Monday, September 1, 2008

2008_August 31 Winachee, WA

August 31, 2008 - Eastern Washington State

Our next traveling leg finally gave us some relief from the heat, and within 24 hours we have gone from 108 degrees in northern California near Weed to 58 degrees in eastern Washington east of Wenachee. We've traveled today from southern Oregon to about 20 miles in the sage brush, mesquite, and pine hils east of Wenachee to the unique home of my past work associate Sara Severson and her husband Eric and three children.

Climbing away from the river in downtown Wenachee, up to a shoulder of Badger Mountain, past impossibly perched "snow wheat" fields plowed in contour flowing patterns around the relief of the mountainside, awaiting the snow and resulting melt water to germinate, over a bumpy, rutted dirt road to an isolated 35 acre spread on the mountainside. Perched there amidst the sage and rocks, is a tidy "A" frame with it's assortment of farm like accouterments scattered downslope. This house is off the electric grid and runs on a combination of self-orienting solar panels, wind power, passive solar energy, wood heat, propane and human energy. Water comes from a solar powered well pump. Here on the hillside is an organic dwarf apple orchard, apricot trees, grape vines, vegetable garden, berry bushes and more. Rhubarb, flowers, strawberries and other mysteries await in the large fenced garden. Outside and winding down into the woods is a network of hiking trails and utility paths, painstakingly hacked into the rough terrain by Eric and hand tools. Sarah and Eric's imagination and vision is intact and full of great ideas for how to shape this wild place for themselves, their family and visitors.

We dined on locally grown grass-fed beef, and vegetables from the garden. No need for a broom or vacuum as the two resident rambunctious dogs throughly take care of all left over crumbs, and unguarded plates.

That night, temperatures dropped into the 40's and the high desert wind howled pulling any last moisture out of the air. We awoke to crisp clear morning. After a breakfast of eggs mixed with fresh carrot tops, pancakes with home-made preserves, we backed out of the drive and rumbled on our way - sorry to say goodbye, but eager to continue our exploring.

We drove east and north across the dry wheat farms of eastern Washington, then into the heart of apple country, the Okanogan river basin. This long valley which leads all the way up from here to the Cariboo range in British Columbia forms a natural north-south passage used for centuries by the indians. Later came Hudson's Bay Company fur brigades extracting pelts from Canada to Fort Okanogan.

From the Okanogan County Historical Society:

Hardly had the dust settled from the last fur brigade (1846) when prospectors began drifting through panning for gold. The big strike in the Cariboo produced a rush in the early 1860's. To feed the hungry miners, cowboys drove thousands of cattle through this valley to the gold fields near Barkerville, BC. The last drive was in 1868. This major cattle drive was epic in size and length - challenges some of the better known drives such as the Chisholm trail back east.

Now the valley is full of apple and other fruit orchards, with vineyards appearing on the upper slopes. This time of year,the trees are laden with their sweet payload and fruit crates are stacked 50 feet high in long piles awaiting that moment when the fruit is deemed ripe and the seasoned field hands pull it from the trees.

Once again we cross over the mighty Columbia river - at Chief Joseph Dam - it seems here that this river has been instrumental in forming the geologic forms in this part of the country with huge escarpments and valleys carved right in half through the arid mountains. Dam after dam has been installed, turning the once raging river into a series of languid and very long deep lakes.

We leave the valley bottom and head up and across the Kettle River Range and are in the national forest again - Here a combination of railways, and water flumes were used by the lumber barons to extract countless trees from the mountainside. It was only after a lightning sparked forest fire swept through the area 80 years ago that this area was "abandoned" and left primarily for recreation.

Tomorrow we return to the Columbia River, now the Roosevelt Lake and head north, crossing into Canada at a sleepy crossing just south of Rossland, BC.

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