Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mazama Trip

Summer means vacation time, so I recently took a week off and did a little traveling with the family. Lucky for us, Washington has some great places to visit, close to home. We decided to stay in Mazama for a few days - not a whole lot there, and that's the whole point. Kind of the middle of nowhere with plenty of hiking and mountain biking available. The place is a cross-country skiing mecca in the winter, with miles and miles of groomed ski trails. I've been to the area a few times, always in the summer, but the last time was almost 10 years ago. Time for a revisit.

Getting to Mazama is half the fun. You drive over the North Cascades Highway, one of the most scenic drives in the U.S. About a 4 hour drive for us. If you've never heard of it, may also be why it's also completely free of traffic. During my motorcycle days, always wanted to ride it, never happened. From the amount of motorcycles - touring, sport, and Harley types - seen heading over, plenty of other people have the same idea. Instead of piloting the Aprilia Falco SL 1000 that I sold off a few years ago, last motorcycle in the garage, I'm driving the trusty family Toyota RAV4 - complete with two mini humans in the back seat, that look an awful like the wife and I. Times change, usually for the better.

The previous two visits to this area were spent at Sun Mountain Lodge, quite a few years ago. A bit expensive at the time, it's become loopy priced now. Out of our family budget and just maybe not our scene anymore, even though they have some fun mountain bike trails available out the door. If you wanna spend the dough, a nice place though.

Mazama is a few miles up the road and less crowded. We booked the Mazama Country Inn for two nights to check it out. Kind of a rustic place with no televisions, phones in the rooms, or even cell phone coverage. I find that kind of kind of cool, let's unplug shall we. They do have wireless Internet however, seems to be no escaping that. Son Ian brought his PSP which I didn't even know picked up an Internet connection via WiFi. I guess it's almost impossible to completely unplug.

Mazama Country Inn also sports a small restaurant, pool, tennis courts, hot tub and trails right out the door. Lucky the restaurant had good food, since there's not a whole lot of choices without driving for 15 miles or so. The Mazama Country Store is also next door, so we grabbed lunch there as well. Not a bad set up. Having breakfast and dinner outside at the Inn was nice - squirrels and hummingbirds watching you eat. We car camp at times, but splurged a bit on all this. Sort of being outside while being pampered. Nothing wrong with that occasionally. The kids dug the pool, and the female half of the clan goofed around on the tennis court, while Ian and I rode mountain bikes. Sound okay? Yeah, it was.

In no particular order, some pictures and various rambling about the trip.....

The trails around Mazama are not very technical - mostly smooth, fast, hard packed trails - as Ian demonstrates. Fun for a change, plus really nice trail side scenery. A cyclocross bike here would rock. I'm sure some actual singletrack exists, we just didn't find any local examples. No problem though, had a good time on what we did find.

Example of scenery off the trail. Lots of meadows and mountain views. I shot this during one of our mountain bike rides. How do the locals stand it?

After spending two nights at the Mazama Country Inn, we loaded up for the drive home, including some sandwiches and snacks in the cooler. Before hitting the road, we cruised by the North Cascades Basecamp (pictured), a few miles from the Inn. I noticed the place on the Internet while planning the trip and wanted to check it out. While looking the place over from the car, Kim - half the husband and wife team that run the place - came out to greet us and asked if we would like to see the facility. Sure, so we piled out for a look. Cool place with simple rooms, a few shared bathrooms, shared common eating area and library. A large yard bordered the woods with trails to a riverbed, ponds to play in. Plus breakfast included. Perfect for kids to run around and Kim and husband Steve have two young kids as well. Great, let's extend the vacation and we signed on for a night there.

After making a picnic of our sandwiches on the outside table, we set off to walk the local trails. We had a great time goofing around the general area for a few hours. No one else around at all. Nice.

One of the trails off the North Cascades Basecamp property - perfect for kids to explore. This becomes a snowshoe trail in the winter. Easy outside family fun. Amy stands guard while Ian and mom walk the plank. I'm manning the camera as usual, it's my job - somebody gotta do it.

Ian and Amy check out the swimming hole behind the North Cascades Basecamp. The water was f-f-f-freezing, but they got a kick out of playing on the log and watching tadpoles. They declared this way more fun then the swimming pool at Mazama County Inn. I'd have to agree. A short hike past the pond puts you at a rocky riverbed, where they played for quite awhile. Perfect exploring area for kids - and adults.

North Cascades Basecamp, we hope to return soon. Owners Kim and Steve are also wildlife biologists and were great to chat with. Their daughter is the same age as Amy, so they enjoyed playing together as well. Very nice place and the vibe is right up my alley. The Mazama Country Inn was cool also, no complaints at all. Next time, we'll hit the Basecamp for the entire stay though.

Ian checks out yet another smooth, fast Mazama trail.

While staying at the Mazama Country Inn, watched a lightening bolt start a fire on the ridge above the hotel. Our room had a perfect view of the festivities. After an hour or so, the helicopters arrived......

It was interesting to watch the tag team of helicopters put out the smoldering blaze. During this, Ian and rode our mountain bikes over for a closer look, with the helicopters making the u-turn back for more water right over our heads. About two miles away, we rode right next to the pond where the 'copters were picking up water, hovering and dropping the bucket in for another load.

The 29er takes in the view from local bridge. During this ride a thundershower moved in, completely soaking Ian and I. We were a few miles out, riding in street clothes and received a royal soaking. When we arrived back at the hotel, sun was out. We just laughed about it and changed out of dripping clothes.

Here Ian and Amy fight the maddening crowds of Mazama. You could get used to this pretty easy.

Ian sprints across suspension bridge on local trail. This community trail runs from Mazama to Winthrop, about 20 miles. Flat, smooth and fast. We did about half of it, then turned around. It would be fun to ride the 'cross bike to Winthrop and back for a 40 mile romp. Winthrop is a small western theme tourist town, complete with wooden sidewalks, gift shops, a few places to eat and stay, parade of RVs and loud Harleys. Okay for a quick lunch and look see, then head back to quiet Mazama.

We did a few hikes as well, some the full family, some just Ian and I. This is Blue Lake, about 20 miles outside of Mazama. We hit this on the way home. All the following pictures are from this 4 mile hike. The female half elected to have a picnic at the trail head, while Ian and I trudged up the mountain. Here I pose for a future advertisement from the Washington Board of Tourism.

Snow cone anyone? Considering it's August, doubt this will melt before winter hits once again.

Tell me Washington doesn't rock, go ahead I dare you. We have some spectacular scenery for sure.

Stunning, eh?

Truly an amazing area of the country. No doubt. In a bizarre twist of fate, ran into some fellow coworkers and bike pals on this hike. We weren't even on the main trail either, it was steep detour off it - wacky. Had no idea we were in the same area for vacation. What were the chances of being there at the exact same time? Freaky. The day before, full family hike on a different trail, another family hiking recognized us from a trip to the zoo a few days earlier. Double freaky. I guess there really is no escape, sort of like WiFi.

All in all, a fun trip. The North Cascades is a beautiful area of the good ol' USA and worth the time to explore it. Spectacular scenery and no crowds. Trails to walk and ride on, mountains to gawk at and climb. The Winthrop area also has a bike festival every October. I've never attended. The mental wheels are already turning....


  1. Simply priceless, best of times. I don't think I'd make it across that log.

  2. Yeah - it was a fun trip. I didn't attempt the log either.....