2011/06 WA:Springtime in the Methow
The only previous times I have made the jaunt to Winthrop was in the summer when the weather was hot and the landscape was brown and dusty. On June 8th, we set out for Winthrop and the Methow Valley via the North Cascades Highway (Hwy 20) through the North Cascades National Park and Ross Lake Recreation Area. The weather was overcast but we were hoping for more sun that is typical of “east of the mountains”. The highway, which follows the Skagit River for much of the way until Newhalem where it is obstructed by the first of 3 dams, began in Sedro Woolley for us. We stopped at one of the many pullouts along the river to shoot the swollen river.
The image on the left caught our attention because of the draped moss hanging over the river. The morning light was overcast with some sun breaks. But, when some light filtered through on some foliage behind the moss coated tree on the right, we swung our tripods to frame that scene.
Unfortunately, the trail that leads to Ladder Falls and the other waterfalls behind the Newhalem generating plant was closed due to the tremendous water flow from all the runoff caused by near-record spring rains and melting snowpack. We decided to have lunch at the Ross Lake overlook then drive the remaining distance to our destination: River Run Inn this side of Winthrop on the Methow River.
Both passes still had snow off to either side of the rode from the recent plowing. There were also a few mudslides that took out trees and rocks along the highway. Cascades of water came pouring off the rock faces as we drove further east. We stopped at a trailhead to use the facilities. Three sailors had built a rough cabin in the woods to mine for gold that a Seattle fortune teller had told them that would for sure be there. They spent a winter there then abandoned the claim and the cabin because they found no gold. This was way before the highway was built in the early 1970s so they must have followed Indian trails from the west or came through the east side by way of Wenatchee. Tough men who traveled some rough territory and survived a harsh winter.
The weather was no improvement over the west side so we bought some dinner at the local grocery store and settled in for the night. Thunder clapped as we ate our dinner and went to bed. The surrounding hills were velvet green. Unfortunately, Winthrop has a large number of second homes which were dotted here and there amongst the hills and valleys.
The morning was foggy so we didn’t venture out at first light. We drove out to the Gunn Ranch Road to shoot an old building. The fog was still heavy in the valley but the blue sky was trying to break through.
We continued on the gravel road to where we discovered a small pond nestled down in a small valley. A pair of loons had settled as we could hear their cries from our perch on the road above. Below is a tight crop of the pond and a few Quaking Aspens that lined its shore. This should be a great shot in the fall when the leaves turn gold.
Since megamansions aren’t that photogenic, we turned around when we saw a few up ahead. We wandered along the paved road that followed the Chewuch River on the west side to check out Falls Creek Falls and camping possibilities. Our lunch spot was along roaring Lake Creek that fed into the Chewuch River which travels through Winthrop, eventually joining the Methow and later emptying into the mighty Columbia River. The pines trees that were thick in the area were part of the Okanagon National Forest. Mule deer were present everywhere and we had to be extra cautious when driving.
Our favorite USFS campground was the hosted Chewuch site with 16 sites along the Chewuch River. This is a primitive campground with tested water, vault toilets and garbage. And, it is also bear country, so food must be stored safely away from these opportunistic mammals.
We drove to the dead end then returned to Winthrop to drive to Pearrygin Lake. Near the turnoff to the boat launch and campgrounds, we discovered a red barn and a six-sided wooden silo. There was a pull off so we set up to shoot in the fading light of an approaching storm. The Cascades were visible in the distance beyond the fields and foothills. A passing runner told us the farm was now a state conservation area. We were treated to some dramatic lighting. Quaking aspens stood off to the side and their bark caught some sun. This is a definite return-to-spot for autumn foliage. Also, a small wetland across the road featured a few aspens up close.
The darkening sky and loss of light forced us back to our room. On the return, we saw several large snakes sunning themselves on the road. The next morning, one of the inn employees told us that they were a garter snake that could be aggressive. I am just glad that I didn’t venture further into the fields. At least they weren’t rattlesnakes which we don’t have on the west side.
The next morning saw us returning to the farm/conservation area to catch the sunlight on the red buildings. There were a few clouds in the sky and the sun did light up the red boards. The snow-covered Cascades were more visible making a more scenic backdrop than the night before. The clouds weren’t as dramatic, though.
Eager to return home before the weekend crowds hit the highway, we left Winthrop behind. We stopped for lunch in the parking lot at the Newhalem generating plant. We stopped at the same pullout along the Skagit River but the lighting wasn’t as good. And, we didn’t miss the traffic headed for a weekend on the other side of the mountains.