Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chatterbox on the road: Leavenworth, WA

5/20/09 Chatterbox
‘Chatterbox on the road’
Betty Kaiser

Cabin fever and winter blahs have set in and it’s time for the Kaisers to hit the road. Road trips beckon. This winter and spring we have made a serious dent in our annual ‘to do’ list, cleaned up six acres of winter debris and it’s time to get out of town!

Road trips are different than planned vacations or guided tours to foreign countries. Road trips are gold mines of pure adventure. No reservations or passports are necessary. You pack your bags, grab your maps, charge the cell phones and GO.

Our friends often question us about our itinerary. We usually don’t have one. We sit down with a map, sketch out an outline and fill in the details as we go. The mystery of the unknown is what makes the trip worthwhile.

Weather wise, spring road trips are tricky. If possible, we avoid wet, wild and windy weather. An occasional shower with sun breaks is okay. Bright, sunny days in a place where we can ride our bikes to a bakery in the morning and sit by a river in the afternoon with a good book are impossible dreams.

The week before Mother’s Day, Chuck and I packed up the RV and headed out to continue exploring Washington State’s Cascade loop. Our first stop was a favorite RV Resort just outside Woodland. It’s a short drive from home and a great place to decompress as we watch the barges navigate the river.

Moving on, we reluctantly decided to zip by our favorite antique malls in Kalama, Centralia and Snohomish. We headed straight for Leavenworth, the delightful Bavarian village in the heart of alpine country. The town is sited at the foot of the towering snow capped Cascade Mountains where the weather tends to be mild and the scenery spectacular at this time of year. It is the perfect base for exploring and enjoying the countryside.

The town’s motto –“Life in Leavenworth is a festival” – attracts thousands of people yearly with its monthly calendars of tourist attractions. In terms of ambiance, think Switzerland or Solvang. The village's 2500 residents hosts 16 festivals and art shows including Maifest, Oktoberfest and Christkindlmarket. Springtime and fall are perfect times to visit unless you prefer hot, sticky summer days or snowy cold winter weather.

As early as the late1800s (thanks to the railroad and logging industry) Leavenworth was a bustling town. But back in the 1950s the town was in a 30-year slump and struggling. Outdoor recreation wasn’t paying the bills. Businesses were failing. Jobs were scarce and they were becoming a welfare town.

The tide of decline turned when a family introduced an alpine theme into their restaurant and motel to fit the lifestyle of the area. Other business owners took notice of the family’s positive returns and made similar changes. In 1965, the entire business community created a plan of action when they unanimously decided to ‘go alpine’ without coercion or government aide. Today a Bavarian Design Review Board maintains the town’s characteristic charm.

The short little Maifest parade, on the second Sat. in May, has become a tradition for us. Period costumed residents blowing 8-ft. long Alpine horns and ringing huge cowbells start things off at noon. There are as many animals as people strutting their stuff. Giant Burnese dogs from sweet, curly puppies to the well-behaved adults pulling flower adorned wagons are always crowd pleasers.

I was joined curbside by my new friend Zena, a gorgeous four year old, 101 pound Burnese. Sprawled at my feet, she lazily eyed many of her cousins in the parade who were decked out in flower leis, while she rolled over for a belly rub and eyed my ice cream cone. The yodeling, accordions, oom-pa-pa music and Maypole activities didn’t faze her.

After a few days relaxing alongside the Icicle River, we headed east for a tour of the Aplets and Cotlets factory in Cashmere. Since our last trek down that apple blossom lined highway, the tiny town has sprouted two huge antique malls that kept us busy until lunchtime. A new Studebaker Diner beckoned. It oozed 1950s charm, served a great clubhouse sandwich and fortified us for our next stop.

Between Leavenworth and Wenatchee the terrain changed dramatically into arid, high desert. The wind picked up in the canyon and we decided to let it propel us into Chelan, population 3,500. There, on Lake Chelan, at Lakeshore RV Park, we enjoyed, grassy campsites, immaculate bathrooms, lakeside views, towering trees and close proximity to town.

Our bicycles got a good workout over the next few days as we tooled around town gawking like tourists. We started with the Chamber of Commerce to get our bearings. They pointed us to mural walks (each containing an apple in some form), historic buildings (a log cabin Lutheran Church built in 1898!), the Riverwalk Park, pavilion and path; quirky cement statues; and numerous outdoor activities from fishing to paragliding.

Due to the inclement weather, we decided against the daylong cruise to the remote headwaters of Lake Chelan and the community of Stehekin that can only be reached by water. Our Anacortes camping neighbors gave the long ride mixed reviews but raved about towering Rainbow Falls. We gave rave reviews, however, to the local museum. It is an absolute treasure trove of history with its displays of the Wapato Indians and early white settlers.

All too soon it was over. Next time we’ll take the boat trip and revisit gems that we have previously mined including the amazing Ohme gardens, the delightful Maryhill Museum and the mysterious replica of England’s Stonehenge.

This was fun! Road trips should be shared so I’ll do this again. Let me know if you’d like to contribute a special adventure of your own. Until next time, ‘happy trails!’

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart. Contact her at 942-1317 or via e-mail at

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