Doin’ the Cascade Loop (Sort Of) Part One

During the last bit of our Roamin’ Holiday, we decided to drive the Cascade Loop here in Washington State. No day trip, this. It would require an overnight stay somewhere. I had mixed emotions about that in this era of pandemic, but I was also itching to go somewhere, anywhere, and do something, anything. So off we went.

This road trip is something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time. I’ve done bits and pieces of it, but never the whole thing, and I can now say that it’s highly recommended. It was a refreshing getaway that increased my love for this state.

The first thing to do is check out this awesome website that’s dedicated to everything related to the Cascade Loop. It breaks down the loop into 9 regions, and is full of amazing photographs, recommendations as to where to stay and what to eat and what to do, and it also goes into great detail about the history of each region. They even offer a free guidebook, which I dearly wish I’d had.

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One of the first things they recommend is that you drive the loop counterclockwise, as you get to see more spectacular views that way. Oops. We didn’t do that. That’s what I get for not doing my homework. Maybe next time. We also skipped the first region, Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, because we had just explored that area a few days before.

Since we were choosing to skip that leg of the journey, we decided, instead, to take a brief detour to explore Camano Island, the next island to the east of Whidbey. It’s a lot smaller than Whidbey, and has fewer amenities. It seems like a quiet, rural community. It did have a few intriguing shops, galleries, restaurants, a grocery store here and there, and some wineries. All but the grocery stores were closed due to the pandemic. We felt bad about not financially supporting this community, but in these viral times, we decided it was more socially responsible to remain socially distant. But Camano also has several parks, beaches, and fabulous views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, so it was still well worth the drive.

We picked up the Cascade Loop again in Skagit Valley. This is farm country. I love this area particularly in April, when the tulips are blooming and there are vast swaths of color in the fields. It makes me feel like I’m back in Holland again. I love looking at the farm houses and the barns, and imagining what life would be like out here. Quiet, but hard work.

I love the little town of La Conner, with its quaint little waterfront shops, and the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, housed in an amazing Victorian mansion. But again, those things are for healthier times.

Hamilton is probably full of tourists in normal times. We had the whole small town to ourselves. Sedro-Woolley is a loggers paradise. Apparently they host an annual Loggerrodeo. That sounds intriguing.

In fact, there are a plethora of festivals at different times of the year, all along the loop. It is a good idea to plan accordingly. But keep in mind that the North Cascades section is shut down in the winter, due to snow. We took our trip in May a few days after the road opened. A lot of places close down in the winter.

The North Cascades section is probably my favorite part of the loop. With its mountains and valleys and waterfalls and lush greenery, it reminded me a lot of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. Well, sort of. Here, the mountains are taller and more jagged, the valleys are deeper, and the predominant trees are evergreen, not deciduous. But you get the idea. There are also 300 glaciers along the route. Hard to imagine that I’d never seen a glacier 6 years ago. The lakes and rivers are spectacular as well. There are a lot of camping and hiking and fishing opportunities here.

We passed through the town of Concrete in about 5 seconds. As you can probably guess, it used to be a cement production center. I just love that there’s a town called Concrete somewhere on earth.

Coming down from the mountains and entering the Methow Valley, we were feeling kind of peckish, and decided to stop in for some takeout pizza. One thing I’ve learned is that you can always count on pizza, even in a pandemic. We ate a lot of pizza in our travels. This time it was East 20 Pizza in Winthrop.

I hope to visit Winthrop more extensively in better times. It feels like you’ve been transported back to the wild, wild west. You can walk along its wooden sidewalks and explore tons of cute little shops. It’s also known for its fine dining. But alas, every single thing was closed while we were there, except the pizza place. I half expected to see tumbleweeds piling up in the corners. What a sad state of affairs to find ourselves in.

Then we continued on to the town of Twisp, where we spent the night. Can I start off by saying that I adore the name Twisp? I’d move there simply to be able to say Twisp multiple times a day. It sounds like a cross between the sound a potato chip makes and a squirt of honey in your mouth on a hot day.

We stayed at the Idle A While Motel. What a blast from the past. These buildings were built in the early 1900’s for the forest service. And now they have been converted into individual motel cabins along with a two story strip of rooms that looks like your typical 1950’s cheap motel. You could kind of tell that about half the place was occupied by seasonal residential types, but it was clean and felt safe, and they allowed pets, so I was happy. That, and we were able to do our check in over the phone, and I sanitized the place obsessively before and after.

Internet was sketchy and it was a bit chilly out, so we hung out and watched cable TV that evening. We watched Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, which was filmed in 1963, and it now seems quaint, like the hotel, rather than scary, as it seemed to me as a child. (Given our setting, I’m kind of glad they weren’t showing Psycho.) After that, we drifted off to sleep.

Here are some photos from our travels. More about day two in a day or two!

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My Jacksonville to Seattle Odyssey—Part 7

Well, it seems I owe you an apology, dear reader. The long delay between this part and part 6 was because the tractor trailer that delivered my stuff also managed to rip down my telephone line, and I therefore went several days without internet.

My first real taste of Washington State was Spokane, and I love it. Beautiful hills, and surprisingly lush for the drier part of the state. It also helped that I spent the night at the house of a really nice lady from my church, and she had a back yard that enchanted the dogs. Lots of nooks and crannies for them to explore.

The next morning I discovered to my horror that the van stalls when on an incline and you put it in reverse. This will make parking in Seattle a bit of a challenge, as hilly as it is. I’m having to learn all sorts of tricks to accommodate this van.

As I left Spokane, a sign also informed me that I was leaving the apple maggot quarantine area. Poor little apple maggots. They must be feeling highly put upon.

I want to explore this state. The Cascades — what a cool name. I just want to get out and do stuff! It’s so inconvenient that I have to work!

I texted a friend that I’m falling in love with Washington. He replied “It’s a good thing you are. Can’t turn back now!” Well, technically I could, but I’d be sleeping on his couch, and he’d probably want to kill me after the third day.

There’s a town in this state called George, so it’s “George, Washington”. And there’s a gorge near George, called the Columbia River Gorge, which was an unexpected delight with spectacular views.

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For a 14 mile stretch, the state was considerate enough to hang signs that tell you what type of crop is planted there. I thought that was amazingly cool, since I can’t usually identify anything other than corn. It really made me want to go to a farmer’s market.

I stopped at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, but couldn’t go too far down the trails because it was way too hot for the dogs. We did get to see petroglyphs, though, which is something I always love to check out. I often wonder what the original artist was thinking about. And the views were stunning.

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We experienced a bighorn sheep encounter. They were fascinated with the dogs. Until they started to bark. That made the sheep head for the even higher country.

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And finally, a wind farm! The structures were so massive and otherworldly that they kind of gave me the willies. It didn’t help that I was listening to Gregorian chants on the radio.

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On I-90 just outside Ellensburg, I got caught in the traffic jam from HELL. It took me an hour to go the three miles to the Roslyn exit. I was planning to go there for lunch anyway, because that’s where they filmed the exteriors for Northern Exposure. I loved that show. But if I had been having second thoughts, that traffic jam motivated me.

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So off I went to Roslyn, and had lunch at the Brick. The exterior was very familiar, but when you go inside, it looks nothing like the Brick from the show. But the food was good, and I sat at the bar, which had a running stream at your feet. 1880’s spittoon?

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As I walked though that town, I longed to see those quirky characters from my favorite show. No such luck. So the experience was bittersweet.

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I was hoping that the hour I took for lunch would be enough to clear that traffic jam, but no. And as I went through Snoqualmie Pass, in addition to stop and go traffic, I got to experience an epic thunderstorm. Yay.

But the weather cleared as I approached Seattle. I got really excited. Unfortunately I couldn’t go to my new home, because the property management company won’t turn over the keys on a weekend unless you pay an additional 150.00, something I couldn’t do even if I were willing.  So I arranged to stay with another church member.

I met her at a nearby park and we went to dinner. She gave me a lot of useful hints and pointers about the Seattle area. She then brought me to her sister’s house to sleep, because she herself has cats, so that would have been problematic. Her sister’s house is absolutely gorgeous. It made me long for the finer things in life. But I’m looking forward to getting settled myself.

Next stop: Home Sweet Home!

Check out part 8 here!