Archive for the ‘Washington’ Category

At the end of a quiet road, just a few miles outside the town of Leavenworth, WA, I turned into a small driveway. A drizzle of rain had started to fall and I knew I needed to be in Idaho later that day. But I trust the recommendations of locals and Leroy had insisted this was a side trip worth taking before leaving the area.

Sleeping Lady is tucked into a canyon in the Cascade Mountains. It’s one of those secrets that isn’t likely to be found through regular advertising channels. Nestled alongside Icicle Creek, this eco-friendly conference and retreat center offers a peaceful escape from the hectic pace of modern life, providing groups and individuals with time for regrouping and meditation.

Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the grounds, followed in the 1800’s by early settlers. Stepping along the timeline, the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction buildings on the property in the 1930’s and, for many years, it existed as Camp Icicle. In 1946 it became a private dude ranch, operating under the name of Icicle River Ranch. Former CCC barracks were dismantled and turned into smaller cabin units.

The ranch provided families with accommodations until 1957, when it became a youth camp, owned and run by the Yakima Diocese of the Catholic Church. With the import of a progressive-minded priest from the Spokane area, it soon became a thriving center for children. Father Joseph O’Grady, originally from Boston, was well-loved by the community. He encouraged free-thinking and musical creativity. Services were held in a newly-built chapel, as well as around an outdoor campfire.

In 1991, local resident Harriet Bullitt purchased the 67-acre property and Sleeping Lady, as it stands today, began. After several years of planning and construction, it opened in 1995.

Not for the budget-minded, individual accommodations start at $170., though off-season prices are sometimes available. Making these rates more reasonable, however, is the fact that three meals are included in the price, a value that seasoned travelers will quickly recognize. Use of the fitness center, sauna, pool, library and recreation facilities is also included.

From the beginning, Sleeping Lady was formed with a focus on environmental awareness. The tables and bar counter in the cozy Grotto bar are made from recycled glass plates. The bar’s flooring uses salvaged heartwood yellow pine beams from the original Sears in Chicago. Additional wood on the property was obtained from the old city hall and library in town. Decks are made from hard wood chips and recycled plastic grocery bags. Food service waste is used for compost. The cellulose insulation in many of the walls is made from recycled paper products.

I decided it was worth a rain-drenched jacket and late Idaho arrival to take the time to walk the grounds. Calming pathways meandered between cabins and activity centers, surrounded by clusters of pine trees, meadows of wildflowers and whimsical, modern statues. An almost overwhelming sense of relaxation and renewal floated in the air. Occasionally conference attendees passed me on the trails, smiling and nodding as they walked by. It was evident that a community spirit had replaced the typical, tunnel-visioned daily lifestyle of the modern world.

I sauntered through the chapel building, browsed the gift shop, gazed longingly at the sauna and dance facilities. I picked up an information folder in the lobby area and chatted briefly with the front desk attendant about the various programs offered, which include concerts and workshops in partnership with the on-site Icicle Creek Music Center.

I was tremendously impressed with Sleeping Lady and would have splurged for the chance to stay for a night, just to soak up the sense of renewal that hovered on the grounds. But with an appointment down the road – something I try to avoid on these trips, for exactly this reason – I knew I had to move on. I departed very reluctantly and, after one more detour through the town of Leavenworth, I headed for the Washington/Idaho state border.


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I usually have some idea what awaits me on a particular road, mostly from pre-trip research. But I had not expected to head across Washington on Rte 2, so I hadn’t run the usual google searches on lodging, small towns and local history that I would have, had I known I would be traveling on this route. Imagine my surprise when I found that I had left the quaint seaside atmosphere of Puget Sound and landed in, of all places, Bavaria.

Lights twinkled in the distance as I descended Stevens Pass. I’d made a call to an inn about an hour back, having pulled over to the side of the road and searched my map and AAA book. I knew I had a place to stay, so I took the time to cruise into town. It didn’t take long to realize I had fallen into a gingerbread storybook scene. Tiny white lights outlined an Alpine-style village. I rolled down the window and took a deep breath of the brisk mountain air. It was late enough that the shops were all closed and the streets deserted, leaving the surreal impression of having landed on a movie set.

Leavenworth, WA, was not always a Bavarian Village. This is not an immigrant-settled village, such as the Danish hamlet of Solvang, CA or the German town of Fredericksburg, TX. One of the most interesting aspects of Leavenworth is the fact that a carefully-planned community renewal was created and implemented by wise and semi-desperate townfolk. This effort has proven extremely successful, as evidenced by the two million visitors seen by the town each year.

Leavenworth occupies a small valley known originally as Icicle Flats, located along the scenic Cascade Loop, about two hours east of Seattle. Originally inhabited by the Yakima, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes, it was later settled by pioneers seeking agricultural land, furs and gold. The town grew steadily once The Great Northern Railway Company laid tracks through the area, but just as quickly plummeted when the railroad pulled out. What had grown into a successful logging town over the years became a failing community, without commerce or jobs.

Determined to save their town, the people of Leavenworth took on an immense project in the early 1960’s. They designed and created a realistic Alpine village, remodeling storefronts in Bavarian style and establishing festivals and other local activities to draw visitors to the area. Restaurants offer German cuisine and many shops sell handmade crafts. Though admittedly a little touristy in appearance, the town clearly shows that dedicated, grass-roots efforts of townspeople can work.

Having arrived completely by chance, I stayed at the first inn to answer my last-minute evening phone call. The Alpen Rose Inn is not a historic building, but is peaceful and quiet and filled with Bavarian charm. Shirley, the innkeeper, was extremely helpful, having stayed late in order to accommodate my late (and impulsive) arrival. I was given an immaculately clean, upstairs room with a sitting area, gas fireplace and TV/VCR. Video tapes were available in the downstairs lobby. I settled in comfortably for the night.

Coffee was waiting outside my door in the morning. I inhaled a little, then ventured downstairs for breakfast. Surrounded by lace curtains, shelves of colorful beer steins and stately nutcrackers of every possible style, I was served french toast, sausage, fruit and juice. Details, such as a garnish of mint leaves and a small flower, made the meal even more appealing. It was one of those unexpected surprises that I seem to find on the road. And, let’s face it, how often does the opportunity come along to eat breakfast while listening to yodeling?

I headed into town after checking out of the inn. The quiet, sparkling scene from the evening before had been replaced with the busy activity of daylight hours. Shopkeepers propped their doors open. Restaurants displayed lunch specials.

There’s far too much in this town to adequately explore in just an hour or two. But I managed to park and do a little wandering, buying some glass figurines at an outdoor crafts fair and browsing the selections at A Book for All Seasons. I was especially taken with the sculptures at The Metal Waterfall Gallery, a shop featuring the hand-crafted metal work of Ron Orcutt and his daughter, Bonnie, as well as jewelry designed by his wife, Christine Ann. I purchased a few sculpted metal leaves and enjoyed the chance to talk with Ron and Christine, who were at work creating new wares.

After enough walking to work off my breakfast, I decided to stop into one of the many German restaurants and have a bite to eat, while taking time to write up my notes. Over sauerbraten, red cabbage and spatzle, I visited with Leroy, a longtime worker of King Ludwig’s Restaurant. It was here, by complete happenstance, that I was directed to my next adventure.

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I woke up to the glimmer of water reflecting against my windows. Dramatic lighting filtered through the clouds and across Penn Cove, a secluded inlet on the east side of Whidbey Island, Washington. I flipped the switch on the room’s coffeemaker and settled back against the pillows of my featherbed to enjoy the view.

I had made it to another historic lodging that has long been on my “wish list,” The Captain Whidbey Inn. This rustic, 1907 inn was originally opened as The Whid-Isle Inn, to serve as a resort for visiting tourists from nearby Seattle and Tacoma. Built from local madrona logs, this two-story lodging sits on peaceful, park-like grounds and offers rooms in the original building, as well as more recently constructed lagoon rooms, cabins and cottages.

Because I arrived mid-week and the inn was fairly empty, I was upgraded from the usual small room I reserve on these trips to the waterview suite (Room 4) where I now poured myself a cup of coffee. A typical set-up for historic buildings, the room offered a sink, while the bathroom was located across the hall. The accommodations were wonderful, a perfect combination of rustic and luxurious. The view of the cove was amazing and, with the exception of occasional sound from happy guests in the first floor dining room, this was a peaceful haven for the night.

As opposed to the first guests of the early 1900’s, I had not arrived by paddlewheel steamer. Todays visitors have the option of reaching Whidbey Island by either ferry or roadway. I had chosen to take Highway 20 west from the mainland, crossing over onto the island by way of the Deception Pass Bridge.

The extraordinary view of Deception Pass – so named because it was originally mistaken for a peninsula, rather than an island – would have been worth the trip itself, even without adding island exploration to the journey. Deception Pass State Park offers camping, hiking, boating, picnicking and fishing – both saltwater and freshwater, as well as other outdoor activities. Birdwatchers are likely to be especially busy, in view of the 174 different species in the area.

My interest, though, was to check out the inn and to breathe in a little island atmosphere. I followed the highway south through Oak Harbor and along the water’s edge of Penn Cove. With a left turn onto Madrona Way, followed by another left onto Captain Whidbey Inn Road, I arrived at the inn.

I was greeted by owner and innkeeper Capt. John Colby Stone, a friendly and knowledgeable host. We chatted for a bit about the history of the inn and attractions of the area and I then climbed the narrow staircase to my room. I settled in and then turned my thoughts to dinner. The inn has an excellent dining option in-house, The Cove Restaurant, which features the gourmet cuisine of Chef James Roberts. But I was in the mood for something casual and was feeling my usual post-arrival urge to explore the local area. I decided to head into town, in search of photo opportunities and food.

Coupeville was established in 1852, making it one of the oldest towns in the state of Washington. It has that wonderful, quaint atmosphere that I adore, filled as it is with restored historic houses, shops and restaurants. The view of Puget Sound is wonderful. Visitors can get a dose of both small town America and coastal sea village all wrapped up in one. Situated within the boundaries of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, residents and merchants of this town are dedicated to preserving its heritage.

I took a few minutes to wander along the sidewalk, the late afternoon sun resting against the weathered storefronts. I stopped in at Great Times, a coffee house that also sells used mystery books. They were just closing for the day, but I had a chance to browse a little and admire the water view.

I found dinner at The Mad Crab, one of many eateries along the main drag. I grabbed a window table and ordered (of all things) lasagna, on which I carb-feasted while looking out across the sound. A snow-capped Mt. Baker hovered on the horizon. The motion of the water gave the impression of dining on a boat. As I finished my meal, the sun dropped behind the trees, leaving the clouds backlit and glowing. I watched as the last bit of light disappeared beyond the Coupeville Wharf. I was later told by Capt. Stone that there were many other restaurants he would have recommended, but this was a good, easy choice for me for that day.

With the sun down and the shops now closed, I returned to the inn to enjoy the fireplace in the downstairs lobby. Capt. Stone was kind enough to allow me to run a phone line into his office for Internet access. Since I carry 50-100 feet of phone cord with me on the road (just makes you want to pretend you don’t know me, doesn’t it?), I positioned it along the side of the wall, making it reach my cozy, overstuffed seat near the fire. (I’m referring to the sofa, not my lasagna intake.)

The captain is not just a captain in nickname. A world sailor, Capt. Stone spends much of his time offering day tours and island-hopping charter trips about the Cutty Sark, a sleek teak ketch – try saying that three times rapidly. In conversation with him, his passion for sailing is more than evident. He plans this year (2005) to retrace the route of General George Vancouver’s voyage of 1792. This particular trip will not be open to guests, but regular tours and trips will again be offered in 2006.

The inn serves a full breakfast, but also gives guests the option of booking lodging without breakfast included. I chose this, both to save money and in order to make up for the abundant food I had managed to scarf up during the prior week of traveling with my father.

This was not my first visit to Whidbey Island. I was there five years ago, when I stayed at the Guest House Log Cottages (which I recommend highly for a romantic retreat, honeymoon, or pre-travel-writer’s-budget indulgence.) On that trip, I was able to also explore the town of Langley, a bit south of Coupeville and also on the eastern side of the island. A paradise for shoppers, Langley is also a keen center for visual and performing arts.

On this trip, however, I didn’t feel I had the time to continue south. I packed my things, said my thank yous and checked out of the inn. With an hour detour in Oak Harbor’s Office Max to try to resolve my laptop issues, I drove back over Deception Pass and onto the mainland, working my way south until I turned east on Rte. 2. I still had one night free before I had to be in Idaho. I headed up over Stevens Pass, wondering where the road would take me next.

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I left Portland in the late afternoon, loaded down with books from Powell’s and a little weary from the last week of travel. I had not planned where I would go after leaving Oregon, but I knew my general direction was northeast. I pulled over after crossing the bridge that leads from Oregon to Washington, where I pulled out a map and debated my options.

I had left a couple days free, though I had a reservation at an inn in Idaho later in the week. There were two lodging establishments in Washington that I had been wanting to add to my “list” for a long time.

Impulsively, I headed north, stopping for the night in Olympia at a standard motel, where I proceeded to trip over the cord to my laptop, causing yet another computer boycott in my electronics-destroying history. I wasn’t feeling great, had that too-much-driving-exhaustion-low-blood-sugar-braindead thing going on. I just wanted a good night’s sleep. I slept fairly well, in spite of worrying about the laptop.

It was with the excuse that I might need to stop to pick up a photo storage device that I headed for Seattle. I had looked up the addresses of a few camera stores. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but not being a fan of city traffic I managed to miss all the appropriate exits. Frustrated and anxious, I had what I might call a franxiety attack and drove straight through the city, stopping finally on the northern outskirts. There was no way I was turning around and fighting the traffic again, so I simply continued north, which is how I arrived, after years of longing to visit, in the town of La Conner, a hamlet nestled against the west side of the Skagit Valley.

The Hotel Planter is one of those historic hotels that started off as a successful establishment in the beginning of the twentieth century and later fell into a state of disrepair. Built in 1907, it began as a popular lodging for Seattle tourists and local workers, but was housing transients by the 1980’s. Listed as condemned, it was purchased by the current owners, Donald and Cynthia Hoskins, who restored the buiding over the course of nine years. As is typical with historic hotel renovations, the number of rooms was cut in half in order to add private bathrooms. The first floor was turned into commercial space and now houses galleries and shops. Custom furniture was made to match that of the original time period.

It is a quaint hotel, in excellent condition, with a beautiful garden courtyard inside. The rooms are spacious and elegant and have both phones and television, not always provided in historic lodging. My room was decorated in green and peach, with a window looking out over the courtyard.

La Conner is a town full of restaurants and cafes, all within reasonable walking distance. I had arrived on a rainy night (of course, this is Washington, after all) so I chose to have dinner nearby at the La Conner Pub. With my back to a warm fireplace, I looked out over the channel as the sun settled into the horizon.

The rain also prevented much in the way of photography, but the following day allowed a little during glimpses of sunlight. The hotel serves coffee in the lobby area, but is not a B&B. I found breakfast across the street at Calico Cupboard Cafe and Bakery, an adorable little place with country decor, old-fashioned wood tables, green tablecloths and fresh iris in vases. My scrambled egg – light meals help balance the splurge meals on the road – came with fresh cantalope, honeydew, grapes, kiwi, strawberries and assorted citrus slices. I avoided the cinnamon rolls in the bakery counter, but they were huge and looked mouth-watering.

This is the kind of town that tempts me to linger. Peaceful, artsy and scenic. But I was already scheming a plan to hit one more inn before heading east and I wanted to see a bit of the countryside. I drove north to Edison, a funky little town with a pub by the name of Longhorn Saloon and Oyster Bar, a few shops and a fascinating old barn-turned-antique-store called Tombstone Tony’s.

From Edison, I continued north to Chuckanut Drive, a gorgeous, winding route that runs alongside the ocean, with vistas of the San Juan Islands. Interesting shops and restaurants dot the roadway and the views are breathtaking. This drive is a must for anyone visiting the area.

I would have loved to spend more time exploring this area, but my plan had already formed and I wanted to arrive at my new destination in the daylight. I caught I-5 in Bellingham, continued south until I picked up 20 west and then headed toward Deception Pass.

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