Category Archives: Okanogan Country

Wow, it’s so lovely and warm

I always wake up at the crack of dawn when I’m camping. Especially this time of year when it gets light before six in the morning. But that’s okay.

I’m not sure why (am I ever sure why?) I decided to drive up to Lake Chelan this morning, but I never really have before. I stopped in the touristy town of Chelan, at the foot of the lake, to buy batteries for my camera and to stick my head in a quilt shop on the main drag. Whoever their fabric buyer is, her taste does not agree with mine. I’m not a big fan of what I think of as sixties neon, and that was about all that little shop held.

There is no road clear around Lake Chelan. It’s a landlocked fjord, and the upper end of the lake reaches deep into the North Cascades. There are two roads on either side. The one on the north shore of the lake is only about twenty miles long. The one on the south side is about twice that length, so that’s the one I took.

Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in North America at over 1500 feet deep (the bottom is lower than sea level), according to a sign I read at the ferry landing. It’s roughly 55 miles long, and varies from one to two miles wide. It’s also pretty darned gorgeous. I stopped at the Fields Point Landing, a few miles up the lake, to poke around the visitor center and ask about the ferry that runs daily to Stehekin, the tiny settlement at the head of the lake. One of these days I want to take that trip, but the boat had left an hour or so earlier. Next time.

But I saw beautiful views, anyway, and more flowers.

The view across Lake Chelan from Field’s Landing. I don’t know if that’s a permanent snowcap or if it’s just because it’s only May.
A view of the ferry landing and down the lake.
Along the path looking northward along the lake. The yellow flowers are more balsamroot.
Prairie Star Flower. I saw these for the first time down in Oregon on my Long Trip last summer. This was the only shot I got of them this trip where the blossoms weren’t blurred by the breeze.

I’d thought about camping at 25 Mile Creek State Park at the end of the road that night, but it wasn’t even noon yet, and I decided I wanted to actually go on up to the Okanogan. So, stopping along the way to make a picnic lunch, I headed up to the town of Omak, where one of my favorite quilt shops (Needlyn Time) is. And, yes, this time I bought fabric, which I needed like a hole in the head, but tough.

After that, I headed up to Conconully, the little town that inspired the ghost town of the same name in my Unearthly Northwest books.

The view from the highway going up to Conconully from Omak. Please excuse the bug blurs — I had to take this through the windshield because there really wasn’t a good place where I could get out of the van.
This is what I meant by more balsamroot than I’ve ever seen on one trip before. Whole *hillsides* of the stuff.

Conconully is one of the few towns I know of with a state park right at the edge of town. But it’s a nice state park, and the campsite I wound up at was right on the lake and pretty secluded. I spent what was left of the afternoon just enjoying the day and reading, and listening to the red-winged blackbirds sawing their courtship cries. Oh, and watching the geese and ducks use the lake as a landing and launch pad. And the deer eating the campground’s mowed grass.

One of the red-winged blackbirds who sawed his mating call all afternoon at Lake Conconully.
One of the deer who wandered through the campground in the afternoon.
The view from my campsite at Conconully State Park.
My campsite at Conconully State Park.
Sunset from my campsite.

All in all, I drove a bit more than I had intended, but it was well worth it.

August 29-30: Bilingual road signs again! Yay! And yet another really cool museum.

So, yesterday I drove back down to the main highway, where I crossed it and went to the Manoir Papineau National Historic Site. My friend Christine had recommended that I go here. At least I think this is where she meant. There’s also a big fancy hotel nearby, but I’ve seen more than my share of big fancy hotels (not to stay in, mind, just to look at) for a while, and the historic site looked interesting, so I decided this was what she’d wanted me to see.

And I’m glad I stopped. Another bit of Canadian history wrapped nicely in an elegant 19th century house that reminded me a lot of Washington Irving’s Sunnyside – minus the vines, thank goodness. Mostly, I suspect, because of the riverside frontage, but still. Anyway. Louis-Joseph Papineau was a mover and shaker in 19th century Canadian politics, who got himself in trouble in the 1830s for helping to ringlead a group that wanted to break away from England. He ended up in exile for a number of years in the U.S. and France, and then got pardoned or something, came back, and built this pretty house on the Ottawa River. It was very elegant so that his visitors would be impressed, and the tour guide told stories about how they tried to keep it warm in Quebec winters, and how Papineau’s wife was not impressed with being so far away (two days of steamboat trip) from Montreal, and so forth and so on. Unfortunately they wouldn’t let me take photos inside, though.

A three-hundred-year-old oak tree in front of the Papineau house.  Apparently it was a favorite tree of M. Papineau.
A three-hundred-year-old oak tree in front of the Papineau house. Apparently it was a favorite tree of M. Papineau, which is why they’ve got it propped up, etc., to keep it from dying.
M. Papineau's pretty  house.
M. Papineau’s pretty house.

After that it was on to Ottawa, where I ended up having to call Elizabeth because the street I thought was the right one didn’t go through to where I needed it to. But eventually I got there, and we had a good conversation, then went out to go buy her a new rotary cutter (she’s a beginning quilter!) and out to dinner at a very nice café. Then we came back and watched the Branagh version of Much Ado About Nothing, which turns out to be a favorite film for both of us [g].

I’ll be here at her place until Thursday, when I head for Toronto.

This morning I went to the Canadian History Museum. And I found it without having to backtrack once! Unfortunately, their main exhibit is being redone and won’t be open again until next year, but the other exhibits really made up for it. They had a whole floor devoted to the First Nations of Canada, which was fascinating. It was odd to see west coast things like totem poles here [g], but the whole exhibit was enormous and well done.

An interesting piece of public art in downtown Ottawa.
An interesting piece of public art in downtown Ottawa.
The largest indoor collection of totem poles in North America.
The largest indoor collection of totem poles in North America.
An interesting piece of art in the totem pole room.
An interesting piece of art in the totem pole room.
Louis Riel's jacket.  I've known who he was for a long time, but not that much about him.  He's sort of the Canadian version of Chief Leschi at home in Puyallup, only on a much larger scale.
Louis Riel’s jacket. I’ve known who he was for a long time, but not that much about him. He’s sort of the Canadian version of Chief Leschi at home in Puyallup, only on a much larger scale.
Comparative drawings of prehistoric bison and modern ones.
Comparative drawings of prehistoric bison and modern ones.  Not to scale (the prehistoric one was much bigger than the modern one).
A glass replica of a Morning Star (aka Lone Star if you're from Texas) quilt, although the exhibit persisted in calling it a blanket [wry g].
A glass replica of a Morning Star (aka Lone Star if you’re from Texas) quilt, although the exhibit persisted in calling it a blanket [wry g].
A view of government buildings, including Parliament, from the terrace of the museum.
A view of government buildings, including Parliament, from the terrace of the museum.
Part of the First Nations exhibit.
Part of the First Nations exhibit.
A quilt!  A photo of this quilt was once on a Canadian postage stamp (the museum has a nifty stamp room that I enjoyed very much).
A quilt! A photo of this quilt was once on a Canadian postage stamp (the museum has a nifty stamp room that I enjoyed very much).

Then there were the three temporary exhibits. One of them was about Napoleon Bonaparte (of all people, my fingers keep typing), mostly relating to his time in Paris. The second one was about the gold rush in British Columbia in the early 1850s, right after the California gold rush. I’d known a little about it, having run across it in my Okanogan Country research for Sojourn and Reunion (one of the trails to the Cariboo, which is what the gold country in BC was called, went through the Okanogan), but not nearly as much as I do now. I want to go up there and explore it one of these days now [g]. The third temporary exhibit was called Horse Power. A man in Montreal collected carriages and sleighs most of his life, and donated them. It was a seriously impressive collection, and fun to stroll through.

Bust of a young Napoleon.
Bust of a young Napoleon.
Another familiar story.  This is the crest of the Beaver, the first Mosquito Fleet boat in the Puget Sound/Strait of Georgia waters, which I learned about while I was researching my upcoming third Tale of the Unearthly Northwest, Voyage.
Another familiar story. This is the crest of the Beaver, the first Mosquito Fleet boat in the Puget Sound/Strait of Georgia waters, which I learned about while I was researching my upcoming third Tale of the Unearthly Northwest, Voyage.
That second from the top rifle is a similar model to the one Charley carried in Repeating History.
That second from the top rifle is a similar model to the one Charley carried in Repeating History.
Charley would have been envious of this smart little Quebec-made cutter.
Charley would have been envious of this smart little Quebec-made cutter.
The Canadian History Museum building looks a *lot* like the Museum of the American Indian in DC, all curvy, fluid lines.  This is the entrance.
The Canadian History Museum building looks a *lot* like the Museum of the American Indian in DC, all curvy, fluid lines. This is the entrance.

By that point I was pretty much done for the day. Tonight Elizabeth and I are going over to the house of Marna and her family. Marna’s another listee, and I think a couple of her family members are, too. We’re having something called fannish night, which is apparently a regular occurrence here [g]. I’m looking forward to that very much.

Then tomorrow I’m going to run a couple of errands, and maybe hit another museum. I’ve heard wonderful things about the War Museum, even if the subject matter’s not exactly my cup of tea.

Off to the Canadian Rockies, Day 1

Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit.
Wild rose at the logging historical exhibit west of Sherman Pass.

Twelve days ago, Friday, June 12, 2015

I think it was about three months ago when it was pointed out to me that I’m no farther from the Canadian Rockies than I am from

Yellowstone (about a hundred miles closer, in fact) and I thought, you know, I’ve been to Yellowstone how many times in the 22 years since I moved to western Washington — why have the only trips I’ve made to Canada in that time been a couple of weekends via ferry to Victoria?

So I renewed my passport and started making plans for the trip as soon as the exhibit was finished. That this happened to coincide with the dates the U.S. Open golf tournament was held less than
fifteen miles from my house was just a bonus (I am told the traffic that week was pretty overwhelming).

Anyway. As is normal on any first day of a vacation like this, I spent most of it on the road. Northeast on SR 18, where I began my day with a hawk stooping at prey right beside the road as I drove by, then east on I-90, of course, to the town of Cle Elum, just over Snoqualmie Pass, where I picked up a back road for a few miles to U.S. 97, which stretches north to the Canadian border, and,
incidentally, allowed me to bypass driving up I-5 through the entire
Puget Sound conurbation, plus avoid one of the busiest border crossings between here and Detroit.

I did not, however, go straight up U.S. 97 to the border. I turned east at the little town of Tonasket, in the heart of the Okanogan country, to explore the northeastern part of Washington before I headed on. I’d always been curious about this area, but it was just a bit farther than I’d want to go for an overnight.

I don’t know if anyone familiar with eastern Washington who’s reading this is as surprised as I was to discover how mountainous the northeast corner of the state actually is. I mean, south of here it’s pretty much flat and seriously monotonous all the way from
Ellensburg to Spokane. But SR 20 climbs quickly up from the
Okanogan River valley and enters national forest land. I passed through the “town” (if there were half a dozen buildings, I’d be shocked) of Wauconda, crossed a 4500 foot pass, dropped down to the San Poil River valley at the town of Republic (which could be the twin of Libby, Montana, where I lived briefly a long time ago), then climbed steeply to Sherman Pass, elevation 5500 feet.

The Sherman Pass viewpoint looks out over one of those curvature-of-the-earth views, over mountains that had obviously been burned in the not-too-distant past. An exhibit board said that the fire had taken place in 1988, the same year as the Yellowstone fires, and the landscape looked similar to the park.

View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.
View of burned mountains from the top of Sherman Pass.

East of Sherman Pass were a couple of historic landmarks. The first one was the site of a CCC camp in the 1930s, with some fun
sculpture:

Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal boot sculpture at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.
Metal sculpture of a CCC worker at the CCC historical marker.

The second one was apparently about logging, but with no sign, it was kind of hard to tell. On the other hand, this is where I saw the first of many, many wild roses in bloom on this trip (photo at top).

I crossed the Columbia River, actually Lake Roosevelt above the Grand Coulee Dam, at the town of Kettle Falls, the namesake of which is now buried under the reservoir.

The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.
The Columbia River, from a viewpoint just west of Kettle Falls.

But it had an interesting little historical museum where I took a break from the road.

The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.
The Kettle Falls Historical Society Museum.

And then I drove the last few miles to the county seat of Colville (pronounced CALL-ville, not COAL-ville), where I spent my first night on the road!

A trip to the Okanogan country, day 2

Harry the pig, who resides in the hamlet of Molson, Washington.
Harry the pig, who resides in the hamlet of Molson, Washington.

The knee could have been worse, I suppose. I won’t be doing any hiking today, at any rate.

But I head north to one of my favorite places in the Okanogan Highlands, the little half ghost town, half hamlet of Molson, which has the name of a Canadian beer because when the town was first founded, its settlers thought they were north of the 49th parallel (as it turns out, they were a couple of miles south of it, but oh, well).

It’s kind of a drive up there, another hour or so along the Okanogan River, past the little village of Riverside and through the slightly larger town of Tonasket, up to Oroville, along the southern shore of long, narrow Lake Osoyoos, which is cut in half by the U.S./Canadian border. There’s a huge grocery store just south of the customs building, with a parking lot always full of cars with British Columbia license plates. I guess groceries are cheaper in the U.S.?

At Oroville I turn east on a little two-lane called Chesaw Road (you know you’ve made the correct turn when you see the sign saying this way to the Sitzmark Ski Area, a little rope tow out in the middle of nowhere about forty miles out of Oroville), and head up through a narrow canyon, gaining quite a bit of altitude in the process before I come out on top of an undulating plateau. These are the true Okanogan Highlands, and are mostly ranchland where they’re not part of the national forest. About twelve miles east of Oroville is the lefthand turn on Molson Rd.

This is beautiful countryside, in so many ways. If you love rolling hills, larches and pines, golden brown grass, and wide open spaces, or you have a thing for wondering who lived in the occasional old, abandoned building out in the middle of the meadow, or even if — in spite of being absolutely in love with the thick Douglas fir forests on the west side of the mountains — you’re simply enthralled with the enormity of the bright blue sky, then the Okanogan Highlands are a balm.

One of the abandoned buildings you find scattered about the Okanogan.  This one is on the road to Molson.
One of the abandoned buildings scattered about the Okanogan. This one is on the road to Molson.

And the little town of Molson is well worth the drive. In the first place, it’s the home of the Molson School Museum I mentioned a couple of posts ago.

In the second, the citizens of Molson have preserved about an acre’s worth of historic buildings, which are open all the time so you can go in and explore.

The ghost town of Old Molson.
Part of the ghost town of Old Molson.
Inside one of the ghost town buildings of Old Molson.
Inside one of the ghost town buildings of Old Molson.

And in the third place, they have Harry the pig.

I love Harry.  I wanted his backstory so badly I invented one for him.  And then wrote a novel around it.
I love Harry. I wanted his backstory so badly I invented one for him. And then wrote a novel around it.

Now, I don’t know if the plaster pig in the abandoned store window in ‘downtown’ Molson actually has a name — I never asked. But in my novel Sojourn he’s Harry, and he’s very important to my fictional Conconully. As a matter of fact, the town might not even exist without him. So I love him. He’s just such a whimsy for a place like that.

After a couple of hours exploring and a pleasant picnic lunch, and a gravel lane that eventually leads me back to Tonasket, I reluctantly head south again. I need to be home by tonight, and it’s a good five-hour drive if I take the bit of a detour into the Methow Valley that I have planned.

My goat trail for the trip.  Actually, it was a very nice, well-maintained gravel road.
My goat trail for the trip. Actually, it was a very nice, well-maintained gravel road.

At the town of Okanogan I turn west, and less than half an hour later I realize that I ought to have checked the road conditions first. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post, this past summer Washington state experienced its largest wildfire ever, which covered over 250,000 acres in the north central part of the state. The Carlton Complex fire caused damage that the area will still be recovering from years from now, and part of that damage was to U.S. Highway 20 between Okanogan and the Methow (pronounced Met-how, pronouncing the T and the H separately) Valley. The traffic was down to an alternating one lane for over a mile, and I lost a good half an hour by the time I reached the valley.

That was just my first check. The second was that State highway 153, which runs south down the valley towards Wenatchee, was also closed due to fire damage. Fortunately, a backroad runs parallel to it and a detour was set up. But I lost another hour by the time I got to Wenatchee.

Still, it was worth it, although I don’t think I’d have made the detour had I known. U.S. 20 climbs up over a magnificent pass and descends into the scenic Methow Valley, and the backroad down the valley was spectacular, crossing and recrossing the Methow River in the shadow of glorious mountains. And I found a non-crowded fruit stand just north of Wenatchee and loaded up on apples and pears.

I didn’t get home till well after dark that Sunday evening. I was tired and my knee was sore. But it was all so worth it. I highly recommend a weekend in the Okanogan country.

A weekend in the Okanogan Country, part 1

Countryside on the way to Conconully.
Countryside on the way to Conconully.

Back on the last weekend in September, when the weather was much warmer and sunnier, I took a trip back to the Okanogan, partly because I’m about to set another novel in that part of the world, and partly, well, mostly because it’s been a couple of years since my last visit, and I wanted to make one more weekend trip at the end of the season.

The trip over the mountains was beautiful. The trees were just starting to turn, and once I crossed over Blewett Pass and coasted down into the Wenatchee Valley the fruit stands were all overflowing (with fruit and with customers). The sky was clear and blue over there, too, unlike at home.

My first stop for this trip was at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center, which is housed in the city’s original post office, fronted, unfortunately, by a flight of granite steps.

Steps at the the front of the Wenatchee Valley Museum.
Steps at the the front of the Wenatchee Valley Museum.

I say unfortunately, because somehow as I was getting out of my car, parked along the curb in front of the museum, I managed to trip, fall, and strike my kneecap painfully against the very edge of one of those granite steps. All I can say is wow, that hurt.

But the museum itself was great, once the throbbing in my knee subsided enough for me to enjoy it. A temporary exhibit on Indian basketry, a permanent exhibit on transportation which included an adorable coin-operated model train, and, most interesting of all to me, a large and well-designed exhibit on the history of how Washington became world-famous for its apples. Wenatchee is at the heart of apple-growing country.

After a stop at a drug store to pick up some painkiller for my knee, I crossed the Columbia River and headed north towards the Okanogan. The highway parallels the massive river as it curves north between dry brown cliffs, the space between river and cliff covered in orchards. It really doesn’t look like most non-Washingtonians’ idea of what Washington should look like, but actually far more of Washington looks like this than it does the heavily-wooded west side of the mountains.

Orchards along the Columbia River.
Orchards along the Columbia River.

An hour or so north of Wenatchee, the highway crosses back to the west side of the Columbia on a bridge dwarfed by the scenery. At the small town of Brewster, a large chunk of which burned last summer in the Carlton Complex fire (the largest wildfire in Washington’s history), the Columbia River turns east. This is also where the Okanogan River adds its flow to the Columbia, and where my highway turned north.

This is the beginning of the Okanogan Country, and the confluence of the two rivers is where, back in 1811, Fort Okanogan was established as a fur trading post. It used to be a state park, but the site is on the Colville Indian Reservation, which covers a big chunk of northeastern Washington, and it’s now run by the reservation authorities, with a terrific little museum telling of early white settlement from the Indians’ point of view. It just reopened this summer under its new ownership, so I was very pleased to stop and take a look. The view from the museum’s portico is gorgeous, too.

The view from the portico at the Fort Okanogan Museum.
The view from the portico at the Fort Okanogan Museum.
Hand-carved canoe in the Fort Okanogan Museum.
Hand-carved canoe in the Fort Okanogan Museum.

And so on up the Okanogan River to the twin towns of Okanogan and Omak, where I found myself a motel, then decided, since it wasn’t that late in the afternoon, to take the fourteen-mile side road to the town of Conconully. My novel Sojourn is set in a highly-fictionalized version of Conconully, mostly in the beginning because I just loved the name, and then because of some historical events that happened there.

Salmon Creek.  In 1894, this creek flooded and washed away almost the entire town of Conconully, killing 157 people.  Doesn't look like it could, does it?
Salmon Creek, as seen from the little bridge in Matsura Park. In 1894, this creek flooded and washed away almost the entire town of Conconully, killing 157 people. Doesn’t look like it could, does it?
Conconully's new town park, named after Frank Matsura, a Japanese photographer who became one of the town's most famous sons.
Conconully’s new town park, named after Frank Matsura, a Japanese photographer who became one of the town’s most famous sons.

And I was lucky enough, as I happened to drive by the Conconully Museum, which is only open by appointment (cell phone coverage in Conconully being practically non-existent because it is that far out in the boonies and down in a canyon to boot), to see someone coming out of it.

When I caught up with her, she invited me in, and so I got to learn more about the history of the real Conconully, learn about an outdoor quilt show they hold every summer, and pick up tidbits that will be fun to put in my next Tale of the Unearthly Northwest, called Reunion, which will be coming out next year!