My First Trip to Winthrop and the Methow Valley
The snow began falling as we hit Pateros and climbed the Methow Valley Highway. The light flurries obfuscated the distance. “Deer!” I swerved across the yellow lines and back, feeling lucky we hadn’t seen any cars heading down the valley yet. I guess most Methow residents settle in before Saturday night winter storms. Right before we reached the town of Twisp, we crossed the Methow River and I regretted not making my first trip up the Methow in the daylight. I’ve had my eye on rafting and fishing the Methow River ever since I landed in Washington and expected my first trip to the area to be full of rainbow trout, whitewater, and the bucolic lifestyle that lures in permanent residents. But, meeting and entertaining the people of Winthrop on a Saturday night would be one part of the experience for now.
Pulling into Winthrop on a snowy night felt like stepping back in time. The golden glow from strands of lights and antique lampposts cast a warm nostalgia on wooden boardwalks and historic building facades. Old Schoolhouse Brewery is right in the middle of it all, complete with a cozy dining room, in-house drafts, and a deck leading out to a riverfront stage and patio. Once again, I wished I was here in the summer.
Old Schoolhouse Brewery. Photo: Bern Krausse
The folks of Winthrop were generally receptive to our brand of mellow folk music, but a hockey team – or as we later learned a drinking team that travels the regional hockey circuit – boisterously settled in front of the stage. We were forced into a few fast-paced fiddle tunes to gather up the new unruly ears. We played into the night, grown men took off their shirts, and the only sober teammate made sure the tip jar was thoroughly packed before they left.
After closing the place down and finishing our last beer, we headed over to Jack’s Saloon – the only place happening at midnight on a December Saturday. The hockey team proceeded to provide the entertainment: hugs, more shirtless grown men, shots, broken glasses, and even a bar fight with a local woman after a very intoxicated man unsuccessfully attempted the “tablecloth trick” with a coat she was sitting on and sent her headfirst to the floor. After the scuffle, everyone went back to drinking. Even during the dregs of tourist season, I got the sense that tourists and locals mix freely until someone can’t hold their booze.
In the morning, we got to see Winthrop in all its snowy glory – the frosted river slipping through downtown, people cruising the streets and boardwalks with coffees and mittens. It was a rather picturesque sight. We had our sights set on breakfast, more specifically the Mazama General Store 15 minutes up the road in Mazama.
Earlier this year, a friend came to Seattle from the Methow and brought us one of the store’s famous salt baguettes. The entire baguette lasted less than 5 minutes and long past the cheese accompaniment; it was a treat on its own.
The blazing morning sun and sparkle of fresh snow made the Mazama General Store feel timelessly idyllic; the parking lot could have just as easily been filled with horses rather than vehicles adorned with roof racks and rocket boxes. I opened the large wooden door and immediately the fresh coffee, pastries, and baguettes made me breakfast-drunk, removing all my inhibitions at the register. As we ate, the trail-ready locals filtered in and cheerfully greeted friendly faces before discussing ski plans for the day. I couldn’t help but ponder the value of community and how it might feel to live in one of Washington’s most remote beauties.
Thoroughly satiated, we followed the Methow River back down the valley, past Winthrop, Twisp, Methow, and finally Pateros. Watching the valley expand as we met the massive Columbia River, I was left with only one feeling – I can’t wait to come back.