In the damp cold of mid-April, I decided to plan an early June get-away east of the Cascades to Wenatchee and Lake Chelan… where summer actually exists in June. Almost two years ago, at the state Public Transportation conference, I heard about this route, and was looking forward to actually DOING it!
Of course, this was a car-free vacation…except for delivery and pick-up to the train/bus station by my dear neighbor, Nancy (thank you, Nancy!)
Day One: Empire builder to Wenatchee
This past Tuesday I took the northbound Amtrak Cascades train 506, leaving the Olympia/Lacey depot about 2:15 pm, arriving in Seattle about 3:30 pm. I hadn’t taken the train between Olympia and Seattle for a long time; it really is a great trip. You travel alongside Puget Sound, under the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and past lovely scenes you can’t see from roadways. An adult fare for this trip is only $16.
From Seattle, I changed trains to the famous Amtrak “Empire Builder” train, which goes as far as Chicago. (Yes, going all the way to Chicago on the Empire Builder is on my agenda SOMEday, but not today.) The train was delayed a bit, but we were on-board by about 5:00 pm. As a coach passenger you sit on the upper level of your assigned car. The seats are wide, with lots of leg room; complete with a leg and foot rest. The trip from Seattle to Wenatchee is very reasonable; only $24.
As we were starting out, I tuned in to the “Cascade Loop Heritage tour”, produced by the Northwest Heritage Resources group. This two disc set is meant to be a travel companion on Highway 2 (and the Empire Builder route) from Mukilteo to Entiat, north of Wenatchee. Much history of the area was described, primarily through interviews with many individuals who share their heritage and stories of the area. Very impressive! For more information about the Northwest Heritage Resources projects, visit their website at: www.washingtonfolkarts.com
It was fun to see the outskirts of Seattle from the train; such as Myrtle Edwards Park and Fisherman’s Terminal in Ballard (the train went over the canal by the Locks). The route paralleled Puget Sound for quite a distance. We had a brief stop at Edmonds, followed by a stop in Everett. You could catch glimpses of many small parks tucked in along the way, which include water access.
I planned to have dinner on the train, and was seated with three other travelers at 6:00. I had tilapia, served with rice and vegetables, as well as a green salad. It was passable, but not as good as past Amtrak meals. The scenery made up for the so-so meal. All of our recent rain was evident… the trees and scrubs were sparkling green, and the many rivers we passed over and alongside were roaring. Snow was showing on top of the highest peaks close to Stevens Pass. The fog and mist made it appear that fall was coming. Once pine trees became the dominant landscape, spots of blue began to appear in the sky.
We passed by little settlements, including the little burg of Sultan. Our first stop after Everett was Leavenworth. The next stop was Wenatchee, where I departed just before 9:00 pm. It was chilly and a bit windy; 56 degrees according to the Conductor. My hotel (Coast Wenatchee) was a brisk walk away… it felt good to walk after the train ride! The front desk greeted me warmly, and I retired to my 7th floor river view room. www.wenatcheecenter.com
Day Two: Ohme Gardens and Leavenworth
One bonus in making an online reservation for the Coast Wenatchee is that breakfast is included in the rate. Not just the standard continental… you order off of their menu. What a deal. Since I slept in a bit, I had the blueberry pancakes, eggs, and bacon as brunch!
Another good reason to stay at the Coast Wenatchee is they offer courtesy transportation in the Wenatchee Valley. After breakfast, I enquired about the shuttle van; the driver was there within three minutes. My destination was Ohme (pronounced “oh me”, as in “Oh promise me…”) Gardens, located about 6 miles out of town, perched on a rocky bluff overlooking Wenatchee and the Columbia River valley.
The Ohme gardens were lovingly created by Herman and Ruth Ohme, beginning in the early 1930’s. Initially created as a family retreat, the Ohmes eventually opened the Gardens to the public. The Ohmes continued to develop the garden until 1971, when Mr. Ohme passed away. The couple’s son Gordon, and his family, took over responsibility of the garden until 1991. The Gardens are currently owned by Chelan County.
The gardens are a wonderful incorporation of rocks and water features with many varieties of evergreen trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. The flagstone pathways have many twists and turns, with vista points throughout the gardens. There are many lovely pools, as well as waterfalls. Beautiful rock benches are well placed along the way. This is a popular spot for weddings.
The gardens are a paradise for a nature photographer. I took many pictures, as well as a few sketches. After spending a very pleasant 90 minutes, I called for the shuttle van to pick me up. www.ohmegardens.com
I’m pleased to share my first “movie” posted on you-tube, which combines my Ohme Gardens pictures with background music. Hope you enjoy it!
Here it is: http://youtu.be/sCVIo4vpeB4
LINK Bus 22 to Leavenworth:
First I want to compliment the LINK Transit system, serving 87,000 Chelan and Douglas Counties residents. Each time I used the bus during this trip, the buses were exceptionally clean, the drivers very courteous and helpful, and the passengers were friendly. All of these qualities are much appreciated, especially to a traveler who is new to their system and routes. www.linktransit.com
When I got back to the hotel from Ohme gardens just after noon, I decided to take the bus to Leavenworth. The one way cost from Wenatchee to Leavenworth was $2.50. My hotel was on the corner of 2nd and Wenatchee Avenue, the main business street in town. One block uphill (away from the river) from Wenatchee is Mission. This is a one-way street, heading out of town. There is a bus stop on the corner of 2nd and Mission… a mere block from my hotel.
I’m pointing this detail out, because I didn’t read the route map carefully enough. I thought there were bus stops along Wenatchee. Turns out only the electric trolleys travel on Wenatchee (and what a deal for only 25 cents!). So, I ended up walking several blocks to the bus Columbia Transit Center, at Wenatchee and Kittitas. As I was looking at the bus bays to figure out where bus 22 was located, I realized my bus (22) was just leaving. I sort of waved at the driver, and figured I would spend an hour downtown waiting for the next bus…BUT… the bus came around the block to pick me up! Now, that’s what I call excellent customer service. Thank you, kind bus driver Sharon.
Just after turning onto Highway 97, the road sign said that Leavenworth was 18 miles ahead. This very pleasant ride passed alongside many orchards, complete with huge empty apple crates. Ripening cherries were evident in some orchards. We stopped at the small town of Monitor before coming to the historic town of Cashmere.
Cashmere is where the world-famous “Aplets and Cotlets” are produced. The bus took us down maple tree lined Cottage Avenue, complete with charming pristine homes and gardens. This street is considered the historic district in town. The two or so blocks of the shopping district have red and white wooden awnings, which add to the cohesive nature of downtown. The sign for the Aplets and Cotlets factory and tour was evident; it’s on Aplet Way! The Pioneer Park on the edge of town looked inviting, as well as the next door Cashmere museum.
After Cashmere, we made quick stops in Dryden and Peshastin before arriving in Leavenworth. It was obvious that we were approaching town by the Bavarian signage and buildings. Even Safeway and McDonalds must adhere to the “old world” theme. The setting of Leavenworth is truly spectacular… the town is nestled up against the steep foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The very tops of the highest peaks still had a dusting of snow. I got off the bus at City Hall, which is across the Highway from the town square. I wandered through many of the shops before heading to the Riverfront Park. This is a lovely park, with wide paths meandering along the river. There are two bridges to Blackbird Island, which has its own eco-system. There were many benches to sit and pause. After a hearty walk, I headed back to the Town Square for an ice cream cone (the sun had finally come out!) and to read while I waited for the next bus. The closest bus stop heading out of town is at the Park and Ride, which is about two blocks (outbound) past the Town Square. I caught the 4:12 bus, with the same wonderful bus driver, Sharon.
Leavenworth has year-round activities and events. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony is lovely…a picture postcard, for sure. For more information about things to do, see, and stay in Leavenworth, see www.leavenworth.org
Coming back into Wenatchee, the bus travels along Chelan Avenue, which is one street up hill from Mission (two up from Wenatchee). I got off the bus at about 5:00, at 3rd and Chelan. I walked up to 2nd, and down two blocks to the hotel.
For dinner, I took advantage of the Coast Wenatchee’s Happy Hour menu, and $5 coupon that I received when I checked in to the Hotel. The vegetables with edamame hummus was good; along with a nice Pinot Grigio. Time to call it a day…
Day Three: Lake Chelan and Stehekin
Even though I have lived almost my entire life in Washington, I had never been to Stehekin (an Indian word meaning “the way through”), the remote village at the far northwest end of Lake Chelan. There are only two ways to reach Stehekin: by plane or boat.
In April 1889 the Belle of Chelan was the first commercial vessel to take adventure-seekers to Stehekin. In these early days, it took two days to reach Stehekin from Chelan, and required ten to twelve cords of wood each trip to power the boat. The passenger fare was $4.00. Many other boats have continued this traditional voyage, including the Lady of the Lake, which I decided to take on this journey.
In order to catch my 8:30 am boat, I took Bus 22 that left the Columbia Station at 7:15, reaching my bus stop at 2nd and Mission about 7:20. The very friendly bus driver teased me about bringing westside rainy weather with me. The bus dropped me off at 8:20, right across the Highway from the Lady of the Lake boat launch.
Since this was a day trip for me, I decided to take the Lady Express boat up the Lake, and the slower Lady of the Lake II boat on the return trip. This gave me 3 hours to explore the Stehekin environs. The Lady Express is a bit more expensive, but arrives in Stehekin at 11:00, rather than the Lady of the Lake II arrival time of 12:30. The cost of my adult round trip ticket was $68.84. Throughout the journey, the captain provided an informative commentary on the geology and history of the area. An onboard newspaper provides additional historical information, as well as a detailed map of the route. One fact about Lake Chelan is that it is the 3rd deepest gorge in North America (following Crater Lake in Oregon, and Lake Tahoe in California). There were only 10 passengers on this run, so we had plenty of room to spread out and enjoy the scenery. We passed the Wapato community and Manson, where apple orchards (and empty crates) were abundant. The only landing was at Field’s Point, 16 miles up lake and the last stop serviced by a road. The entire trip to Stehekin is 51 miles. The weather was misty/drizzly the entire way with patches of fog rolling in and out. The scenery (and weather) was very reminiscent of Alaska.
The Stehekin community settled well over 100 years ago, and currently has about 80 year round residents. During the summer months, the population may swell to over 200. Several lodging options are available, as well as many recreational opportunities such a hiking, biking, kayaking…and the ever popular “hanging out”. There is no phone (or internet) service in Stehekin, and only one satellite phone.
After I warmed up, I browsed through the small general store, which had a small grocery section as well as the usual souvenir t-shirts and hats.
The only restaurant at the landing is next to the store. I was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices. The menu is not extensive (burgers, sandwiches, soup…), but certainly adequate. I selected the grilled chicken burger, which was quite good, and only $7.95. Speaking of prices, I was surprised to hear that gas was “only” $5.05 a gallon. Considering all gas comes in by barge, I thought that was very reasonably priced. Last week I think I paid $4.19 for gas in Olympia.
I had time to read my book in the pleasant restaurant. The servers welcomed those of us who lingered; it was still raining outside. I did hike up the hill next to the grocery store to the Golden West Visitor Center, which is the Ranger Station for the area. The windows and bannister of this building were salvaged from the old Field Point Hotel. The Visitor Center includes information about the Stehekin/North Cascades environs, a cozy children’s area, and an art gallery. The current exhibit was kites, made by local children. Next to the Visitor Center is the “House that Jack Built”, featuring a nice variety of art and crafts made by people living in the Stehekin Valley. I bought earrings and some very nice block print cards.
I decided to take the 12:30 bus tour (adults – $7.00), which goes up the valley to the 321 foot Rainbow Falls. We passed by the Post Office (Stehekin has their own zipcode), the famous Stehekin Pastry Company (which didn’t open until June 15th) and many homesteads. Rainbow Falls was roaring…
On the way back to the boat landing, we stopped at the old one-room Stehekin Schoolhouse, built in 1921, serving children from Kindergarten through 8th grade. This building was used until 1988, when I a new one-room schoolhouse was built ¼ mile down valley. The current teacher has been there since the mid-1970’s.
Once back at the boat landing, we had a bit of time to explore before getting onboard for the 2:00 departure. This leg of the journey was on the larger (but slower) Lady of the Lake II. The seating and ride were very comfortable. We stopped at Field’s Point landing and Lucerne (port for Holden Village) along the way. It was drizzling most of the way, but the ride was relaxing. We docked just a few minutes before 6:00.
The bus stop for my return trip to Wenatchee was right in front of the Lady of the Lake office. I estimated that the bus should have been to that stop about 55 after the hour, though I hadn’t seen the bus as the boat was approaching the dock. I was in luck… the bus was a few minutes late; it came around the bend just a few minutes after I arrived at the stop. The ride back to Wenatchee was scenic, even with the rain showers.
Returning to the hotel about 7, I decided to grab a snack at the hotel. It had been a long day, and I was ready to settle in with a good book, and call it a day.
Day Four: Return trip home by bus
I enjoyed another “free” breakfast at the hotel in the morning before walking a block up Wenatchee Avenue (past the Performing Arts Center), and turning left to pedestrian train track overpass towards the Columbia River. The Riverfront Park parallels the Columbia for well over a mile. The paved walk way is plenty wide for both walkers and bikers. Connecting to the Riverfront Park is the 11 mile Apple Capital Loop Trail, which crosses over the Columbia. This would be a fun run on a bike! Close to the pedestrian train overpass is a miniature railroad, which runs seasonally on the weekend. After a pleasant hour-or-so stroll, I headed back to the hotel for final packing.
After checking out of the hotel, I walked back down Wenatchee Avenue to the Columbia Transit Center. Northwest Trailways, a private bus company which partners with Amtrak, is located at the Transit Center. The Empire Builder westbound train comes through Wenatchee in the wee-dark hours of night; I decided the bus was a better way for me to travel, as well as a new adventure. The cost of the bus between Wenatchee and Tacoma was $35. The trip was supposed to take just under 5 hours. Due to heavy Friday 5:00 pm traffic, we were delayed about an hour. Yes, this is a loooonng trip, but the seating was very comfortable and I was prepared to keep myself entertained with a good book, Sudoku, and music. From the Tacoma Dome drop-off place, I caught the Intercity Transit bus 605, which delivered me to the Martin Way Park and Ride. Once again, my neighbor Nancy came to pick me up.
I highly recommend this adventure. It’s a good solo trip, but would certainly be fun to take with family or friends. I could have easily spent another day or two in the area, such as spending a night in Stehekin, and exploring the towns of Chelan and Cashmere. Next time…