Icicle Creek Road, a Place to Explore

Icicle Creek

How often have you passed a road whose very name rouses your desire to leave the traveled highway and explore? Icicle Creek Road is one of these for us. We’d seen the sign many times over the years while passing through the Bavarian-style village of Leavenworth on our way to eastern Washington. This summer we took the time to satisfy our curiosity while celebrating our anniversary.
The road follows close beside turbulent Icicle Creek. Is it named Icicle Creek because of its cold waters? Or do icicles hang from the rocks in winter? No, the name comes from the Indian word na-sik-elt, which means “narrow canyon.” (Pronounce the word icicle with an n at the beginning and a t at the end for a good approximation of the Indian pronunciation.)

Wildflowers and wild water

The stream originates near the crest of the Cascade Range and drains Josephine Lake. The first part of its course lies through a deep, narrow canyon. After a few miles, the cleft takes on the classic U-shape carved by a glacier. Still, until it nears the town of Leavenworth and its confluence with the Wenatchee River, there is scarcely room for the road beside the foaming water.

Bicycling up the Icicle Canyon

  The creek’s watershed is the rugged, mountainous land of the Wenatchee National Forest and the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The area is a magnet for campers, hikers, and rock climbers. Bicyclists pedal along the wildflower-edged road. Forbidding spires thrust into the sky in some views; in others ridges are studded with dead trees left from the Icicle Creek fire that raged through these mountains in 1994. Always, Icicle Creek plunges its way toward the Wenatchee River, growing by the mile as tributaries dump their loads of snow melt into it.

Click for a better view of fire-killed snags against the rugged spires of the Wenatchee Mountains.

We thought we saw an anniversary heart on this boulder.

Peaceful canyon drive

There are eight first come-first served campgrounds along the road, and numerous trails leading up into the mountains. But for time or mobility-challenged visitors, the drive alone, with its wild and lovely wilderness vistas, is well worth the effort.

Mountain Top Waterfall in the Tumwater Canyon

Wenatchee River in Tumwater Canyon

 Stevens Pass on Highway 2 crossing the Cascade Mountains is a spectacular route for a roadtrip anytime, but particularly in early June. As we headed east toward Leavenworth to celebrate our anniversary, we watched for the changing vegetation to signal our crossing into Eastern Washington. Soon lodgepole pines infiltrated the Douglas firs and vistas became more open.

  We knew we were almost to our destination when we entered Tumwater canyon. Nineteen years ago, beginning in July, 1994, a raging wildfire had started on nearby Icicle Creek, destroying a number of homes near Leavenworth. It burned over the mountains and down to the tumbling waters of the Wenatchee River, leaving a blackened skeleton forest interspersed with untouched trees. Now the slopes were green again, though bleached and ghostly snags still stood along the ridges.

It was while I gazed up at some of those craggy ridges that I glimpsed a waterfall I’d not noticed before. It seemed to pour out of the very top of a mountain as if blasted from a fire hose. I saw it for only a minute before another mountain’s shoulder hid it from view, although we saw a large creek plunging down the rocky bank into the Wenatchee River.

Next morning we went back, hoping for pictures. Fortunately not too many people were on the road that early, because we had to drive back and forth several times before we found it again. We pulled off where the shoulder widened a bit and I shot the photo below. The waterfall looked much smaller than it had the afternoon before. I wondered if it came from snow melt which would increase as the day warmed. Perhaps it isn’t even there later in the summer. (Can you see it, next to the peak in the center?)

An east-side Cascade waterfall and snags burned in the 1994 Hatchery complex fires

Through a telephoto lens

From http://www.iciclevillage.com :

In 1994, about 180,000 acres of forested land in Chelan County burned. In Leavenworth two fires – “The Hatchery Complex” and “Rat Creek” – burned out of control and people were forced to evacuate.

• 2,400 firefighters from 24 different states worked to save the town.
• The fire traveled at speeds exceeding 50 mph.
• 950,000 gallons of retardant were dropped over Chelan County.
• 14 homes were destroyed in the Icicle Creek Canyon.
• The fires started July 24th and were out December 24, 1994