An integral part of valley life is the inevitable foray to the big city of Wenatchee, where many locals ask, “Where is Mazama?” Even if you don’t “do” Costco (like me), there are still the specialists’ appointments — such as an endodontist or an ophthalmologist — that call for a trip down-river.
I have never tired of the varied beauty of the drive. On the way, there are many markers along the road that catch my eye. One of my favorites is the big deciduous tree on the east side of the road between Carlton and Methow that has a mystique about it in every season. I would love to know what kind of tree it is. (Readers?) There are two more just like it beside the small house off the road a bit.
After the big tree, there is a bend in the road that I call “rollover corner,” as on one wintry day we came upon a big SUV rolled over in the barrow pit after taking that corner too fast. A reminder to slow down there.
After making the turn to head down the Columbia River, I look for a little memorial on the east side of the road where our friend and the Omak School District superintendent lost his life one icy day in February when his truck slid out of control. I say “hi” to Art and think about the life he has missed in the nearly 10 years that have passed. A reminder of how unpredictable life is.
The mighty Columbia River never ceases to draw my rapt attention with its expanse and sometimes its smooth-as-glass character. It makes me want to jump in a kayak and glide around. The reflection of the hills in the water offers a double dose of beautiful colors and shapes. A stop at the well-maintained facilities at Wells Dam provides another view of the power of the river being captured for human use.
The activity in the numerous orchards along the way is non-stop. I marvel at the workers planting, harvesting and maintaining the meticulous rows of fruit trees and grape vines. One of the common pieces of equipment seen in the orchards is the Antonio Carraro tractor, which is manufactured in Italy by a family owned company.
The little red articulating tractor is perfect for north central Washington orchards, according to Okanogan’s Greg Hamilton, who started selling Carraro tractors in 1991. “Here in upper north central Washington, we have a lot of orchards farmed on steep hillsides. The configuration of the Carraro has a couple of unique features, like a chassis that oscillates 15 degrees vs. a standard tractor with a front axle that only pivots 5 degrees, giving you more stability … On the steep hillsides where you’re turning sideways on the top of a hill to come back down a row, having that oscillation is very important.” Watch for the little red workhorses.
Another marvel of the orchards (not to mention the screens that cover some huge areas) is the precision work required to form the apple trees by an ancient horticultural technique called “espalier” (eh-spal-yr or i-spal-ee-ay). Espalier is a French word that comes from the Italian word spalliera, meaning “something to rest the shoulder against.”
The woody tree growth is shaped to lie flat against a framework requiring less space. In addition, it sure looks like it would streamline the picking process. Watch for the “V”-shaped structures with the trees in varying stages of growth. I have tremendous admiration for the orchard workers who perform all the duties that make the orchards and vineyards the beautiful roadside attractions that they are.
Once in Wenatchee, to make the unpleasant parts of a visit (think root canal) more enjoyable, a bike ride (you can even rent an E-bike) around the Apple Capital Loop Trail with a stop at a pub by Riverfront Park can make your day; then back to the Methow Valley where there is far less traffic to contend with!