Crossing the North Cascades

Early morning light at the Orcas ferry landing

Up and out early this morning. Catching the 7:15 am ferry from Orcas Island to Anacortes. Today we begin our cross country journey after months, weeks, then days of preparation. We are on the ferry, the car packed with everything we need for five weeks of travel… it’s full. I eye the Westfalia in front of us just a little longingly.

Jay strikes up a conversation with the woman who has rented the Westfalia Van and learns that her husband has a company, Canadian High Tops. A lover of Volkswagen vans, he provides conversion High Tops for VW vans for the years 1980 – 1991.

Driving through the Skagit Valley to Sedro Woolley we begin the scenic mountain drive known as the North Cascades Highway (Route 20). The drive begins through small towns and farmland with the green-blue Skagit River flanking the road. Near Rockport we see a sign for fresh organic blueberries and soon we are pulling into Cascadian Farm. A 28-acre certified organic farm since 1972, this farm was a pioneer in converting conventional farms to organic. Many of us are familiar with their jams but when we walk into the roadside store we go straight for the refrigerator filled with pints of blueberries. Gorgeous, organic and just picked they last about 10 minutes in the car.

Cascadian Farm store on the North Cascade Highway
Cascadian farm organic blueberries

The scenic drive continues through the mountains and ends in Winthrop, WA – a town known for the American Old West design of  its buildings. Our pit stop is in Twisp, another 9 miles along on Route 20. At the Glover Street Market we find some lovely organic greens to go with our tuna-egg salad and enjoy a relaxing picnic in the park.

Art Exhibits throughout the US in 2011

Norman Rockwell No Swimming
Norman Rockwell's No Swimming

“The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they’re always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.”

This sentiment by Norman Rockwell relates to travel as well… and we often incorporate a visit to a museum in our travels. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell is a gem and showing at the Tacoma Art Museum until May 30, 2011. Though there is a comprehensive collection of original magazine covers, we were especially drawn to his 44 paintings – as the museum states “unforgettable images of the innocence, courage, history and hopes of American life in the 20th century.” This is a traveling exhibit that warrants a visit. A good family experience… we took our somewhat reluctant nieces, ages 11 & 14, and they loved it. Future museum hosts are listed at the Norman Rockwell Museum website.

The catalog, American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell, traces the evolution of Rockwell’s art throughout his career – from reflections on childhood innocence in such paintings as No Swimming (1921) to powerful, consciousness-raising images like The Problem We All Live With (1964), which documented the traumatic realities of desegregation in the South.

Promising Exhibitions From Coast to Coast is a great resource article at the New York Times for a list of “promising” art exhibits around the country this year – many of them opening this summer. Here is a sampling:

Support the arts! Visit a museum in your area or in a city you are visiting this year…  it can be enriching, educational and inspiring.


Osoyoos, British Columbia, in the Okanagan Valley

We are off to the Okanagan Valley. Driving through the North Cascades National Park on Route 20 in Washington State is a treat in the fall. This is Jays first time, so I drive to give him ample opportunity to take in everything. Near the summit we round a curve just as two bear cubs scurry over the far side of the road. We just glimpse their rears and cute furry tails.

Heading to Osoyoos, BC we pass through Winthrop, WA and stop in one of my favorite little towns – Twisp. The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery beckons like the sirens, and we head in for a hot cup of coffee and some lunch. After a delicious black bean/corn salad we are on the road again, nearing our intersection with Route 97, our path north to British Columbia. Only 85 miles to go.

Spirit Ridge Resort
Spirit Ridge Resort and NK' Mip Cellars appear beyond the grapevines and sagebrush.

Slowly the terrain turns to desert as we head north. We arrive in Osoyoos, British Columbia late afternoon. Just 5 minutes north of the US Border, the town of 5,000 is located on Osoyoos Lake, and surrounded by grasslands, highlands and mountains. As we make our way around the lake toward Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa, New Mexico and Santa Fe come to mind. Indeed, this region is Canada’s only desert and is dotted with sagebrush and cactus.

Drawn to autumn colors and quiet, we arrive in the Okanagan Valley just after the Fall Wine Festival. Still time to enjoy the warm October days and the benefit of lower rates at the Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa.

spirit ridge resort sculpture
Dynamic metal sculptures populate the resort.

Ready to stretch our legs after a day of driving, we check in, then walk over to the NK’Mip Cellars tasting room. Nk’Mip Cellars (pronounced in-ka-meep) is owned and operated by the Okanagan People, one of Canada’s First Nations. While enjoying their Pinot Noir and Merlot, we learn that the NK’Mip Cultural Center is located within the resort compound as well, and make a note to check it out in the morning.

Passatempo is Latin for “passing the time,” and this bistro-style restaurant at Spirit Ridge Resort is the perfect place to finish the day. Good food and good wine with my sweetie. Plus, a panoramic view of Lake Osoyoos, the vineyards, and the desert. We are offered seating on the patio or indoors, and choose an indoor table by the window. Our lovely waitress helps me choose a Filet entree with Juniper sauce, mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables that is gluten-free. Jay decides on the Rack of Lamb. Both are beautifully presented, delicious, and enjoyed with glasses of Merlot, chosen after a small tasting of red wines. Many of the ingredients are locally grown and organic. (We return the next day for lunch and share a fresh Seafood Caesar Salad and delectable Polenta with fresh local corn).

spirit ridge grapevine
We take a path through the vineyard on our walk up from the lake.

After coffee and tea at a carryout across the way, we begin the second day with a brisk walk down to the lake and back in the cool morning air. The Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre is just opening as we return from our walk. The state-of-the-art interpretive centre is an architectural marvel sensitively constructed into the hillside. Extensive indoor and outdoor exhibit galleries create a fun, interactive learning environment with hands-on displays, education stations and two multi-media theatre experiences.

Warrior sculpture at Spirit Ridge Resort
Warrior sculpture welcomes visitors to the NK'Mip Cultural Center

We take our time looking at the exhibits (inside & outside) and discovering the fascinating stories and rich living culture of the Okanagan people. The outdoor area exhibits are amazing – we marvel at the metal sculptures. Then we buy two cold bottles of water and head out to explore the two kilometers of walking trails they have created. Enjoying the smell of the sage grasslands and pine forests along the way.

NK'Mip cultural center at Spirit Ridge
Outdoor exhibit at the NK'Mip Cultural Center at Spirit Ridge
spirit ridge cultural center woman harvesting
Another fantastic metal sculpture of a woman harvesting
spirit ridge cultural center spirit animals
Spirit animal sculpture at the Cultural Centre

As you can tell, we are walkers… but you could also spend time at the Sonora Desert Spa, or golfing at Sonora Dunes Golf Course, both at here at Spirit Ridge. And we are wine lovers, so we have a late lunch and go wine tasting.

Our favorite vineyards, all about 10 km north of Osoyoos in the Black Sage Bench area:

  • Church and State
  • Hester Creek Estate Winery
  • Oliver Twist Estate Winery
  • Stoneboat Vineyards
  • Burrowing Owl Estate Winery, where we have a delicious and romantic dinner that night in the Sonora Room Restaurant. Jay dines on the special, a perfectly grilled pork chop served with a homemade pasta incorporating fresh squash and cabbage served with a cider, calvados, beef stock and butter sauce. Outrageous! I have the Fraser Valley Duck Breast, equally sublime, with roasted new potatoes and autumn vegetables. This night all diners receive a complimentary appetizer of Jingle Bell Red Peppers filled with cheese and a complimentary dessert – mini squash creme brulee. Good thing we walked a lot today. And yes, we savored a bottle of Burrowing Owl Merlot, I think it was a 2007, but not sure. Excellent.


Fresh from the Okanagan Valley and Joie Farms is an inspiring new cookbook ~  MENUS from an ORCHARD TABLE: Celebrating the Food and Wine of the Okanagan by Heidi Noblemenus from an orchard tableA collection of outstanding seasonal recipes from Joie Wines and Farm Cooking School’s renowned outdoor orchard dinners. Menus for an Orchard Table allows readers to re-create some of Joie’s most extraordinary dishes, with essays on the Okanagan’s wine country cuisine and superb photography. The recipes are divided into the courses served at Joie’s orchard dinners, which balance regional wines with the accompanying dishes. Among the selections are Chilled heirloom yellow tomato soup garnished with tomato confit and chive oil, Country lamb and olive terrine with Joie pear and shallot compote and brioche, and the Bittersweet Chocolate Tarte with port. Unfortunately, the cooking classes are no longer offered, but the spirit lives on in her cookbook.

Artsy, groovy downtown Twisp, WA

Twisp River Pub, Twisp, WA

Driving into town of Twisp, I immediately see the bold blue, green and black sign for the Twist River Pub on the right. This seems to be the local favorite – all suggestions for a place to eat lead here. Located on the Twisp River, the Pub’s patio is the perfect spot on this warm May evening. The sun is warming, the river below has a steady moving flow – a sound of life – at once calming and invigorating. Breathing the fresh air I feel healthy and alive like the river. Time to indulge in the fresh brews, local wines, and yummy pub food, and on the weekends – live music!

Twisp River Pub, Twisp, WA
Twisp River Pub patio overlooks the Twisp River

Curious about the word “Twisp”, I googled… one author claims it is a modification of the local tribal word, “T-wapsp”, which meant yellow jacket.  Another says the name was derived from Chinook jargon, but countered that the original spelling was “Twistsp” to imitate the sound of a buzzing wasp. Either way the name captures the energy of this little Methow Valley colony.

Glover Street is the main drag of groovy downtown Twisp and home to the very cool studio + gallery Peligro. Dedicated to the modern metal format, this contemporary space is the working studio of Nancy Daniels Hubert. Her collection of metal and/or  stone jewelry and art set the tone for Grover Street where one is visually treated to imaginative metal objects – steel & stone garbage receptacles, metal banners, and cool large steel sphere sculptures.

Peligro Jewelry Studio + Gallery, Twisp, WA
Peligro Jewelry Studio + Gallery, Twisp, WA
Stone/Ironwork in Twisp, WA
Cool steel & river stone trash receptacle

Twisp is located at the confluence of the Twisp and Methow Rivers. Confluence Gallery is the meeting place for local and regional artists from North Central Washington, and is a thoughtful combination of gallery space, gift shop and studio area. Today a quilting workshop is starting, the gallery features local painters, and the gift shop is full of artful jewelry, locally made pottery, books, and cards.

Confluence Gallery, Twisp, WA
The Confluence Gallery on Glover St.
Confluence Gallery, Twisp, WA
Steel and Stone landscaping in front of the Confluence Gallery

Getting hungry? The Cinnamon Twisp Bakery will lure you in with the smells of fresh baked bread, pastries,cookies, and if it is lunchtime – sandwiches, pizza, homemade soup… While I am ordering my Americano coffee, a group of women arrive, pulling off their bicycle helmets as they check out the goodies – clearly ready for a treat. And a local woman ordering an almond raspberry cookie confides that she has an account here.

Just up from the bakery is the Glover Street Market, a natural foods store. I go in looking for a snack and find organic apples, gluten-free crackers, a delicious array of cheeses… I also pick up a beautiful locally handmade bar of soap, Goan Fish Curry spice mix, and a bright green kitchen towel.

Strolling around the Glover Street area the contemporary art theme continues… sometimes grand, sometimes whimsical…

Street art, Twisp, WA
Street art - steel sphere and metal bike sculptures
Twisp, WA Ironwork Art Sphere
Close up of another steel art sphere

The Merc Playhouse opened for its’ first season of professional theater in the summer of 1999. Since then it has become a community treasure, providing space not only for theater productions, but also music, lectures, and other performances. The evening I was there Tappi, another Twisp restaurant that was recommended to me,  was hosting a wine tasting event/fundraiser for the playhouse.

Merc Playhouse, Twisp, WA
Merc Playhouse with old barn next door that serves as community bulletin board

The sunflower capital of the state and the eastern gateway to the North Cascades National Park, Twisp was largely dependent upon logging until the mid-1980s. Today, the principle industries include lumber, cattle ranching, and agriculture. For visitors to the Methow Valley there is hiking, swimming, bicycling, cross-country skiing in the winter, rock climbing… summer brings the farmer’s markets and an eclectic array of art, music and wine festivals.

Twisp is a small town with personality… growing and emerging with a local style rather than being shaped for the tourist. I find it refreshing.

Walrus DDS sign, Twisp, WA