Favorite Ride: Washington’s Glacier-Fed Jewel

Washington state motorcycle ride
Weaving ridiculously close to Lake Chelan’s western shore at times, State Route 971 serves travelers up a scenic platter of lakefront views. Photos by the author.

When the need arises for a quick, fun jaunt that includes great food, I point my front wheel north through a landscape that at times appears to be from another world, or at least another time on this planet some tens of thousands of years ago. My mid-ride target is to meet my niece Karen and her fiancé Buddy, then proceed to his restaurant in Manson, Washington. Karen owns a salon in neighboring Chelan, so for both of them the busy summer is their bread and butter but they still make time to join old U.B. (Uncle Ben) for a portion of the ride.

Washington state motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Starting my loop out of Ephrata, the main north tributary out of town that becomes Sagebrush Flats Road should be cautiously approached…it goes right by the county jail! Just a mile later one can exercise the throttle through rolling fields and abundant sagebrush amid very solitary conditions. This is a pleasant respite from the crowds and traffic that must be endured later through the beautiful areas around Lake Chelan.

With nothing too technical, the “Flats” roll and buck like some of the horses you will pass in their corrals, then crossing a county line it changes name and personality to Coulee Meadows/Moses Coulee Road. More fun; a bit bumpy with a few giddy elevation changes and blind corners making for mildly challenging entertainment. Along this stretch one really begins to experience the terrain, channeled scablands of volcanic basalt and massive cliffs and mesas formed eons ago by continent-wide ice age floods and shifting glaciers.

Washington state motorcycle ride
Near the top of McNeil Canyon Road, riders can catch a glimpse of the alpine calmness of Lake Chelan waiting in the valley below.

Soon you’re on U.S. Route 2, where a short romp through this desolate landscape is still impressive if you like wide-open spaces. Fittingly named Farmer on the map, it consists of only a grain elevator and old grange hall, but provides the only shade for miles around if you need a break from summer heat. More importantly it signals the turn north onto State Route 172, where if you enjoy the sensation of trying to escape earth’s gravitational pull there are a couple of hills that will not disappoint.

Soon you come upon the sign for Lake Chelan, an alpine jewel that in this flat, scabby plateau must make first timers think it is some sort of joke. This initial portion of McNeil Canyon Road teases riders, as it jitters and jigs with a few sharp nineties and chicanes that bring you to a precipice over the gorge. From this vantage one gets a glimpse of the lake below and of the glacial peaks that feed it.

Washington state motorcycle ride
With Lake Chelan as a crazy beautiful backdrop, the welcome to the eastside town of Manson frames our machines nicely.

After plunging like last year’s necklines, the terrestrial cleavage of McNeil deposits travelers onto U.S. Route 97 for a quick crossing of the Columbia via a very old steel trellis bridge, before throwing another fun twist at you as it augers up the Chelan Falls hill into town. This is part of State Route 150, and by following the signs you will end up riding casually (read: slowly) amidst summer fun-seekers through this tourist haven up Lake Chelan’s eastern shore to Manson.

Chelan is touted as the third-deepest lake in the United States–geological surveys record a depth of 1,486 feet, however some locals maintain the lake has no bottom in spots. At 55 miles long and 1 to 2 miles wide it is also considered one of the most pristine bodies of water in North America, with a high degree of clarity.

Washington state motorcycle ride
The best place to eat in Manson, with the proprietor Buddy and his fiancée, my niece Karen.

After a warm welcome at Buddy’s Place and a great lunch, it is time to backtrack to Chelan and work around the southern end to explore the western shore. The up-lake vista invigorates with smooth two-lane that follows the rocky shoreline on State Route 971. The roadside is full of expensive vacation properties and an increasing number of vineyards that ply their wares at tasting rooms and tapaterias. Once broken free of these clinging tendrils of urbanization, the road begins to rock and roll with a shoreline lined with deep green pines decorating steep hillsides and the occasional glimpse of brilliant white glaciers.

After 16 delightful miles we reach pavement’s end at Twenty-Five Mile Creek Campground, situated on a picturesque point that serves as a lovely rest stop. While carefully careening through the woods on the return leg of 10 miles, watch for the Lake Chelan State Park entrance and the rustic Watson’s Alpenhorn Café, where State Route 971 now beckons riders south. Also tagged Navarre Coulee, this fragrant, tree-lined “tunnel” contains sharp hairpins on each end of its nine miles, as if needed to hold its place in the earth’s coiffure. It almost too abruptly bursts out of the shade into a few tight switchbacks before dropping down to meet again with U.S. Route 97A. Once southbound for Entiat, for the next 30 miles you will begin to appreciate the amount of work it must have taken to blast this rugged path from the brown stone mountainsides.

Washington state motorcycle ride
Nearing the end of pavement at Lake Chelan’s halfway point, the views from Twenty-Five Mile Creek Park show alpine lake beauty even in summer.

The Columbia River, harnessed here both for power and irrigation, is your companion as you bend lazily past orchards neatly covering either side’s steep slopes. Segueing directly into the apple-growing outskirts of Wenatchee you follow the signs back to U.S. 2 via the concrete bridge spanning the Columbia. Flowing faster than the river you pass through East Wenatchee along Sunset Highway/U.S. 2/State Route 28 all rolled into one, and eventually rejoin Route 28 heading out of town and back into time.

At least that is what it seems like to me after making the turn north onto Palisades Road. Entering a green, well-irrigated valley surrounded by more of this region’s steep volcanic basalt cliffs, it feels like I am in 1969’s blockbuster film, “Valley of Gwangi.” In the creepy stillness of this gorge I would not be surprised to see a Claymation dinosaur pop its head out of a cave.

Washington state motorcycle ride
The scenery surrounding you on Palisades Road will make you wonder if you should be riding a horse and carrying a six-shooter instead of a motorcycle and cell phone.

Ambling deeper and deeper between emerald colored fields and dusty ranchettes, my mental channel changes and I can just see “The Duke” John Wayne riding up on his horse yelling at me to take cover from the bandits in the cliffs! Oh imagination…fun until the pavement ends, and then that requires most of one’s attention. Though the twisting Devil’s Gulch portion that reconnects us to Sagebrush Flats back to Ephrata has about eight miles of dirt, it is quite navigable and hopes are that soon it will be covered in asphalt.

Whether out for a half day ride to see your “Buddy,” or dinosaurs or The Duke…our favorite rides hold familiarity and yet with each new one, a realm of new experiences and possibilities.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

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