Before I popped over the Cascade Mountain Range to western Washington I wanted to spend a bit of time just on the eastern side of the mountains. Along the Columbia River. So I headed over to the Chelan area. I remember Lake Chelan as a kid. Not really sure what I remembered, other than the concept of it, but it was an area I wanted to spend a bit of time in. Except I couldn’t find a place to stay.
It seems that people in Washington State like to camp during the summer, so every campground is full. Even in the middle of the week. I wasn’t able to get into a campground in the Chelan area. Well, maybe I could have as I didn’t try every single commercial campground, but since I don’t like commercial campgrounds, I concentrated on the public places. The city owned RV park (which is rather large) was full. The nearby county park runs on a first-come first-served basis and I wasn’t there early enough to get a spot. I also tried a National Forest campground out in the middle of nowhere, but there was no cell service and a guy has to work. So I ended up heading south a bit to the Wenatchee area.
Wenatchee River County Park
I had managed to snag a 5 night reservation at Wenatchee River County Park in one of their full hookup spots. Problem is the reservation started Monday and it was Thursday. And the park was full for the weekend. Huh. What is a guy to do? Well this guy paid attention during the reservation phone call and knew there were two dry camping (no utilities) sites at the park. That you had to ask for since nobody ever wants them. So I called and confirmed they were empty for the weekend and snagged one for the first 3 nights. Hot nights. Without air conditioning. But it was a place to stay!
Wenatchee River County Park is a good location to explore the area. It has nice sized spots that are arranged around a series of circles. So you aren’t looking right at your neighbor. Always a plus!
The park, oddly enough, is right on the Wenatchee River. There is “beach access” where you can dip your toes in the water. Sit and watch the sun set. And watch the trains. Oh, the trains!
There are a couple of rail lines that cut across the Cascades, and the northern one runs on the other side of the Wenatchee River, directly across from the park. It is used by freight trains and Amtrak. All day long. All night long. Combined with Highway 2 running past the other side of the park, this place can be a bit noisy. Side note: train geeks might be interested in reading about the Cascade Tunnel which is how this track gets through the mountains.
2015 was a bad year for fires in Washington State. At one time it seemed like the entire state was on fire. A couple of weeks before I arrived in Wenatchee, there was a bad fire there. The Sleepy Hollow fire started within view of the park and burned east into town, destroying 29 homes and several commercial buildings. Of course I tried to see some of the fire damage, but all the roads were closed. Go figure!
Wenatchee is a huge agricultural area, and is known as the apple capital of the world due to its large number of apple orchards. Apples require picking and picking requires migrant workers. Migrant workers require a place to stay and one such place is adjacent to Wenatchee River County Park. There is a little city of of temporary housing that you pass while driving to the park entrance, and you see in certain areas of the park. Not a big deal, just something you aren’t used to seeing.
There is a patch of greenery overlooking the Columbia River, high up on a bluff. A serene place full of lush vegetation that isn’t native to the area. Ohme Gardens is now run by Chelan County, but was started in 1929 by the Ohme family. Over 40+ years they took a barren bluff and added green thingies from the nearby Cascades, imported rocks, and brought water up from the river below (first in 5 gallon buckets, then via an irrigation system). End result is a magic place in the desert.
I toured the grounds. Admired the view. Enjoyed the plants and trees and pools. I found a couple of places to work from. I enjoyed my time there. Highly recommended if one finds themselves in the Wenatchee area.
Apple Capital Loop Trail
Somehow I found out about the Apple Capital Loop Trail – probably by using some fancy app that tells one what to do in the area. Turns out said trail is about 20 miles of multi-use goodness. It goes up one side of the Columbia River, over a bridge, and back the other side (and another bridge). I rode this a couple of days, which was a good workout. It’s the distance Kathy does to warm up, but it is a good ways on my old mountain bike.
A little under 20 miles west on Highway 2 (you know, that noisy road running next to the park I was staying at) is the town of Leavenworth. Once a lumber town that experienced a down turn after the railroad relocated, it was reborn in the 1960’s in a Bavarian theme. You read that right. Bavarian theme. In eastern Washington. Yeah, I don’t get it, but it seems to work. The place is full of tourists!
I explored the town, went for a walk along the trails of Waterfront Park and found a brewery to work from. Because one naturally works from a brewery. I managed to not eat one of the brat’s the town is famous for (wasn’t interested in standing in line), but I may have stopped at a bakery to, you know, get the flavor of the place.
Part of being able to travel around the country is to visit friends. New friends. Old friends. I was able to visit some old friends who lived a bit to the south of Wenatchee when I was in the area. Ken, Casey and I go way back. Like I can hardly remember that far back. At one point we were roommates. Before that, Ken and I worked together. Way back in the day. But I hadn’t seen them for too many years. So it was great catching up with them for a few hours. Really great!
Rocky Reach Dam
Having visited the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, Arizona and the Grand Coulee Dam upstream on the Columbia River, I thought I might continue the tradition and visit the Rocky Reach Dam just north of Wenatchee.
The Rocky Reach Dam is a typical hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River, with one exception. It has a unique juvenile fish bypass system that allows young fish swimming downstream to bypass the turbines that generate electricity (though these turbines have been updated to be less harmful to fish passing through them).
29 submerged pumps stationed at one side of the dam create a strong current that mimics a flowing river and thus attract fish swimming downstream. They are “collected” into a 4,600 foot long pipe that is 9 feet in diameter for most of its length and carries the fish around the dam. After the 6-8 minute ride down this water slide, the fish “enjoy” a 14-26 foot drop (depending on river height) into an area of the river that is deep and has fast currents. This minimizes the chance of predators hanging out in the area waiting for an easy meal.
After many years of research and testing of prototypes, the juvenile fish bypass system was built over a 7 month period between salmon migrations to minimize impact on the little fishies. The fish bypass system is for downstream travelers while there is a traditional fish ladder for upstream travelers. With viewing windows that allowed me to stand there and be fascinated by the traffic traveling upstream, just on the other side of the glass.
While I am not the biggest fan of hydroelectric power generating facilities, seeing money spent to try and help nature makes me a tiny bit less annoyed. Sometimes man does the right thing. Sometimes.