March 12, 1995

Remote Town Of Stehekin Leads A Simpler, Quieter Life Leave The Chaos Of The World For Solitude Of Cascades

Larry W. Earl Correspondent
 

If you grew up in a small town, you can remember when when doors weren’t locked, when children were safe to play outdoors, when the air wasn’t polluted, when TV was an occasional treat, not an obsession and when neighbors were friendly and helpful.

You can still find those virtues today, in a little town at the northern tip of Lake Chelan called Stehekin.

No roads lead to Stehekin, which can be reached only by foot (in summer), boat or plane. There is only one public phone, which uses a satellite link. There are no espresso bars. Not too long ago, the town had only one television. There are cars, but little traffic.

Half the fun of this getaway adventure is getting there. Most journeys to Stehekin begin at the southeast end of Lake Chelan; I recommend taking a boat ride on the Lady Express to Stehekin and then returning by floatplane.

During the narrated boat trip, passengers learn about the natural and geologic history of the region. The schedule allows for time to stop and photograph mountain goats, which are frequently seen on the steep rocky ledges just above the shoreline.

Winter’s low-water lake level also allows passengers to see the Indian pictographs on an exposed rock wall near Domke Falls. A mixture of red okra, iron pyrite and conifer resin was used to paint the pictures.

The floatplane ride back to Chelan provides breathtaking views of the colorful lake with its hues of deep blue and emerald green, reflecting the steep granite faces of the surrounding mountains.

Stehekin is an American Indian word meaning “the way through.” The Stehekin River valley once served as a trade route for local tribes and early explorers. During summer, hardy backpackers can trek from the North Cascades Scenic Highway 20 to Stehekin, but snow closes the route in winter.

But the cold months are still a wonderful time to visit, with travelers finding themselves surrounded by old-growth forests and 7,000-foot snow-capped peaks. The honking of Canada geese echoes off the steep, rocky gorge walls bordering Lake Chelan. Standing in the Stehekin Valley, you feel almost as if time has stopped.

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the preferred outdoor sports by local residents and visitors. There are 50 miles of crosscountry trails in the valley. Maps are available at the lodge and national park office.

Fewer than 100 year-round residents live in Stehekin. They get their supplies and groceries by mailing an order and blank check to a store in Chelan. The order is carried on the scheduled boat runs, which also carry tourists.

Visitors are welcome to look inside the unlocked historic one-room log schoolhouse, built in 1921. The historic schoolhouse was replaced with a new, modern building (with indoor plumbing) in 1989. The new school has a computer lab. Musicians, biologists and other professionals are brought up the lake to supplement the children’s education. During a typical school year, fewer than 20 students are enrolled in grades K-8. For grades 9-12, children go to Chelan, where they must board with family or friends. Some children prefer to stay and take correspondence courses to complete their education.

I left Stehekin not only with the feeling that my spirit had been recharged, but also with feelings of regret. This community is a reminder of America’s disappearing values and of its lost innocence.

Returning to the chaotic real world made me realize how much each of us needs a place and time to rejuvenate ourselves. But I worry about places like Stehekin. These communities depend economically on visitors, but residents don’t want to be overrun and lose their utopia. I hope the future holds a balance.

MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story:

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Stehekin is at the northwest end of 23-mile-long Lake Chelan, located in north-central Washington. The lake is often compared to the fjords of Norway. Lake Chelan Boat Company operates the Lady Express on a winter schedule of five days a week (excluding Tuesday and Thursday) until March 15 and then daily until April 30. The departure dock is located one mile south of downtown Chelan on Highway 97A. Reservations are advised. Round-trip fare is $21 for adults; kids are cheaper. Call (509) 682-4584 or 2224. Chelan Airways offers daily air taxi service to Stehekin and flightseeing excursions around the Lake Chelan area. The one-way air taxi fare for the 30-minute flight to Stehekin is $50. Round-trip fare is $80. The floatplane dock is located one mile west of downtown Chelan on Highway 97A. (509) 682-5555.

Best times to visit: Winter is the quietest time because of fewer visitors. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the most popular winter sports. Stehekin also is a popular destination and jumping-off point for backpackers, rock climbers, campers, bikers, photographers, fishermen, rafters, boaters and sightseers. The National Park Service operates a shuttle bus to move adventure seekers to points in between Stehekin and the end of the valley’s only road.

Suitability for children: The snow-covered valley is ideal for beginning skiers and snowshoers, so small children should not have any difficulty enjoying the winter sports. Because there is no television or radio, families should bring books or games to keep children occupied.

Tour operators: Destinations Unlimited is based in Chelan. The company specializes in customized fly/drive packages in Washington, as well as chartered cruises on Lake Chelan and boat/air trips to Stehekin. (509) 682-4571 or (800) 642-7334. The North Cascades Stehekin Lodge offers a narrated bus tour along the plowed portion of the valley’s only road. The End of Road Tour includes stops at Rainbow Falls and the historic one-room log schoolhouse. The fee is $7.50.

Where to eat and stay: Overnight accommodations and places to eat in Stehekin are limited. Here are a couple choices. North Cascades Stehekin Lodge (509-682-4494) overlooks the picturesque docks and has 28 units, a restaurant, deli, convenience store and boat marina. All rooms have private baths. The largest room can sleep eight people. Housekeeping units are available. Smoking rooms must be requested due to limited availability. No pets are allowed. Room reservations and boat passage can be booked at the same time by calling the lodge. Rates begin at $69, based on double occupancy. Silver Bay Inn Bed & Breakfast (509-682-2212) is a solar-energy home perched on the bank of the Stehekin River where it meets Lake Chelan. Two rooms and two cabins are available. A nice amenity is the hot tub, which overlooks the river and lake. A deck in the upper level of the sunroom off the master bedroom provides a floor-to-ceiling view of the lake, mountains and wildlife, and it is great for star gazing at night. Rates begin at $85, based on double occupancy. Winter getaway packages to Stehekin are available through the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. Visitors can choose from a variety of accommodations, activities and transportation. For a brochure listing accommodations, discount packages and winter recreation in the Chelan area, call the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce at (509) 682-3503 or (800) 4-CHELAN.

For more information: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 216, Chelan, WA 98816; (509) 682-3503 or (800) 4-CHELAN. For a free copy of 1995 Washington State Lodging and Travel Guide and the seasonal Washington State Field Guide, call the Washington Tourism Division at (800) 544-1800. For Washington travel assistance, call (206) 586-2088 or 586-2102.

This is a sidebar that appeared with the story:

IF YOU GO

Getting there: Stehekin is at the northwest end of 23-mile-long Lake Chelan, located in north-central Washington. The lake is often compared to the fjords of Norway. Lake Chelan Boat Company operates the Lady Express on a winter schedule of five days a week (excluding Tuesday and Thursday) until March 15 and then daily until April 30. The departure dock is located one mile south of downtown Chelan on Highway 97A. Reservations are advised. Round-trip fare is $21 for adults; kids are cheaper. Call (509) 682-4584 or 2224. Chelan Airways offers daily air taxi service to Stehekin and flightseeing excursions around the Lake Chelan area. The one-way air taxi fare for the 30-minute flight to Stehekin is $50. Round-trip fare is $80. The floatplane dock is located one mile west of downtown Chelan on Highway 97A. (509) 682-5555.

Best times to visit: Winter is the quietest time because of fewer visitors. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are the most popular winter sports. Stehekin also is a popular destination and jumping-off point for backpackers, rock climbers, campers, bikers, photographers, fishermen, rafters, boaters and sightseers. The National Park Service operates a shuttle bus to move adventure seekers to points in between Stehekin and the end of the valley’s only road.

Suitability for children: The snow-covered valley is ideal for beginning skiers and snowshoers, so small children should not have any difficulty enjoying the winter sports. Because there is no television or radio, families should bring books or games to keep children occupied.

Tour operators: Destinations Unlimited is based in Chelan. The company specializes in customized fly/drive packages in Washington, as well as chartered cruises on Lake Chelan and boat/air trips to Stehekin. (509) 682-4571 or (800) 642-7334. The North Cascades Stehekin Lodge offers a narrated bus tour along the plowed portion of the valley’s only road. The End of Road Tour includes stops at Rainbow Falls and the historic one-room log schoolhouse. The fee is $7.50.

Where to eat and stay: Overnight accommodations and places to eat in Stehekin are limited. Here are a couple choices. North Cascades Stehekin Lodge (509-682-4494) overlooks the picturesque docks and has 28 units, a restaurant, deli, convenience store and boat marina. All rooms have private baths. The largest room can sleep eight people. Housekeeping units are available. Smoking rooms must be requested due to limited availability. No pets are allowed. Room reservations and boat passage can be booked at the same time by calling the lodge. Rates begin at $69, based on double occupancy. Silver Bay Inn Bed & Breakfast (509-682-2212) is a solar-energy home perched on the bank of the Stehekin River where it meets Lake Chelan. Two rooms and two cabins are available. A nice amenity is the hot tub, which overlooks the river and lake. A deck in the upper level of the sunroom off the master bedroom provides a floor-to-ceiling view of the lake, mountains and wildlife, and it is great for star gazing at night. Rates begin at $85, based on double occupancy. Winter getaway packages to Stehekin are available through the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce. Visitors can choose from a variety of accommodations, activities and transportation. For a brochure listing accommodations, discount packages and winter recreation in the Chelan area, call the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce at (509) 682-3503 or (800) 4-CHELAN.

For more information: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 216, Chelan, WA 98816; (509) 682-3503 or (800) 4-CHELAN. For a free copy of 1995 Washington State Lodging and Travel Guide and the seasonal Washington State Field Guide, call the Washington Tourism Division at (800) 544-1800. For Washington travel assistance, call (206) 586-2088 or 586-2102.

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