With Cody and Mel and my grandboys all moved into a little house in Hamilton, Montana, it was time to take a drive over the mountains to visit them before the winter storms set in. As an added benefit, I would stop in beautiful Lake Chelan to visit one of my best friends, Janet and her partner, Patrick. As it is only 600+ miles, I figured a day trip, but broke it in Lake Chelan going east. Naturally, I had been checking the weather reports and it all looked good. Neighbors agreed to watch the kitties; oil changed in the car and ready to roll. It was an easy, beautiful drive on the country roads after navigating away from the freeways. Through sleepy little towns, rushing rivers alongside the road, spectacular mountain vistas around the bends.
Lake Chelan is a 50.5 mile glacier-fed lake. It 1.5 miles at its widest and 1,486 feet at its deepest point. It a year-round playground, enjoying four distinct seasons and 300 days of sun a year. Janet and Pat spend the summers there, with warm, sunny days, sailing and boating. The area is one of Washington's prime wine regions and we took advantage of that, driving to several of the beautiful wineries, doing a little tasting on the way. The booming hard cider industry is appearing there, too, and we did a little cider tasting as well.
The town of Chelan's population is just 4,000, but it swells during the tourist season. Everything you can possibly need is available there, but being fairly close to Seattle (160 miles) and Spokane, (150 miles) if you are really desperate...
On the eastern shore, the village of Manson, where we went wine tasting and sightseeing, is a quaint little place that grew up around the apple industry. Before wine, apples were the mainstay of the area. Now that cider is back, that might happen again. Fields and fields of orchards, fruit hanging lush on the branches. Winding roads and tractors taking up the two lanes. A nice, slow pace.
And then there is Stehekin, a small settlement at the head of the lake, accessible only by boat or float plane. I didn't get there on this visit, but Janet and Pat do a boat trip there every year. I will most likely join them for a few days, by taking the Lady of the Lake ferry and meeting up with them. Perhaps I will also do a wine tasting tour via float plane! And go for the wine crush during October!
The following day, we woke to grayness! And my drive to Hamilton was through mist and rain. After winding up out of the river valley, hairpin turns and steep hills, the endless flat wheat fields stretched to the horizon, occasionally broken by a single barn or tiny hamlet. My sense of direction was completely annihilated and I had to keep checking my iPhone navigation to make sure I wasn't heading back the way I had come!
Then onto I90, a highway that runs from Seattle to Boston and through the town of Missoula, where I turned right to Hamilton. The Bitterroot Valley is spectacular, with the Bitterroot mountains to the west and Sapphires to the east. And although it was cold, with mist and snow shrouding the mountain tops, it was still gorgeous.
Hamilton is a quaint, throwback little town with a pretty, historical downtown area. It's a very sleepy place on the weekend! Everything closes early on Saturday and it is all shuttered on Sunday! Except for a couple of coffee shops which we managed to find! It is the up and coming area of Montana, with Hollywood-types buying up and building there summer getaways. So I don't think it will be long before the little town will be sporting artisan beer and cider joints, art galleries and ritzy restaurants.
But for now, it's the perfect place to raise children, with almost zero crime, sidewalks on the streets (perfect for bikes and little boys) and small class sizes!