Sometimes I get a crazy idea in my head for an adventure I just have to take. And sometimes I am even able to make it work. Last week I took the kids for a drive and a visit and an educational opportunity. We started up Hwy 20, intending to see some fall color. We made the requisite stop at the Ranger Station in Sedro-Woolley. (They have the nicest bathrooms and the nicest staff. Once last spring one of the ranger ladies sharpened Annika’s entire pouch of colored pencils for her.) Then we stopped for lunch at Rockport State Park.
The sun was shining beautifully, and the kids enjoyed being let out of the car to run around. We saw lots of mushrooms in the picnic area. Then we continued up Hwy 20. As we got toward Marblemount, we saw a couple of bald eagles soaring in the blue sky. The vine maples were radiant in the valley before Newhalem. We continued past the campgrounds and stopped at the overlook just past Diablo.
We read the interesting interpretive signs and took in the beautiful sights before I herded the children back into the car once more.
That was the farthest I had been up the Highway before. I was a bit concerned about the time, though; it was mid-afternoon and we hadn’t even made it to a trailhead. I had a few in mind depending on the time we got there, and it looked like we would have to do the short and easy hike. Oh well. For much of the trip I had to continually swallow the regret of not leaving earlier in the day, and not making it perfect. “It will be what it needs to be, and it will be enough,” I told myself over and over. I didn’t want regret to ruin the beauty and fun times we were having.
We eventually made it to the Rainy Pass area and the Rainy Lake trailhead. The sun was beginning to go behind the peaks, and the temperature was dropping, even though it was several hours before sunset. Sunlight glowed on the snow on the tops of the peaks, lighting up the changing larches. This was my first time seeing changing larches in real life. They were beautiful with the snow and the rugged peaks and blue sky. The kids were so excited in the dusting of snow at the trailhead parking lot. They ran around exploring while I got the packs ready. It was cold there, and I was grateful we had our warm coats and hats and mittens. But I made the mistake of not making the kids put on long johns under their hiking pants.
While we were getting ready, a bicyclist came up and asked about the trail. Since I hadn’t been on it before, I didn’t have much info to give him, but he decided that he should pass since he needed to get down to Newhalem by dark. Hopefully he made it!
We finally got our stuff together enough and checked out what I think were raven tracks in the snow on a log. Then we headed up the paved trail to Rainy Lake.
Nothing much is blooming, and many of the plants were looking pretty soggy from being frozen and thawed.
We saw a few mushrooms and read some of the interpretive signs along the path. There was ice on the bridges over the babbling brooks.
The forest was dark and quiet as we made our way to the lake. We passed a few folks on their way out. I felt kind of silly starting a hike at 4 in the afternoon, but I knew we’d have enough daylight to get back to the car safely and we had our headlamps in case we didn’t. The kids were miffed when we got to the lake and found it to have a paved area with benches not allowing access to the water.
But we quickly found the trail coming off the other side and into the woods, where we found an open area and access to the lake to hang out for a bit. We enjoyed watching and listening to the waterfall on the opposite end.
We had some snacks and watched the clouds flow by over the sun-lit peaks.
We were there for less than an hour before the kids were chilled to the bone. Annika had dipped her gloves into a puddle and gotten them soaked, and her hands were ice cold. I regretted not making the kids put on their long johns, but we got our stuff together and walked briskly back to the car. We got in and turned the heater on full blast as we drove on to the next phase in our adventure.
We stopped briefly at the Washington Pass Overlook, but it was dusk and Annika was very chilled and didn’t want to get out of the car, so we didn’t walk to the viewpoint. Then we drove down the long, curvy road toward the Methow Valley.
I have a friend who lives in Twisp. I have known her since childhood, and though we have lost track of each other occasionally, we manage to find each other and rekindle the friendship. She graciously offered to host my kids and me in her charming little cabin out in the country. She had soup hot on the stove for us, and let us crash on her floor and bed for the night. We chatted late into the evening, but she had to leave for work on Friday morning, so pretty soon it was time for bed.
Friday morning dawned cloudy and cool, with a bit of drizzle. The forecast had called for dry skies, so I was hopeful things would lighten up a bit. After packing our things back into the car and saying goodbye to my friend, it was off down the Methow Valley to the Black Canyon Road. We turned up the road and were in for a long drive to the top of Chelan Ridge, where we would be meeting a group studying hawk migration. Coincidentally, there was going to be a group of children from the school my friend teaches at there at the same time we would arrive. I felt better about going so far off the beaten path knowing other families would be nearby. The road is in fairly good shape for the most part, though there are some sections of washboarding that really slowed us down. At the beginning, I asked the kids if they were still up for this, since it would be a long, bumpy drive. Gabriel said that it would be worth it at the end, and yes, we should keep going. I guess all the times I said that to him, it’s started sinking in.
We passed a few guys out setting up for the beginning of hunting season. It gave me comfort knowing there were other folks on the road in case there were any problems. We climbed higher and higher up the valley. Ponderosas dominated the forest, but occasionally we’d get glimpses of golden light from the willows, birches and other deciduous trees.
I kept waiting for the clouds to lift, but instead we just got closer and closer to them. With about 3 miles to go to our destination, the road branched and there was a sign saying “Not Maintained for Passenger Cars.” Hmm, the Hawk Watch website didn’t say anything about that… But I didn’t get truly nervous until we got up into the clouds, and Lo! It was snowing. Just a little bit, dry tiny flakes, but still, snow whitening up the gravel road. I saw several other vehicle tracks in the snow, so I felt OK continuing on. Up and up the road went, and it got narrower and less graveled near the top. At one point I almost backed up to turn around and give up, but realized we were truly almost there, so I continued on with the kids’ encouragement.
Not far after that we arrived at the Hawk Watch site.
I bundled the kids up in their snow pants and layers. We could hear children’s voices through the fog along the trail to the monitoring site. We hastily grabbed a few snacks for my pack, and briskly walked up the easy ¾ mile trail to the lookout point.
The other kids were there; indeed, they were expecting us! We could see nothing, as visibility was so low. The biologists were not doing monitoring that day due to the weather. But one of them, Catherine, (I hope I remembered her name correctly) spent some time telling us about their project, the habitat there, raptor biology, and how they catch and monitor the raptors. We learned that the Chelan Ridge is sort of like a funnel, where migrating birds don’t want to cross Lake Chelan going south, so they fly southeast along the ridges so they can get good updrafts. The habitat is excellent for hunting, too, allowing them to fuel up. The scientists have some of those plastic owls out to try to attract hawks and eagles to attack them.
They can get a good look at the birds then. They also have areas where they use live bait birds to lure hawks and eagles into nets for up-close study. The bait birds (mostly pigeons and starlings) are well cared for and are rarely harmed in the process.
We got to see the nets and some wooden cutouts of raptors to compare sizes and shapes.
Catherine was so wonderful spending time to educate us in the snow and cold after the other kids had left to go back to their classroom. The scientists live up there on the ridge from August through October, camping out for the duration of the project. It was interesting to compare what they did with the other bird monitoring we observed this summer. I was so disappointed that we didn’t get to see them in action, but we know better what to expect for next time. I think next fall we’ll camp somewhere out there near the ridge so we can spend a few days and not have to worry about the drive.
The snow stopped and it warmed up slightly, but it was time for us to head back down the long road and home to civilization. My friend was unable to host us a second night, so I knew I would have to drive all the way home that evening. (We need to get to know more folks over on that side of the mountains!)
I slowly and gingerly picked my way down the road, being careful to avoid the slipperiest spots that had melted out. I got a screaming headache from all that gravel road driving, so before we got back to the pavement I pulled off at an unofficial campsite to fix us a warm meal and make some coffee.
The kids were happy to run around playing, and I was so glad I had brought the camp stove and some food to heat up: pre-cooked rice with home-made baked beans, cheese and coffee with cocoa for the kids, plus fruit. That really hit the spot, and I was able to lie down on our mats for a few moments to let the headache subside a bit. Then we packed up and drove down through Wenatchee and over Stevens Pass in the dark. Phew, that was a long drive, and I was pretty bleary eyed at the end.
I thought many times about how crazy I was to attempt such a long trip by myself. But it was very rewarding, and the kids learned a lot. Both of them were inspired by the Hawk Watch site. Annika’s pretend play took on another dimension with the information she had soaked up. Gabriel spent much time on the drive home reading the Sibley Guide to Birds and Bird Behavior, and Annika tried to pick out the names of birds in her Birds of Prey book. We got to see the evidence of changing seasons, literally the clashing of fall and winter. We got to spend time with a dear friend, and see different environments. My kids remarked on how they like going on adventures and seeing new places. But I will say that I have had enough of road trips for a bit. At least until I get another crazy idea into my head.
If you want more information on HawkWatch International, here is their website: http://www.hawkwatch.org