Tag Archives: Conconully

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.

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!

The Okanogan Country — Sojourn’s setting

A wide-open Okanogan Country road.  On the way to Conconully, IIRC.
A wide-open Okanogan Country road. On the way to Conconully, where Sojourn is set, if I remember correctly.

The first time I visited the Okanogan Country, in north central Washington state, was in the fall of 2010. I was basically just looking for somewhere new to go on a weekend, because after living here near Seattle for almost two decades, and being an avid day and weekend tripper, I’d pretty much hit everywhere within reach on the west side of the mountains. More than once. So I headed east, on a whim.

Little did I know that I would fall in love with the place. I’ve been back twice since, and my novel Sojourn, and my upcoming novel, Reunion, are set there.

The Okanogan Country or just the Okanogan, as locals call it, is a big wild place. If you were to look for it on a map, you’d find it just east of the Cascade crest, stretching east to about two-thirds of the way to Idaho, and south almost to U.S. Highway 2, which runs east to west across the state about a third of the way down from Canada.

A map of Okanogan County.

Part of it is mountainous, and part of it is what’s called the Okanogan Highlands, a rolling countryside laced with small canyons and topped with forest-covered hills, the rest smoothed over with thick, lush meadows, green in the spring, brown in the fall. The Okanogan River is lined with orchards — Washington’s famous apples, along with pears, cherries, peaches, and other fruit.

Orchards along the Columbia River from the viewpoint at old Fort Okanogan.
Orchards along the Columbia River near its confluence with the Okanogan River, from the viewpoint at old Fort Okanogan.

Okanogan County is one of the largest counties in the state (over 5200 square miles), and the least densely populated. But it wasn’t always so lonesome. Back in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was gold country, full of prospectors trying to find the mother lode, or on their way to Canada’s Cariboo gold rush. Homesteaders came to try their luck, too. The Okanogan is dotted with holes in the ground and with tumbledown buildings, some of them clustered together as if for mutual support, in odd crannies and sheltered places.

Abandoned homestead along the way to Molson.
Abandoned homestead along the way to Molson.
An alive and well ranch along the same road.
An alive and well ranch along the same road.

Some of these ghost towns are truly abandoned, some only partly vacant (one little town called Molson is about half and half), and some of those old mining hamlets are still going concerns.

The ghost town part of Molson, just a mile or two south of the Canadian border, hence the name.
The ghost town part of Molson, just a mile or two south of the Canadian border, hence the name.
The post office of the modern day hamlet of Conconully.  I don't know why I didn't take a photo of the museum next door, too, but I didn't.
The post office of the modern day hamlet of Conconully. I don’t know why I didn’t take a photo of the museum next door, too, but I didn’t.

They’re all interesting, too. Historical museums in the county seat of Okanogan, in Molson, and in the little town of Conconully where Daniel Reilly lands, not by his own choice, in Sojourn, are all worth visiting. The county historical society has done a fantastic job with historical markers by the side of the road, too. And the site of old Fort Okanogan, at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia Rivers, has its own museum telling the Native American side of the story.

The old Molson schoolhouse, now a museum, of the fun "town's attic" variety.
The old Molson schoolhouse, now a museum, of the fun “town’s attic” variety.
A display of old cameras in the Molson School Museum.
A display of old cameras in the Molson School Museum.

But this was supposed to be a couple of blog posts about my last trip to the Okanogan, this past September. So, now that you have an introduction to this fascinating, little-known chunk of Washington state, I’ll post about that trip starting tomorrow. I hope you’ll join me then!