STEHEKIN LANDING RESORT AND LAKE CHELAN

            We were in no hurry to leave Paradise Inn dining hall.  Indeed, we wished we could stay there another day, but since the hotel was all booked up and our other reservations had been made long before, Lucy and Connie settled into their nests in the back seat; in the front, we changed drivers, and drove down the mountain.  Just before we arrived at the Stevens Canyon Entrance, we passed through the Grove of the Patriarchs.  Another “blessing for another time” was to return here and revel in those thousand-year-old Douglas firs and western red cedars.

            Passing through the rugged Tatoosh Wilderness on hwy 12, we continued on to one of the nation’s best known fruit-growing regions, the Yakima Valley; from here we took hwy 97 north, arriving at Lake Chelan in mid-afternoon.  Here we checked in at the Lakeside Best Western, beautifully landscaped with flower-beds, shrubbery and trees.

THE TIME WARP

            Here and there in life, if we’re both adventurous and lucky, we stumble on certain places that are magical.  When we’d told our nephew, Byron Palmer (who works for Alaska Airlines) that we planned to explore Washington state, he categorized Lake Chelan and Stehekin as “must-sees.”  But even though we found the south end of the lake to be attractive, nothing prepared us for the northern terminus 51 miles away.

Lake Chelan

            Next morning early, we boarded Lady of the Lake II for what turned out to be a journey into a time warp.  As the boat moved north, the genial captain pointed out places of interest—the verdant orchards and vineyards gave the lake a Mediterranean look.  We learned that fjord-like Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the United States, its 1,486-foot depth exceeded only by Crater Lake’s 1,932 and Lake Tahoe’s 1,645.  We were surprised to discover that Chelan is considered to be the deepest gorge in North America: the Grand Canyon of the Colorado is a mile deep, Kings Canyon is 7,800 feet deep, Hells Canyon is 8,200 feet deep, and Lake Chelan’s gorge (given that it plunges down to 386 feet below sea level) is 8,631 feet deep.  Indeed, so deep is the lake that we were told it takes the water flowing in to the northern part of the lake from Stehekin River ten years to reach the south end 51 miles away.  Needless to say, its greens and blues, being glacier-fed, are a feast for the eyes.

View of Cathedral Peaks

           Roads reach only the midway point of our four-hour boat trip.  Soon cell phones ceased to function, no power lines or telephone lines exist, and human habitations are mighty few.  We did see one bear off to our right.  The Lady made several stops to let people off or pick them up at wilderness jumping-off points.  Other than the boat’s twin turbines, we heard nothing else.  Looming high above us were the snowcapped mountains of the North Cascades National Park, reminding us no little of the Alps.

            Finally, we docked at a little hamlet of about 85 full-time residents few Americans have ever heard of—Stehekin.  The only way one can get here is by boat, float plane, or trail.  All motor vehicles used here are brought in or taken out once a month by barge.

View of Lake Chelan from deck

            We disembarked and registered at Stehekin Landing Resort, all wooden buildings of recent vintage (1983 and later).  We stayed in two of their lakeside cabins—the front-deck view was to die for.

            In 1814, Alexander Ross of the Northwest Fur Company became one of the first white men to explore the Stehekin Valley.  But it was not until the first steamboat (built on the lake in 1889) that settlers and homesteaders moved in.  Without electricity or roads from the outside world, lifestyles were little different from frontier life: water was carried from the river, wood was used for both cooking and heating, kerosene lamps were used at night.  Not until 1963 did Chelan County PUD put in a small hydroelectric plant so folks could have electricity.  When the North Cascades National Park was established in 1968, the southern part of Lake Chelan was excluded.  A park headquarters was established in Stehekin.  Part of the legislation mandated that a road would never be built into Stehekin.  Since that time, preserving the Stehekin way of life and cultural history has become a mutual effort between the community and the park service.

* * * * *

            Stehekin really comes to life in the summers, and the population swells in order to accommodate people like us.  Young people especially revel in coming here where there is no TV and only one satellite telephone—it is such a different world from anything they’ve ever known before.  We found them a joy to talk to as they served us in the rustic dining room.

Rainbow Falls

            In mid afternoon a driver was rounded up to shuttle us up to Rainbow Falls.  We were totally unprepared for it, for it was something on the scale of waterfalls in Yosemite.  321 feet high, you can hear its thunder before you ever see it—yet, unbelievably, it appears to be virtually unknown.  We have nothing that can compare to it in the Colorado Rockies.  It wasn’t just its height that impressed us, though it did—it was the sheer volume of water coming over the falls.  As we walked part way back, we saw few motor vehicles but quite a few people on bicycles.  We stopped to inspect the old log-cabin schoolhouse so reminiscent of those of a century or two ago.

            We moved on, following signs to “The Bakery.”  First town I’ve ever been in where a bakery was the destination so many people considered central to their lives.  We stopped there.  Back at the landing, it gradually came home to us that when the year-round towns-people spoke of Stehekin as “the island,” it really made sense, for they are cut off from the rest of the world—one of the very few hamlets in the lower 48 where this is so.  In the winter, when boats (and the mail and supplies they bring) reach here only three times a week, Stehekin settles down to an even quieter life.  Since there may be five or six feet of snow on the ground, with Chelan 51 miles away having none, it’s not too surprising to hear—as I did!—that the north end of the lake was 600 feet higher than the south.  Go figure!

            We found the park headquarters to be a magnet; Connie rushed over there (about 500 feet) to get her park passport stamped first thing.  In the evening, I attended a lecture there.  In talking to locals, I discovered that a number really sacrifice in order to live here (one dentist works all week in Ellensburg, returning home by boat for weekends).  Children are either home schooled or attend the “newer” schoolhouse (if the snow’s not too deep).  The postmistress is a retiree who came here in order to experience life again, to be needed.  She and her husband love it on the “Island.”  When she takes mail to the boat, she locks the door “because of federal regulations—but I really don’t need to here,” she told me.

            During the night, the wind came up.  Its sound in the evergreens was wonderful.  With no other sound, and the lights off around us, it really seemed like another world.

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next week it’s on to Enzian Inn and Leavenworth.

SOURCES

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Stehekin: A Mountain Community (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2003).

Barnhart, Mike and Nancy, Lake Chelan and the North Cascades (Stehekin, WA: Bridge Creek Publishing, 2000).

The Lady of the Lake (Stehekin, WA: Ladyofthelake.com, 2010).

Lake Chelan (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

Lake Chelan, Washington (Chelan, WA: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, 2010).

North Cascades National Park (Las Vegas: K.C. Publications, 2008).

Hackenmiller, Tom, Ladies of the Lake (Wenatchee, WA: Point Publishing, 1998).

Scott, David L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

The Stehekin Guidebook (Stehekin, WA: Stehekin Heritage, 2010).

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009).

PARADISE INN

            There were swarms of skiers getting ready to hit the slopes, to greet us as we walked down the steps of Timberline Lodge—one girl crying because her boots were too tight.  The view was so breathtaking we had to just stare, downloading it to our memory disks.  Then it was down the mountain.

            At Sandy, we stopped for breakfast at the Tollgate Inn Restaurant, well known for its old-timey appearance, great breakfasts, and (in its bakery), the best pecan sticky buns any of us could ever remember eating.  Connie almost cried when she gobbled up the last bite.  Then we moved on through the town of Boring.  I’d waited all my life to tell the story (affirmed to be true) of a certain Pastor Dull of a Boring church—how they’d finally had to move him.  Then it was back on boring (pardon the pun) I-5 again.

            Once past the bridge over the great Columbia River, we were in Washington at last.  None of us were very familiar with the state; in fact, that had been another reason for making the trip: Washington is so far north (like Maine in that respect) that you have to make a special effort to get there.  We could hardly wait to explore it more fully.

            Finally, we escaped I-5 and turned east on Hwy 12; turning north on hwy 7, and east again on hwy 706.  We stopped at the pioneer village of Longmire, famously homesteaded by James Longmire in 1887-8.  Longmire was one of the first to bring tourists up to Paradise Valley.  When his daughter-in-law first saw its king’s ransom worth of wildflowers (due to the 250 feet of rich volcanic soil), she exclaimed, “This must be what Paradise is like!”  It has been called “Paradise Valley” ever since.  John Muir later declared it to be “the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld.”  It was also one of the favorite spots on earth for Stephen Tyng Mather, founding father of our national parks.  Mather first climbed Mt. Rainier in 1905; he returned in 1915 to oversee the first road into Paradise Valley (Duncan and Burns, 240).

Mount Rainier

            Ernest, the protagonist in Hawthorne’s “The Great Stone Face,” lived so long in the shadow of that great rock outcropping that his own face came to mirror it.  Just so, Washington’s highest mountain (14,441 feet); so vast that it makes its own weather, is so dominating that its image is indelibly etched into the subconsciousness of all those who live within sight of its great white mass shouldering its way into Washington’s sky, reminiscent of Mount Shasta’s dominance of northern California.  The sixth recorded person to climb it was John Muir (in 1888).  As Muir viewed the wholesale annihilation of Washington’s old growth forests by the voracious logging barons, he felt the Glory of the Northwest was certain to be ravaged as well.  He marshaled the forces of the newly formed Sierra Club, the National Geographic Society, and Northern Pacific Railroad tycoon Louis Hill.  It paid off: in 1893, President Benjamin Harrison made the mountain the centerpiece of the newly created Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1897, Congress expanded it into the Mount Rainier Forest Reserve; in 1899, with President William McKinley’s backing, it became our fifth national park.

Paradise Inn

            But Mather wanted a hotel in Paradise Valley worthy of its mountain.  In 1916’s short summer season, that long-desired hotel was rushed into being.  Great Alaska cedar logs were hauled in from an 1885 burn-site.  The exterior was shingled with cedar. Two massive stone fireplaces anchor the 50 X 112 foot two-and-a-half-story great hall; later, a wrap-around second-story mezzanine would be added for structural support.  The 51 X 105 foot one-and-a-half-story dining hall is almost as grand as the great hall.   A fifty-foot stone fireplace fills its north wall.  The most enduring furniture was crafted by German-born Hans Fraenke, a local contractor; every year for seven years, found him the first to arrive in the spring and the last to leave in the fall.  He hand-crafted (with an adze) the furniture to last—and it has: such things as a 1,500 pound table made of Alaska cedar, two larger than life throne chairs, a fourteen-foot-high grandfather clock, a mailbox made out of a large stump, and perhaps the piece de résistance, a standard piano transformed into an impressive work of art.  Architect Laurian Huffman submits that it is this combination of soaring roof line and oversized furniture that makes you feel like one of the Seven Dwarfs entering Fantasyland because you become so small in relation to them. (Barnes, 56).

Hand-carved Grandfather Clock

            Barnes notes that, “Over the years, alterations and decorative painting have changed some of the details of the great hall, but it retains the grandeur of its early days.  Light streams in from the dormer windows high above the mezzanine, highlighting the repetitive structural framework with posts, beams and trusses that mark the architectural structure of the great hall.  Iron rings grip the cedar poles, added to reinforce the splitting timbers, and a system of cables and metal bracing helps support the building against the onslaught of heavy snow.  During the 1920s, additional cedar beams were added to create a permanent brace against the snow.  The snow!  It is one of the snowiest spots on earth: 640 inches the average (sometimes, up to 900 inches!).  It has been a constant war every year with Mother Nature to save the lodge from crushing levels of the white stuff.  Not coincidentally, units of the 10th Mountain Division in World War II were taught here how to survive winter combat.

THE REALITY

            A million people find their way into this valley every summer; many of them were in the parking lot; fortunately, we had lodge reservations, otherwise we would have had a tough time finding a parking space.  Even though it was almost July, the snow was so deep it was impossible to explore those famed fields of wild flowers still imprisoned in their seeds.  Many visitors sat on the outside deck, drinking in Mount Rainier to the north and the also snowcapped jagged Tatoosh Range to the south.

Custom Piano

            Inside, we entered an island in time.  Around us on chairs and couches were people from all over the world.  Just across from us was an intergenerational family I shamelessly watched: three adorable little girls who clearly had their doting grandfather totally under their little thumbs; their lovely young mother lovingly running fingers through her husband’s hair—a seraphic look of utter bliss on his face; the grandmother alternating between reading, looking fondly at her granddaughters, and staring at the crackling fire in the great stone fireplace on that end of the great hall.  Other tableaus could be found everywhere in the long room.  A pianist plunked away on the monster piano—almost always someone was either taking his picture or speaking to him—he played for hours (songs old and new), applause and baksheesh keeping him rooted to his chair.  Quite simply, it was America as it used to be.

            Later, in the dining room, we lucked out with a window table and stared up at the mountain.  Each waiter sported a badge identifying her/him by state or country of origin.  Later on, I’ll dedicate an entire blog to them—how they are rising above the recession to see and experience the world.  Dinner took a long time for no one—anywhere—was in a hurry to leave that enchanted room.

            Afterwards we listened to a ranger speaking about wildlife in the park, we ascended the stairs, found a table, played a game, and devoured the huckleberry pie and ice cream a dimple-cheeked beauty from Eastern Europe brought to us—she got plenty of exercise serving all of us on the four sides of the long mezzanine.

            The icing on the cake was a serendipity.  Hearing there would be a total eclipse of the moon that night, I took a long walk.  On the way back, perhaps the brightest golden moon I’ve ever seen gradually rose above the eastern hills—its radiance was almost unearthly!  Photographers were already bringing out their cameras to set up for the 2 a.m. eclipse.  I cravenly opted to return to the lodge and sleep instead.

SOURCES:

Barnes, Christine, Great Lodges of the National Park I (Bend, Oregon: W. W. West, Inc., 2002).  [Her entry for Paradise Inn is a must-read].

Duncan, Dayton and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (New York: Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2009. [There is much about Mt. Rainier in the book].

“Mount Rainier,” National Park Service brochure.

Scott, Dand L. and Kay W., The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges (Guilford, CT: Globe Pequot Press, 1998, 2009).

“The Tahoma News,” May-June 2010.  National Park Service handout.

White, Mel, Complete National Parks of the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009). [Features a most informative section on Mt. Rainier].

SPECIAL NOTE

            Next Wednesday, we move on to Stehekin and Lake Chelan.