Monday, January 16, 2017

the cascade loop

And I'm back! :)

Much sooner than I expected to be actually - perhaps due in part to a new year's intention (okay, so call it a resolution, but "intention" seems to be the word of the moment) to do more of what I love doing - and as this blog was borne primarily out of an intention (that word again!) to write more, here I am, picking up where I left you last, in the general area of Seattle, Washington.

I figured I'd better get this down in writing before all the memories of our PNW (Pacific Northwest) trip start to blur together - we have a tendency to cover a LOT of ground on our travels/road trips, and this one was no exception. Our itinerary was roughly thus: Seattle for two days, then a drive northeast towards the Canadian border through the Cascade Mountains for an overnight stay, followed by a more or less southwest diagonal crossing of Washington state to Oregon's Cannon Beach, then back up the coast (via Aberdeen Washington), to Seattle for another two days - then our flight back home (to the greater Toronto area).  I've already touched on some of the highlights of our Seattle adventures in this post; and I'll cover the Oregon portion of our trip in another - but today, I'll focus on what turned out to be a much-too-short whirlwind of a drive into the Cascade Mountains, following a portion of the Cascade Loop:

So what do you think?  Did you enjoy our trip?  :) 

Haha, how I WISH we had had more time to explore this utterly stunning portion of the U.S. as fully as the above video depicts!!  There is just SO much to see and experience in this relatively small corner of the country.  In fact, it was because of the above video that we decided to explore this area, and ended up staying at one of the region's crown jewels, the Sun Mountain Lodge. (More on that later). Unfortunately however, due to our time constraints, we only had one day to drive from Seattle to Winthrop, WA, (where the lodge is located) an overnight stay there, then back south to the Oregon coast.  Whew.  Ambitious much? 

Ah well, try as we might to change, it just seems to be our jam to road trip like maniacs when we travel, and this trip was no different - so come with me if you will, on our own little Cascade Loop adventure!

We set out from Seattle in the early morning, and after a quick stop for breakfast in suburban Bellevue, WA (birthplace of!), we were soon on the North Cascades Highway (Highway 20) towards some of that gorgeous PNW scenery - and stopped to drink in our first view of it from this roadside rest area near Marblemount, WA:

North Cascade Mountains, Washington
As mentioned in my previous post about Seattle, we had absolutely stellar weather during almost the entirety of our trip - as you can plainly see here. :)

After a brief stop here, we carried on slightly farther along Highway 20 and of course had to stop for a photo op at the park entrance:
Another one off the list :)
...followed by a stop at the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, a lovely log structure that housed many interesting exhibits, including a boardwalk through the forest leading to a lookoff framing the spectacularly rugged Picket Range of the Cascades, including the aptly named Chopping Block peak (on the left):

Almost looks fake, doesn't it?
This is a magnificent mountain range, albeit somewhat...foreboding in appearance?  In fact, many of the peaks have names that instill a sense of unease - Mount Fury, Mount Challenger, and Mount Terror - but nonetheless are indeed something to behold.

Carrying on from the Visitor Center, our next destination was Diablo Lake - but we probably didn't get too much farther along the highway before we had to stop the car again and jump out for yet another random roadside photo op of this stunning vista:

I'm telling you, no shortage of natural beauty in these parts, folks. :)

And then just around the corner to the aforementioned Diablo Lake!

Just keeps getting better, no? :)

Much like our visit earlier last July to Canada's Lake Louise and Moraine Lake (which you can read about here), Diablo Lake gets its brilliant turquoise hue from glacial runoff, which carrys a finely ground rock powder into the water.  The resulting particles suspended in the water reflect the light, and voila! - another work of art courtesy of dear old Mother Nature. Our cameras worked overtime here...

But we had a schedule to keep, and the day was already starting to get away from us - so onward to our next stop...

...the Washington Pass Overlook!

After viewing the video (at the beginning of this post) prior to our trip, we knew this stop would be a must for a view of magnificent Liberty Bell Mountain - and we were not to be disappointed:

(Click here for a pic of me enjoying the view in the pic below from the vantage point in the pic above - trust me, the look of wonder on my face was not posed for the moment - there's just no other way to look upon this scene and not have that look on your face!)

The Washington Pass Overlook
If there is one stop I would recommend to those of you who are considering a trip around the Cascade Loop, I would have to say this is it - the culmination of the area's rugged beauty all in one place - the craggy mountaintops, the cascading valleys, the smell of evergreens permeating the sweet mountain air...ah, it was just SO wonderful here. As it was late afternoon by this time, most of the tourists had left for the day, and we almost had it all to ourselves - quite an experience to stand in the quiet and drink the majesty of it all in, with nothing but the sound of the cool alpine breezes swirling through the ancient trees surrounding us.

But the sun was lowering, and the shadows were falling.  It was time to hit the road below and head to our final destination of the day.

So long, Liberty Bell Mountain!
From the Washington Pass Overlook, it was straight on to Winthrop, Washington, a charming little Old West-themed town, above whose rolling foothills lay our accommodation for the evening - Sun Mountain Lodge.

When we had originally planned our trip, we had fully intended to arrive at Sun Mountain much earlier in the day, but as you can see, there was just too much to see along the way - so unfortunately, our little logistical miscalculation resulted in our time spent at this fabulous destination being far too short.  By the time we arrived it was almost sundown - but on the bright side, that's always one of the best times of the day for that beautiful evening light.  As we climbed the winding road towards the lodge, we stopped to take in this view of Patterson Lake below us:

Patterson Lake, Winthrop, Washington
It was SUCH a beautiful evening.  We had expected SML to be nice - but we hadn't expected just HOW nice it would be.  All the way up the meandering road to the lodge at the top of the hill, we uttered many an "oooh!" and "ahhh!" as we ascended.  I won't get into ALL the details of our stay there on this blog, as I've already written an extensive review on tripadvisor - so please feel free to check that out if you're interested in learning more about my impressions, but suffice it to say, although our time there was short, it was VERY sweet. I'll let some photos do the talking here - first, from a walk around the property on arrival:

Our room was located a short walk from the main lodge in a separate building (upper right)
One of the pools on the grounds of Sun Mountain Lodge

The view from our private balcony

Lone pine at sundown

Well, needless to say, we were kicking ourselves that we hadn't planned more than one night at this beautiful resort, but it was what it was, and we made the most of every minute we had there, including a lovely dinner in the appropriately rustic Wolf Creek Bar & Grill - exactly what these road-weary travellers needed.  But the best was yet to come.

After a heavenly sleep, we rose early to get outside and watch the sun come up over the mountains - but once outdoors, we discovered we weren't the only ones to be up with the birds... :)

Good morning, deer! 

What a wonderful surprise to enjoy the sunrise in the company of an entire family of deer! Okay, so call me a city-slicker, but it truly was such a delight to view them grazing in the dew-sodden grass, and to watch the youngsters at play.  Definitely NOT something we're used to seeing every day (although I suspect the deer were fairly used to seeing humans every day, as they weren't spooked in the least by our presence). We spent a bit longer than we should have with these beautiful creatures - time was a wastin' and the open road was calling our names again.

But first, breakfast!

Breakfast at 3 Bears Cafe, Winthrop, Washington
As difficult as it was to leave Sun Mountain Lodge, we opted to check out of the hotel  for an opportunity to head back down to Winthrop for breakfast, and as luck would have it, we found ourselves a rootin' tootin', mighty fine place to saddle up and chow down - the 3 Bears cafe!

So bear :) with me people - Winthrop's claim to fame is that pretty much the entire town is old-west themed - so what better place to eat breakfast than out in the open air?  And what a delicious breakfast it was, as you can clearly see!  If you're ever amblin' through Winthrop, pardner, make dang sure you git yerself on down to the 3 Bears Cafe fer some tasty grub! Ya hear?

Seriously though - we found this town to be entirely charming.  Unfortunately after breakfast we only had time to literally run up and down the main street for a quick look see, as we were Oregon-bound and had a LONG day of travel ahead of us, but what we saw, we loved (and still with the beautiful weather!):

See what I mean?  C.H.A.R.M.I.N.G!

But...we needed to get out of Dodge - in a hurry. (And so concludes the old-west lingo portion of today's post. Promise.) :)

On the road again...
So here's what the day held for us:

Yeah, it was a bit of an ambitious undertaking, and it meant we had to pretty much drive non-stop in order to have a hope of getting to Cannon Beach before nightfall - but as you may have guessed, "non-stop" isn't exactly something you can do easily in this part of the world.  Especially when we travel with that old time-worn chestnut as our mantra -  "the journey is the destination", yeah.

Mind you, we made pretty good time for most of the ride, stopping briefly to sample some of the area's world-renowned honey crisp apples - SO good:

I was actually rather surprised at the landscape for much of our drive out of Winthrop towards the coast - far from being mountainous and heavily forested (as I had expected), it was all very low-rolling hills for hours on end, and almost desert-like in areas - not what one would expect for an area of the U.S. that is well known for its agriculture. I felt at times like we were driving through parts of Southern California - who knew?

The latter part of the day, however, found us once again back in a landscape more typically associated with the Pacific Northwest along the White Pass Scenic Byway (Highway 12), and we stopped for a much needed leg-stretch (and a run around the parking lot for good measure) at the Clear Creek Falls Overlook in the Wenatchee National Forest:

While stopped here we were surprised by two fighter jets on training runs that came swooping out of the canyon below us and roaring into the wild blue yonder above - so our timing for this stop was very fortuitous!  (They came and went too quickly for me to get photos!)

We thought this would be our last stop before our final push into Oregon....but oh hey.......look what was waiting for us just around the corner...

Mount Rainer
Just a little mountain called Rainier, that's all.  We had NO idea that just a few miles further along Highway 12, we would run across this stunning viewpoint from which to marvel at the beauty of Mount Rainer.  My heavens, but what a magnificent mountain this is!  It's just SO. DAMN. HUGE.  I can only marvel at the fact that from SO many parts of this region, this quiet behemoth of a mountain is just THERE, visible from miles and miles away (click here for a distant view of it from downtown Seattle).  All one can do is just stop and stare at its sheer and utter majesty...which is exactly what we did for almost ANOTHER FULL HOUR.  Oh well, Oregon would have to wait...

I like to call this my "Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal" shot... :)
And so concluded our 24-hour marathon in and around the Cascade Loop! Not a bad little surprise to end the day at all.  One obviously  needs at least a week (or more) to see and enjoy all this area has to offer, but you're not hearing any complaints at all from me - I just feel fortunate to have seen what I did see with my own eyes - the natural beauty of this part of the U.S. is truly and utterly stunning.  We left this portion of our trip much richer for the experience, despite the whirlwind nature of it all.

A few hours later we found ourselves on a dark Oregon highway, looking through our bug-splattered windshield at a stunning sunset on the western horizon, as we made our way ever closer to the Pacific coast.  What wonders would await us there?

Stay tuned... :)

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