We who live in the Methow Valley seem to have a love/hate relationship with the North Cascades Highway. We love it for its breathtaking beauty and access to outdoor adventures of numerous genres. Especially here in Mazama, the time shaved off a trip to the west side is most appreciated.
A trip to Bellingham in the winter takes 5 hours and 19 minutes and that is with no stops or adverse weather. In the summertime, take about a couple hours off of that.
As the road is being cleared of its mountains of snow in the late spring, there is a small window of time when sturdy recreationists can access the traffic-free road up to the site where clearing work has paused for the weekend. The exhilarating sights and sounds of pure wilderness experienced while pedaling up and sailing down are hard to beat.
So, what’s the flip side of the valley’s love affair with the highway? Even though we are all interlopers here — unless a member of the Methow Native American tribe, the indigenous residents — we can easily become protective of this place we love. Everyone knows that once the highway opens, the floodgates are parted and swarms of cars and trucks and things-that-go pour into the valley. The visitors are welcome for the boost to the local economy and for valley stakeholders to graciously share the natural beauty that surrounds us.
However, if you live in the Mazama corridor, you know that the traffic comes down the winding pass to the first straightaway past the Mazama turnoff and many drivers of urban highway culture speed up to pass every slow-moving vehicle. The noise and impatience can be annoying, even dangerous.
One of the first caravans last year was a group of colorful little sport cars, low to the ground and fast. Gunning their high-horsepower engines, they flew down the highway passing everything in sight. In addition, most every year a motorcyclist is killed or injured not realizing the treachery of the highway.
This year is the first summer that the Cascade Loop, which includes the North Cascades Highway, has been designated a National Scenic Byway by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Acquiring such a designation is no easy task. A road must already be designated as a state scenic byway and have at least one of six intrinsic qualities: scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archeological and recreational. The Cascade Loop would look to be a no-brainer in several of those categories.
Still, the Cascade Loop Association worked hard with tourism, economic development and land management authorities throughout the state to earn the designation. The loop covers 440 miles and travels through six counties (Snohomish, King, Chelan, Okanogan, Whatcom and Skagit) of varying land and water scenery. As of January 2021, there are only 184 National Scenic Byways of which 25 are located in Washington state, an indicator of the natural beauty of the state.
No doubt some adventurous travelers who seek out these federally designated byways for road trips will find their way to the Methow Valley again this year. A certain number of them will fall in love with the place. (It would be a rare visitor who said, “This place is overrated.”) Like so many already have, they will decide to relocate their lives, rearrange their priorities, and settle here. How the valley accommodates the influx and still remains beautiful, pristine, and welcoming will be the responsibility of all of us — old timers, part-timers, newcomers, retirees, remote workers, all of us.
Reminds me of Toby Keith’s song: “We got winners/We got losers/Chain-smokers and boozers/We got yuppies/We got bikers/We got thirsty hitchhikers/Hmmm, hmmm, hmmm, I love this bar…”
Well, it’s not a bar, but we do have a diverse group of residents calling this place home. We need to all get along for the benefit of the place we love.