So I jumped at a recent invite to road trip to Rossland, a charming historic mining town turned outdoors mecca in the famous Kootenay Rockies Region of British Columbia, Canada. While our goal was skiing at Red Mountain, first I have to tell you about the great road trip there from Seattle.
When people outside the Pacific Northwest think of Washington, they usually think hipster-ish Seattle, coffee, rain, deep green forests, and the sea. Of course our region is much more varied and dramatically different east of the Cascade Crest.
I pulled out my dog-eared copy of Roadside Geology of Washington to learn more about the country we passed through. Some 200 million years ago, much of what became Washington consisted of two large islands drifting in the Pacific Ocean. One after the other they "docked" onto the west coast of the North American continent, which was once almost as far east as Idaho.
From the edge of Puget Sound to Wenatchee on US Route 2 (the Stevens Pass Scenic Byway), we traversed the ancient North Cascades subcontinent. This micro-continent was one of the former islands that collided and merged into what is today the western edge of the Columbia River Plateau.
|The former "west coast"
As we drove southeast towards Wenatchee, the sun was still below the surrounding mountains. After turning northward onto Route 97 along the Columbia River toward Chelan (our first stop), the sunlight was just cresting the hilltops along the river.
This much more arid country east of the Cascades is characterized by rolling hills, rocky outcrops, and sparse vegetation. I call it the "dry side."
After a quick stop in Chelan for an errand and to grab a hot drink, we dropped back down to the river and continued northward. The town of Chelan lies at the edge of the glacial moraine formed by the receding glacier thousands of years ago that scoured what became Lake Chelan. [Interesting factoid: The bottom of Lake Chelan is lower than sea level.]
We followed the Columbia River, which is dammed into a series of submissive "lakes" along this route, until it drifted eastward toward Grand Coulee Dam and we continued north.
And for you geology geeks, Tonasket marks the southern edge and west coast of the former Okanogan island continent (comparable to the North Cascades subcontinent) that also docked against North America about 100 million years ago.
At Tonasket we turned right (eastward) on Highway 20 and enjoyed beautiful, snowy, mountainous scenery as the highway angled northeast towards the town of Republic. There's not much out here but lovely scenery and scattered ranches and homes (see the shot at the top of this post).
These remote mountains of northeastern Washington are home to most of the wolf packs that have returned to our state the last decade or so.
After a stop in Republic for provisions (snacks, a map), we turned north past Curlew and on up to the border crossing at Danville. Several deer were trudging through the snow along the Kettle River as we passed by.
In Grand Forks, we enjoyed excellent coffee and tea at Kocomo's, owned by a friendly mother and son duo.
From Grand Forks on to Rossland, we drove another 80 minutes through the mountains to Rossland and Red Mountain.
What is your favorite road trip around the Northwest, or anywhere? Would love to hear in a comment below.
Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!
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When You Go
Our total driving time from Seattle to Rossland was between 8 and 9 hours, factoring in stops along the way. We opted to drive north and go over Highway 2 instead of I-90 for an overnight in Leavenworth en route, then north on Highway 97 near Wenatchee, then east onto Highway 20 at Tonasket, then north onto Highway 21 just past Republic to the Danville border crossing, then east-northeast on Highway 3 past Grand Forks, then south onto Highway 38 to Rossland. Sorry, all the routes I searched for online don't show this exact route. Here's a map showing the region and a fairly close route that travels farther east before cutting north.