building code thing there. Even the McDonalds has a Bavarian motif.

There was a restaurant on the main drag called Gustavs, and since the Mager empire (restaurants) consists mostly of Gustavs in the Portland area we wondered if this was part of the chain, so we stopped for lunch. It was not, as it's been there over 20 years. But it was a nice sandwich place. We even had a beer to celebrate the German-ness of it all.


Leavenworth is just over 1000 feet in elevation, but from there you can look south and see a couple of ridgelines with a steep climbing valley going up into what is known as the "Enchantments." You can't see but the front of the range, but it's a mountainous plateau with lots of lakes at about 7000 feet, so the climb in is brutal I've heard. The reward is fantastic, I'm sure.


Coming back over the pass, we stopped at this place between Sultan and Monroe called the Reptile Zoo. It's $4 a person, and we didn't have much time so I don't know if we got our money's worth, but our son had a great time. They have large monitor lizards (something related to a Komodo Dragon was there - about 4 feet long), and all kinds of snakes. They had rattle snakes, king snakes, one 24 foot reticulated python, a couple of green anacondas. My favorite snake was the Egyptian Cobra they had. The lady running the zoo got the cobra to react and show its hood, like you always see in nature stuff (or Rikki Tikki Tavi or something) when it's about to attack. It was way cool.

They had a few varieties of large turtles/tortoises, including a snapping turtle. I mean large. One of the tortoises I think my daughter could have ridden on. In addition to all that (wait: there's more!) they had young crocodiles and alligators, including a 5 year old albino alligator, which are very rare. I don't know what they do with them when they grow up, they wouldn't fit in the zoo at any rate.
They even had a spider exhibit, but we didn't spend too much time there, as the girls didn't even want to walk past the cages.

It was a better exhibit of reptiles than I've ever seen at a regular zoo. I would recommend hitting it if you are up that way.

They guy who runs it, Scott Petersen, performs for schools and appears on Disney’s show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

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