North Central Washington is a place of diversity. Driving 60 minutes from the Icicle TV office in Leavenworth can mean hiking in the sunny high desert grasslands of Eastern Washington or throwing on a raincoat and exploring Western Washington’s uber-green Cascade Mountains
North Central Washington is a place of diversity. Driving 60 minutes from the Icicle TV office in Leavenworth can mean hiking in the sunny high desert grasslands of Eastern Washington or throwing on a raincoat and exploring Western Washington’s uber-green Cascade Mountains.
For this long overdue edition of our local travel series, Travel Unkonventionell, we head east to the Waterville Plateau to catch the immense vistas, take a walking tour through historic Waterville and marvel at the handiwork of long gone glaciers.
Our tour starts with a short drive north on Hwy 2, following the Columbia River valley. Passing cherry and apple orchards, we veer east at Orville, tackling a steep grade that rises up to the Waterville plateau in a few short miles. Keep your eyes on the road, Hwy. 2 winds along next to a huge drop off!
Once on top it’s a few short miles to Waterville. Established in 1889, this quiet farming community’s tree lined streets and beautiful mid-century homes suggest a time when families spent a cool summer evening on the front porch or gathered together for a Sunday afternoon picnic in the park.
Large farms surround town on all sides and colorful murals on the sides of barns promise cure-alls for any ailment. Visitors should definitely visit the Douglas County Historical Museum, open Sun-Thurs, all summer long. Displays of Native American and early century Americana are worth the visit. The tree lined park next door is a great place to stretch your legs, walk you dog and enjoy the ambience.
Unfortunately the growth of Wenatchee has affected Waterville’s historic business district slowly closed shop. This sad, but familiar story has repeated many times across Washington’s fertile high plateau. The once busy town is now quiet, but hardly a ghost town, as modern internet and old fashioned elbow grease are allowing residents to forge a new chapter in the town’s history. We caught a bite to eat at the only year round restaurant in town and the town’s social hub. People know each other here, and friendly conversation comes easily. Several other restaurants are open for the summer.
Well fed, we travel east a few miles to Douglas, the tiny community and namesake of Douglas County. Douglas may be small but history is at every turn. From the beautiful Lutheran Church to the now closed Douglas Store. A glance at the map reveals that tiny Douglas creek passes through town destined for the towering Moses Coulee’s palisades, site of many adventurous swims and dives from the water sculpted cliffs. Water is important on the plateau, and this small creek surely filled the boilers of locomotives when the railroad was the life blood of the area.
From Douglas we head north through the high, dry farm country so typical of this part of the state. Roads in these parts were constructed in 1 miles grids, named for their distance from Highway 2. Take in the views of the Chelan Mountains and the big sky country vibe of the rolling plateau. We paused to wonder at empty, but not forgotten farms that dot the land, signs of hard times past and admire the tidy active farms still tilling the rich volcanic dirt. Take it easy out here, enjoy the ride and be sure to bring a map. Of course GPS works out here, but these roads are meant for an old fashioned map.
The geologic and environmental forces that shaped the plateau come into view several miles north when immense basalt boulders appear. These monolithic boulders are not from the underlying volcanic flows underfoot, but glacial erratics deposited when the ice retreated from the Columbia plateau. These giant boulders are mostly on private property, but are easily admired from the county roads. Trespassing in this part of the state is takes seriously, respect signs and property rights.
From here it’s a dizzying descent back down to the Columbia River that had our ears popping. From the river, options open up for a winding return trip south on either side of the river to the Wenatchee Valley. We live in an amazing part of the world and the Waterville Plateau definitely fills the bill with huge vistas and Cascade mountain skylines to the west. We’ll see you next time when we hit the road and Travel Unkonvential!
Travel Unkonvential Tip: Don’t forget to give the universal small town wave to passing locals. The driver lifts one or two fingers from the steering wheel without taking the hand off the wheel. A simple nod is also socially acceptable.