PHOTO GALLERY INDEX > Good Advice
Winthrop, WA 08/26/08 (Day 683)
After a quick run up to Mt. Baker in the lovely Cascade Mountains of Northern Washington (made quicker by peak-obscuring clouds and a persistent drizzle), we steer toward North Cascades National Park, an amalgamation of four autonomously run areas with so many interesting trails we actually turn to a ranger for advice about the best all-around hike in the area.
His pick is the 7.5 mile Maple Pass Loop which is just outside park boundaries. Built by the Forest Service and originally intended as part of the Pacific Crest Trail, the loop begins in dense rain forest and heads up to the cut off to Lake Ann where we stick to the spur that continues steadily up the hillside, giving us an Osprey’s perspective on the fishermen dotting Lake Ann’s shores below us in stealthy pursuit of the steelhead trout she’s stocked.
As we switch-back our way up to Maple Pass—which is really more of a saddle than a pass— the terrain becomes steep, rocky and barren. We continue past Maple Pass along the ridge to an adjacent, much higher pass point and head back down the valley next to the one we just hiked up. This steep trail takes us above and then past jade-colored Rainy Lake and across hillsides dotted with huge patches of red, white, purple and yellow wild flowers which are still in high bloom since summer came so late this year. It’s a lot of color for nearly 7,000 feet.
Once we finish the hike we begin to consider where we should park our Safari SE for the night and then we remember that other Airstreamers have consistently advised us to seek out President‘s Award winning KOAs whenever possible. Sure enough, the nearby Winthrop/N. Cascades National Park KOA has snagged the award for many years running.
To get there, we leave the forest and head to lower ground. As much as we love mountains, emerging from the steep slopes and lofty peaks into a roomy valley always feels like that first, satisfying morning stretch and entering the Methow Valley is even more satisfying. If there were beauty contests for valleys, this one would be wearing a crown and a sash right now: wide, green, (benefitting, as it does, from rain generated by its mountain neighbors) and full of horses. It’s also got something we are not expecting: fantastic architecture.
House after house impresses us with innovative design—half-submerged in the earth, angular roof tops, unexpected colors and materials. From small houses to obviously opulent vacation homes, each one shows signs of functional creativity. It’s hard to find just a simple box.
The valley delivers us into the small town of Winthrop which is an architectural marvel of a different kind. A strict architectural code was imposed years ago, dictating that all storefronts be designed in an Old West style so everything kind of looks like the set of “Gunsmoke.”
Somehow, the town has managed to adhere to the rules without committing the cheese ball, theme-park crimes that other Wild West places like Deadwood, South Dakota are so guilty of (we’re pretty sure the unchecked proliferation of tacky casinos, crappy buffets and fake whorehouses has Deadhorse’s most famous residents, Calamity Jane, Wild Bill Hickok and Wyatt Earp, spinning in their graves).
It’s fitting that the Winthrop/North Cascades National Park KOA is also a sight for sore eyes. Grass everywhere! Big trees! Roomy sites! Helpful staff! We’re sorry we can only stay one night.
** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **