The end of May 2014 I took a trip which included going to Winthrop, Washington to see my folks. They live above a town called Winthrop in the State of Washington. Winthrop is a tiny little western town that still has wooden sidewalks. It boasts a blacksmith, a little red school house that is now a brewery, an emporium and the best sweet shop that I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit. Sheri’s, the sweet shop, is the place to go when you are craving homemade churned Ice Cream, or fudge, caramel or any number of different sweets. There is a hometown bakery, and of course a Trading post. The emporium sells everything from clothes to cast iron cookware. Even grocery staples can be found in this fascinating store.
If you chance upon this small town, you’ll see so many wondrous sites, from the deer that wonder through the town window shopping, to the wild peacocks roosting on top of chimney’s. You’ll see wild turkeys dancing their dance and salmon spawning in the Chewach river that glides by the edge of town. You might get the treat of seeing a cattle drive through the center of town, or cowboys on horseback buying themselves an espresso in the drive through. The town boasts rodeo’s and Jazz festivals and hot air balloons, with its very own balloon festival. Floating and Kayaking the river in summer are great summer activities as is fishing the river. Winter sports are also huge in Winthrop. There is cross country skiing as well as downhill, ice fishing, and the town has an outdoor ice skating rink that is well used.
I saw all that in May during my visit. But between the time I visited in May through the first part of June to my return visit I made in November for Thanksgiving the town of Winthrop saw some scary and hard times. Fire. Flooding.
The town wasn’t touched by the fires, but they found themselves surrounded by fire for weeks at a time. Mandatory evacuations were in place. People lost homes, livestock and the forest surrounding the area was burned. Many of the small towns that you drive through to get to Winthrop were touched by fire, including Carlton and Pateros. I remember driving through those small towns and thinking just how beautiful they were with the river running next to the road, and those majestic trees shading the road.
My mother, Dottie Noyes, told me that, “It was terrible to see cows jumping off cliffs to escape the flames. Some of them didn’t escape and all of them died”. The people that live in this small town were devastated by their losses during those July fires. Dottie also said, “We sat out on the porch and watched the helicopters fly over and dip down into the twin lakes pulling water from them to dump on the fire as it crested the tops of the mountains coming right at us. It got so close and I couldn’t sleep; I finally fell asleep in the hammock as exhaustion overtook me.”
Yes they were in July, but not started by fireworks or campfires. It was the naturally occurring phenomenon – Lightning. My folks were evacuated from their home twice, and both times they left not knowing what they would come home to…if they had a home to come home to. Many months later they are both still overcome with the feelings of fear that those fires caused.
Another fire was started, man made this time, that came closer to where my mother and father live. When the evacuations began, people were in a bit of a panic. One family loaded up their vehicle and their camper and began to drive out of the area. Between the town of Winthrop and Twisp the camper got a flat tire and unbeknownst to the driver began to scrap metal to road, throwing sparks as it drove along. Starting small fires as it went. Not only was there now a fire to contend with, but the camper itself was on fire in the road.
When I went to visit them over the Thanksgiving holiday, driving over Loup Loup pass, you could still smell the smoke and ash from the fire. Even under three feet of snow. We got another four feet of snow on Thanksgiving day, but going outside you could still smell it. At first I thought it was from fireplaces, but it wasn’t. It was the pervasive odor of wildfire, or what was leftover from the wildfires.
Now if living with fire wasn’t enough for them, once the fires were contained a huge storm system came through. Because there were no trees, shrubs or grass to contain it the water and runoff from the huge amount of rainfall, the rain became another enemy. Mud slides, flooding and running water dragging fire crisp detritus, caused even more trouble. People were rushing to get home with roads being taken out from under them or crumbling behind them as they attempted to drive to safety.
Driving along those same roads that have since been repaired from the damage caused by the fire and floods, covered in snow you can hardly tell that just three months before they had been so dilapidated. You see once tall and proud trees bleeding amber sap down their black and singed bark leaving you to wonder what happened to give them that look and the ruin of gray and black it causes in otherwise pristine snow covered trees. You smell the scent of smoke in the air and think to yourself that the smokey scent in the air should be gone by now.
There is still the quaint little town that is so enjoyable to visit, which if you get the chance I highly recommend it, but you know the people there have been touched by fire. Even with that, the town is still there. The people are still there. And the sweet shop is still there. As is the little red school house brewery. There is fishing, hunting, skiing, horseback riding and nature to see. There is plenty to do and see. And if you want to travel just a bit farther west then I can highly recommend taking a drive across the North Cascade Highway to the coast and visit the Puget Sound. Spend the day at Deception Pass State Park exploring the rain forest and the beaches of Whidbey Island. The Highway is only open when the pass can be cleared, but it is well worth the trip. As we drove up and up and up the snow covered pass, with its craggy knolls and rocky cliffs, you’ll wonder at the beauty you’ll see. At one turnout you’ll be able to see the Mt. St. Helen’s crater. There are gorgeous blue and green lakes and millions of trees waiting in all their glory. You’ll want to watch for the numerous deer and big horned sheep along the way.
Even with the fire damage, it’s a beautiful place to visit, and a gorgeous drive if you continue over highway 20 (the North Cascade Highway) to visit Whidbey Island and Deception Pass State Park.