The Okanogan

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Almost 25 years ago, just after I moved to Seattle, I went to a slideshow at REI (remember slideshows?) about interesting hikes in Washington. Someone showed slides of North Cascades National Park—rugged mountain territory with jagged peaks and year-round snow-covered peaks, and the Okanogan beyond it–Lodge Pole pine country with sparse undergrowth and dusty earth. I wanted more than anything to go hiking there. I thought about it many times, but it never happened. It was always too far away, too complicated, or I couldn’t find anyone to go with me. Other places became my go-to’s for weekend getaways—Lopez Island, the Olympic Peninsula, and Lake Coeur d’Alene. Two years ago I almost made it with my mom was in town, but crazy wildfires raged in the Methow and we had to cancel.

This year I went to another talk at REI about interesting hikes around the state and I realized that I still had never made it to the North Cascades or the Okanogan. I decided that since my annual pilgrimage to Lake Coeur d’Alene wasn’t happening I would go to the Okanogan instead. I booked a tiny Airbnb cabin in Mazama and headed over the North Cascades Highway in my new Subaru.

I’m glad I did too, because otherwise I would never have seen the towers of basalt of Liberty Bell Peak. I would never had sat in an alpine meadow off the PCT with Lupine, Indian Paintbrush, Bear Grass, and countless other wildflowers I couldn’t name all in full splendor around me. I would never have driven a hair-raising Forest Service around Dead Horse Point, only wide enough for one car with a thousand foot drop off right next to me, to get to Harts Pass. I would never have seen the unobstructed views of Mounts Ballard and Azurite. I would have never sat in Goat Creek with cold water rushing all around me. And I never would have seen the Methow Valley, a wide and bucolic vision of paradise that flows from the mountain streams.

Why did I wait so long to come here I wonder. Was it simple procrastination? Or perhaps, subconsciously had I waited to go until I was prepared to listen to what this place had to tell me. I have several landscapes that I consider part of the fabric of my life—the Northwoods of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the Olympic Peninsula, the San Juan Islands, and Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Now I have one more to add.

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