When the Wild, Wild West of Eastern Washington calls, we have no choice, but to hitch up the Subaru, throw a sitter at the cat, and see if we have what it takes to rough it at the Sun Mountain Lodge Resort and Spa—drawing on the history of sturdy pioneers who braved seaweed body treatments and peppermint scented towels.
“Oh! We have sooo needed this!” Nate, Alex, and I say to each other as we giddily jump into the car with just the bare necessities for a four-night’s stay: beer, sodas, bagels, 2-3 outfits, hiking boots, at least two swim suits, toiletries, sandwich meat, vitamins, chips, cookies, pretzels, Tylenol, a hairdryer, a flat iron, phones, chargers, tennis shoes, nicer shoes, extra socks/underwear, sunscreen, and a wine bottle opener. We have a fairly good idea of how we want to spend the next few days and our “to-do” list is pretty ambitious, but we highly recommend the following activities on our Sun Mountain Lodge/Winthrop Itinerary:
1) Enjoy the drive down. Stop at the North Cascades Visitor Center for a packed picnic lunch. Pet the stuffed grizzly in the lobby. Even if all of the people in your party are too old for interactive exhibits, go anyway and pull on all of the knobs and press all of the buttons. Squeal with delight—as if you’ve never seen an interactive exhibit in your life—it’s really that impressive and completely worth the jaunt. It never gets old. Later, ask intelligent, completely non-silly questions like, “Is it always this hot this time of year?” “If I see a bear should I act like a duck since it seems that newspapers rarely mention anything about ducks that have died in bear attacks?” “Where exactly are we anyway?”
2) Stop at Diablo Lake. A little further down from the visitor center is Diablo Lake, which is a surreal turquoise blue. According to information at the North Cascades Visitor Center, the glacier silt from nearby mountains settles in this lake and the light that refracts off the silt turns it this deliciously magnificent color. Definitely stick your feet in the water. I did. Here’s what happened:
“Nate! What is this? Is this what real water feels like? It’s so silky smooth and cold—and refreshing! Why does God hide all of the good water?”
Nate tried to remind me to not sound so incredibly surprised—or loud. People were starting to stare. I, on the other hand, was still wondering how I could carry enough of it home in an L.L. Bean thermos so that I could fill the soaking tub in our master bathroom. “It’s real Devil’s Lake water!” I’d tell guests who would most certainly want a tour of our house once they got wind of the water in our tub.
3) If the treadmill at the Sun Mountain Lodge is broken, don’t fret. There are plenty of parking lots and trails to run, but they are controlled by packs of mule deer that wander about like they own the place—running to and fro—threatening to trip a runner up. I imagine they take bribes, so lugging around a salt lick might not be a bad idea. On the days that I ran, I truly believed the deer were snickering every time I came by. No, I’m not as graceful as they are, but I have feelings too. I didn’t appreciate them gathering together and whispering to one another and giving me dirty looks. I’m pretty sure this is what they said when they went home:
Mule Deer 1: You’ll never guess what I saw today: A person—running!
Mule Deer 2: Male or female?
MD1: I don’t know. I didn’t flip it over, but you should have seen how ridiculous it looked.
MD2: How ridiculous? Show me.
(Mule Deer 1 makes spastic jerky movements in a zigzag fashion while Mule Deer 2 laughs.)
MD2: Stop! You’re too much!
MD1: And then there were the sounds—the huffing and puffing sounds—like this. (MD1 makes strained breathing noises.)
MD2: Oh! That’s too funny!
MD1: And then there were the smells.
MD2: Those are the worst! Honestly, I don’t know how they live like that together in such close quarters.
MD1: I don’t know how they don’t knock each other in the face in the middle of the night!
4) Observe the “Mmm mmm Birds.” The Sun Mountain Lodge property also serves as an animal sanctuary, so pets are not allowed. The chances of seeing wildlife are very high. We especially love videotaping and photographing the “Mmm mmm Birds.” We call them this name because that’s the sound they make when they walk around: “mmm mmm.” We imagine that, roughly translated, “mmm mmm” means “Welcome to our land. We are highly evolved creatures, despite our unassuming appearance. The mule deer think they own the place, but they’re nothing without us.”
5) Visit the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery, which is open every day from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. Here, visitors can learn about the hatching, spawning, and return of Chinook and other varieties of salmon. The real treat though, in my opinion, is the personal greeting given by the beavers in the “re-habitation project.” Despite their super cute and friendly appearance, they are bad, bad beavers who are doing hard time at the fish hatchery. They were just getting out of hand, building their dams everywhere, and well, they now have to make restitution to society. They would appreciate letters, I’m sure—and so would the workers at the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery who would end up responding to those letters on top of the other things they have to do each day.
After waving good-bye to the beavers, take time to feed the trout in the trout pond. The entire visit is not unpleasant.
6) Take the North Cascades Smoke Jumper Base tour. The North Cascades Smoke Jumpers unit is comprised of about 50 amazing individuals who parachute into mountain fires and put them out before they get out of hand. They are highly trained fire professionals who endure grueling physical demands in order to earn just $18-$25 per hour between the months of April and October. Thousands of people apply for 3-4 positions that may be open each year. Still, somehow, I wonder if I would have what it takes to be a smoke jumper. Maybe not at first glance, but it’s possible that I possess various skills that could be desirable, so I’m working on my resume:
Professional Summary: Professional mild to moderate adventurer who is not afraid of a steep incline, as long as it is paved and runs in a predictable north-south fashion. Fitness fanatic who runs four miles, performs an hour-long rigorous aqua aerobics routine, holds planks for two minutes, and can lift a 15-pound cat and hold it for 2.5 seconds (personal best), all on the same day. Maintains a smoke and fire-free home thanks to an aggressive, family-wide campaign which consists of hanging brightly colored posters about the house with the following slogan: Keep calm and make a damn sandwich.
Special Skills: Headstands, Outdoor Cookery 1 (4-H, 1983, State Fair Alternate), Lamaze Class Participant (2002), International travel WITHOUT a Rick Steve’s money belt.
I’m pretty sure I’d get a response that says, “Congratulations! You’ve been fast-tracked to the ‘no’ pile.”
7) Visit the western town of Winthrop and eat at the following restaurants: East 20 Pizza, the Methow Valley Cider House, Arrowleaf Bistro, and the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. Definitely eat the ice cream and participate in putt-putt golf nearby, but resist the urge to stick your face in a hole that’s attached to a picture of a large-bosomed “old timey” woman—for the purposes of taking a “novelty photo.” If you’ve had too much beer and that happens anyway, don’t post the resulting photo to LinkedIn—even if your husband dares you to do it and it sounds like a really, really funny idea. It’s not. (Oh—and the Shafer Museum is great as well. Definitely a “must.”)
8) Kayak Patterson Lake. (See last year’s blog post: Kayaking: Now There’s a Wholesome Date Idea for Teens!)
9) Make good use of the Sun Mountain Lodge game room. There are no televisions in the room, but the lodge has a game room with two pool tables, a foosball table, and ping pong. Sometimes gangs of deer peer into the windows. Sure, they look curious and sweet, but they’re just going to go home and imitate you for laughs later on.
10) Hike the Maple Pass Trail, if you’re rugged like Nate and Alex. It’s a six-mile hike that’s absolutely breathtaking, but taxing. However, when they got home and talked at length about “waves of mountains” and “that marmot” I started to think that maybe I really missed out. On the other hand, I was able to hang out by the pool and attempt to read a trashy novel, but I grew bored with the novel when, by page 200, nothing trashy really happened. I learned a lot about horses though.
11) Leave the place with a mixture of sadness, happiness, and extreme gratitude. Beg the front desk staff to let you stay five more nights for free. When they say, “no,” explain how much laundry is waiting for you when you get home and how incredibly difficult it is to maintain a fire-free home and lift a 15-pound cat.
Your Turn: What are your favorite vacation memories?