©2013 text and photos by LeeZard
July 12 – Anacortes, WA to Spokane – 326 Miles
The Cascade Mountains divide Washington State in more ways than one. Physically, they are the north-south spine between the densely populated western third of the state – Seattle and the Interstate-5 corridor – and Eastern Washington, the so-called “Inland Empire” that runs all the way into Idaho.
The mountains are also called “The Cascade Curtain” because crossing them is like going from one dimension to another. While Washington is called The Evergreen State, most of the evergreens are west of the Cascades. So are most of the liberals, most of the money and most of the votes. The late Democratic Senator Warren Magnuson famously said, “You can see all the votes you need to get elected statewide from the top of Seattle’s Space Needle.” It drives the folks in Eastern Washington crazy.
Talking about driving, I left Anacortes this morning for Spokane looking forward to a long, leisurely drive on one of the country’s most scenic and rugged roads, State Road (SR) 20, The North Cascades Highway. The highway was completed in 1972. Before that, if you wanted to drive from northwestern Washington to east of the Cascades you had to go many miles south to U.S. 2 out of Everett or Seattle and I-90.
As you begin to climb on SR 20 the glacier pocked cascades peekaboo through the foothills, teasing you for the magnificent show ahead. Climbing higher, the road twists and turns its way between the now towering peaks on either side. Waterfalls cascade down the rocky mountainsides to the creeks and rivers below.
At Washington Pass (elev. 5,477 ft.) Washington State changes, physically, politically, socially and economically. Before passing through the Cascade Curtain, though, I paused at Washington Pass to enjoy one of the most spectacular views in the state. Unfortunately, I was saddened by what I saw.
Thirty-nine years ago, in the summer of 1974, I stopped at this exact spot enthralled by it all. The viewpoint is two miles from the highway and the silence is loud. In 1974 the surrounding peaks were full with glaciers and in that silence you could hear them cracking. Awesome!
Today, the glaciers are a fraction in number and size. If anyone doubts the affects of global warming they should come here. Still, the view is breathtaking.
Entering Eastern Washington the verdant forests of Douglas Fir give way to Ponderosa Pine. Cities and traffic jams give way to small towns, agriculture and vast spaces, empty except for abundant sagebrush and the occasional tumbleweed blowing across the road.
Northeastern Washington is both the fruit and bread basket of the state. Just east of the North Cascades you drive through miles and miles of apple orchards and huge warehouses. At this time of year, as harvest time approaches, towers of empty packing crates await their bounty.
Further east the orchards turn unto vast wheat fields, much nearer to harvest than the fruit. You can tell by miles and miles of the ripe golden wheat rolling back and forth in the wind. Now I know what “amber waves of grain” really means.
Entering the final stretch to Spokane, I had one more stop to make, the legendary Grand Coulee Dam. This engineering marvel was perhaps FDR’s greatest public works project during the Great Depression. At the same time, iconic folkie Woodie Gutherie was paid with federal money to write such classics as Roll on Columbia (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sH6CcsTafw) and This Land is Your Land (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxiMrvDbq3s).
Still savoring my daylong visual feast I pulled into Spokane and immediately into the first Starbucks I’d seen in 326 miles. While enjoying an end of the drive cigar and my grande quad latte, I began searching for a place to camp. I located two potential sites in Riverside State Park, a short seven miles from downtown. I knew finding available tent sites on summer weekends could be a challenge and sure enough there was no room at either inn.
The ranger at one of the sites was a very nice young man in his 20s, Danny. He was sympathetic to my plight and asked the purpose of my trip. When I told him about my project he became excited and asked if he could follow me on Facebook. I gave him a business card and asked him to call me if a campsite miracle occurred.
As a backup to camping I’ve arranged the fully packed Jeep to allow Trooper and me to sleep in the back at truck stops or rest areas. As I pulled into a particularly dumpy-looking truck stop my mobile rang. It was Danny.
“Hey,” he was enthusiastic, “I found you a tent site! We have an equestrian campground nearby. I checked and they have one available. Head there now.”
I know truck stop camping is in my future but not tonight. Tomorrow, I will ask the people of Spokane how the Great Recession affected their lives.