Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Speaking of travel in the rural Pacific NW, don't miss this

William Yardley is retracing in the New York Times the routes of travel guides from the 1930s. The guides were written under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project, a WPA project during the Great Depression. In short, they were written in large part to give the writers, among them Zora Neale Hurstonk, Eudora Welty, and Saul Bellow.

Yardley's headline, "Places Captured in Time, but Not Frozen There," reminds us that, in spite of rurality's strong associations with stasis and tradition, rural places change, too. Among the places featured is Winthrop, Washington, which was where "the hard surfacing ends" when the Washington guide was written. But the place evolved quickly once a paved road over Washington Pass was completed in 1972. Yardley writes, quoting initially from the early travel guide.
“On weekdays and special occasions, these trading centers take on the appearance of pioneer towns, with hitching rails, haphazard sidewalks and crude plumbing,” the Washington State guide said of Winthrop and other towns in the Methow Valley. It went on to describe “riders on horseback, buckboards and buggies, and men with tanned faces and alert eyes in chaps and spurs, or blue jeans and Stetsons.”

Seven decades later, Winthrop is just a quick trip across the North Cascades Highway — an escape for Seattleites seeking the dry light, a reprieve from the gray and wet they know best. Car-roof racks carry mountain bikes, kayaks or cross-country skis, depending on the time of year. Twenty-somethings slouch in for espresso. Middle-aged couples browse bookstores.

“The sun shines over here,” said Dave Sandoz, the building official for Winthrop and its neighbor Twisp. “That’s the big thing. That makes people happy.”

And I guess that is one thing that hasn't changed on the the Eastern side of the Cascades.

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