Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

During a recent trip to Seattle I had half a day to explore the pristine wilderness east of Everett.  Established in 1911 the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest is the second largest national forest in the country contained within a single county. At almost 1.5 million acres this wilderness area boasts boreal forests in the west and high elevation plains in the east.  Alpine lakes dot the upper elevation and there are numerous trails and roads to carry you far into the back country.  My rental vehicle this time around was a 2016 Dodge Ram 4×4.  I was again impressed with the Ram’s comfort and capability on rough fire roads but found it to be a bit large for some of the tighter trails.  There are areas of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest that certainly require a smaller, shorter wheelbase vehicle and I found myself longing for my Tacoma at times.

IMG_3308I left Everett on Highway 2 headed east into the mountains.  Small communities dot the route with many consisting of little more than a handful of gas stations, convenience stores and a small grocery store or two.  The further you go the more spread apart these communities become as the mountains and the forest begin to reclaim the landscape from the tentacles of civilization.  Shortly after being enveloped by the canopy of old growth evergreens I started finding forest service roads coming off of highway 2 and heading into the dense vegetation.  I fired up Back Country Navigator on my Nexus tablet and set off exploring.

IMG_3283Often times while off road and exploring remote locations you’ll come across beautiful vistas, or quiet wooden glades like something out of a live action Disney movie.  Once in a while though, on a more rare occasion, you’ll discover a perfect moment.  I found one of these while exploring a forest service road that ran parallel to Deception Creek just above Deception Falls.  Here a train trestle is elevated above the creek and FS6088 as it cuts through moss covered hillsides.  This locale isn’t far from the road. In fact it’s less than a quarter mile from Highway 2.  But as I exited the truck and the cool damp air stuck to my skin I knew I had found a special place.

IMG_3284I made my way down the hillside by the train trestle and the sound from the occasional vehicle on the highway was replaced by the roar of cascading water as it cut it’s way across ancient stones littered across the riverbed.  I had to mind my footing as the rich soil was moist and loose.  Every step causing a tiny avalanche of soil to cascade across moss covered stones lodged in the hillside.  I imagined curious animals hiding in the deep burrows beneath the stones marveling at the clumsy intrusion of this two legged invader.  Birds darted from tree to tree above my head while singing songs to one another.  The sun tried it’s hardest to break through the thick canopy above but only managed small fingers of light through natures natural ceiling.  The bulk of sunlight in the area came through the unnaturally straight gash cut through the canopy by the invasion of mans railroad.

As I reached the safe footholds of the ancient stones at the waters edge the damp scent of a fresh mountain stream overwhelmed me.  The perfect temperature, the mild sunlight, the natural sounds and smells of this place cradled me and drowned out the rest of the world.  This place held the power to remove all sense of time and space and leave you feeling powerful and helpless at the same time.  Standing here watching the water cascade down the rocks you could loose yourself in a single moment and watch as time passed by, completely unaware of the chaos and cacophony of the human world outside this place.  I cycled my sense one at a time.  I closed my eyes to focus on the sounds of this place.  Each flutter of a birds wings reaching the the same heights as a wave crashing upon a beach.  The breeze filtering softly through outstretched pine boughs greeted my face as I lifted my chin to catch a ray of sunlight lacing it’s way down from above.  Humidity gathered and swirled around me carrying the smell of moisture, moss and rich deep soil into my nose.   Perfection in a single moment.

IMG_3307I can’t tell you how long I stood here in awe of what nature provides, but eventually I made my way back up the hill to the truck and set off east down Highway 2.  I then came into Leavenworth, Washington which is a tourist community themed like a Bavarian village.  Summertime brings tourists to the area to sample German cuisine and browse through the many shops.  Winter brings ample snowfall and the opportunity to hit the ski slopes in the area.  I turned onto the main tourist fare and admired the dedication to German architecture the town had upheld.  Leaving town I picked up Highway 97 heading south toward interstate 90 to return to the Seattle area.  On the way I took several forest service roads that followed power lines up through the hills.  Bushes thick with berries lined these paths and created walls of green vegetation blocking my view.  At any moment I could have been driving within feet of a bear or moose and not even known they were there.

IMG_3300The Ram showed it’s off road prowess as it made it’s way through mud and over rocks carrying me deeper and deeper up mountainsides.  Ultimately though the low front approach angle and the sheer size of the vehicle brought an end to my exploring as I reached path after path that the vehicle simply wouldn’t fit down.  As the sun began to set I made my way to Interstate 90 and back to my hotel in Seattle.  I hope to be able to return to the Pacific Northwest in a few years to explore with my Tacoma and trailer.  The area has piqued my curiosity and I’m anxious to explore further off the beaten track.



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