On our way home from our weekend trip to Chelan, we stopped awhile in Winthrop, Washington. Winthrop is a historic town in the Cascade mountains, that was first settled by white settlers in 1891 after placer gold was discovered in the area in 1868. Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, wrote the novel after honeymooning in Winthrop in 1898. All I have to say is, his wife must have been a really adventurous woman, because it would have been quite the experience getting to someplace so remote!
Unfortunately for the town, most of the mines had closed by 1915, and the town experienced a decline. In the 1970s, the town decided to capitalize on the old western theme, and they restored the town to an old west style. The restoration included wooden sidewalks and all of the shops on the main street of town have old west style facades on the buildings. There are also a few historic plaques, explaining the original structures and the history of the town. The population of Winthrop is less than 400, but a visit there shows a vibrant tourist area with people enjoying what the town has to offer.
Jon and I arrived in time for a late lunch, and we had gotten a recommendation from a coworker on the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. Jon and I decided to check it out, and we had an awesome meal! We started out with the chips and black bean salsa – the chips were homemade – and amazing! For the meal, I had the guacamole, pepperjack and bacon burger and the Epiphany Ale, a medium body pale ale. Jon had the bacon and artichoke salad and a coffee. My burger was excellent – the hamburger is certified Angus beef! And Jon’s salad was equally good. The beer was one of the best beers I have had in a long time – this brewery is fairly new, but sure to have great success!
After lunch, we wandered around town and checked out the shops. There are lots of wonderful art galleries, and a bookstore with lots of local books. There are several neat gift shops with unique items. But if you get bored of poking into the shops, you can also check out the Shafer Mining Museum (I would have liked to go, but Jon was getting antsy…), or you can check out the pedestrian bridge over the Methow River. The river is really shallow here, so you could easily see the bottom, and looking into the river was really peaceful. If you plan to stay awhile, there are also lots of outdoor activities – camping, hiking, fishing, 4 wheeling… Plus skiing in the winter of course.
After we left Winthrop, we headed over the pass towards home. State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is beautifully scenic, with areas to pull out and take photos in several locations. It is also much less congested than the more traveled Highway 2 to the south. Of course, Highway 20 is only open part of the year, opening typically in April or May and usually shutting down in November. Heavy annual snowfall and avalanches leave the snow at Washington Pass between 15 and 20 feet deep in the winter! Interestingly, State Route 20 is the longest highway in Washington State, at 463.13 miles, beginning in Discovery Bay, on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and finally ending within 1000 feet of the Idaho state line.
On this trip, Jon let me stop a time or two to check out the beautiful mountains, and again to drive over Diablo Dam. Diablo Dam is one of 3 dams built on the Upper Skagit River, and it generates electricity for Seattle City Light. Construction was started in 1917, but due to extreme weather and political delays, it wasn’t completed until 1930. At the time of its completion, Diablo Dam’s 389 feet made it the tallest dam in the world. The dam created a lake called Diablo Lake that is home to rainbow, cutthroat, brook, and endangered bull trout. The water is a brilliant turquoise blue-green color, caused by pulverized rock that is deposited into the lake by glacier-fed streams, where it hangs suspended in the water.
And the coolest part is that if you drive down this little road off to the side of the highway, you can drive across the dam! We drove across (you aren’t allowed to stop on the dam) and parked on the other side to take some closeup photos. I know some of you will find it strange that I found a dam so interesting, but it was a really neat (and really big) piece of architecture! Plus, there was this cute little chipmunk posing on the road! And since it was really close to closing time (they close the little road at 5 pm and there is a gate that will not let you in, but will let you out), we were the only ones there.
After we said goodbye to the chipmunk (ok, I’m the only one who said goodbye to him – Jon refused), we continued on toward home…