Mad, Beautiful Ideas

This last week, Catherine and I were able to spend the week in Stehekin, WA, a small town in the heart of the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area in North Cascades National Park with less than 100 year-round residents. The area is only accessible via mountain trail, plane, or boat, and data connectivity (what is to be had, I turned my phone and netbook off for the week, though) is all via satellite.

Stehekin's motto, which can be seen adorning belt-buckles and a postcards and the like is "Stehekin Is What America Was", and it's pretty easy to see what they mean even after a few minutes of being in the valley. The construction still uses mostly local timber from the woods nearby, of the cars in the valley very few are newer than fifteen years old, most are far older. Heat is provided by fireplaces, stoves, and blankets. The electricity is based on a fourty year old hydro-electric plant, and the only agricultural operation still in the valley irrigates with a gravity fed ditch off of Boulder Creek, which runs by the old school house.

I'll be writing on Stehekin over the next few weeks, probably on Monday's, to discuss what about Stehekin is most interesting and what can be taken from a place which, due to difficulty of access, makes it seem quaint and what most would consider old-fashioned. While I'm not willing to advocate that everyone live in remote wilderness areas where groceries need to be boated up from 50 miles downlake, there are elements of life in the Stehekin Valley which I believe can apply to a more urban or suburban lifestyle.

Also, the residents of Stehekin love to share the valley with visitors, and if you don't want to camp, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is a pretty inexpensive way to do that, plus the food they serve is fantastic. The owner of the ranch often joins the guests in the cookhouse for meals, and is more than willing to engage in friendly conversation. The ranch also acts as a base for rafting, kayaking, horseback riding, and a variety of other activities.

Stehekin is a great place to visit and is completely worth the trip, but it's popular enough you'll probably need to plan a year or so in advance. Frankly, this is better in many ways, since it keeps Stehekin less crowded, letting you head out on the trail for the day, and fully expecting not to run into anyone else. Several of the hikes we went on, we didn't see anyone else, and it was pretty much just us and the wildlife native to the North Cascades.