From Interstate 5 in western Washington to the eastern United States, US 2 runs and climbs and sinks and rambles across the northern states, the northern-most US highway across the country. In Washington state, the road passes through cities and villages, climbs the magnificent North Cascades, winds beside frolicking rivers, and coasts through orchards and among farmlands. Places of beauty and history are the roadmap. From the Bavarian-themed city of Leavenworth, US 2 runs beside the Wenatchee River, among the apple and pear orchards in a series of green, fertile valleys, and past the communities of Peshastin and Dryden, Cashmere and Monitor.
Driving east on US 2 from Leavenworth, the two-lane highway passes through a narrow defile of tall pines. On the right, the trees climb a steep slope. On the left beyond a row of trees, the hillside slides down to the Wenatchee River. In about a quarter mile, the green walls of the roadway fall away and the vista is of a green and fertile valley cupped by pine-freckled hills three seasons each year. In winter, pristine snow covers the valley and hillsides, and frosts the orchards deliciously. On the right, the valley floor slopes gently up to the foothills. On the left, the Wenatchee River flows eastward in loops and curves on the other side of a series of orchards. A bluff on the far side of the River is covered with more orchards that stretch as far up the hilly slopes as possible, turning green or brown or white, in season.
The road passes Prey’s Fruit Stand, owned by a local pear orchardist, then River Riders, a rafting business that makes excellent use of the sweep and tumble of the Wenatchee. Silvara Cellars, on the right, offers wine tasting, and beyond that is Smallwood’s Harvest – fruit, pumpkins, gifts, and a playground for kids of many ages.
Three miles east of the Leavenworth Safeway on US 2, a traveler will reach the community of Peshastin. A left turn at the traffic light leads to Main Street and a bridge across the Wenatchee River and into Peshastin. Another 2.9 miles east on US 2 leads to a center turn lane (no traffic light). Turning left, across the west-bound traffic, takes a traveler to Dryden Avenue and the downtown core of Dryden. This blog post visits the fertile, peaceful Upper Wenatchee River Valley along US 2 and the orchards and farms, creeks and river and canals, piney hills and tall mountains that hold Peshastin and Dryden in a green embrace.
Weathered crates for apples that come from delicate white blossoms line a road between Leavenworth and Peshastin. These boxes have been used again and again for years. They all started out bright red. Some are faded almost white with age. A country road winds through green hills and apple orchards. This is North Road, the high road to Peshastin. If you leave Leavenworth by the Chumstick Highway and turn right just beyond the Cascade High School, North Road will take you under the BNSF tracks, past Icicle Station, the Leavenworth passenger depot, and along this curving road on a bluff above the Wenatchee River through apple and pear orchards, down to Main Street in Peshastin, where you’ll find the Old Mill Tavern, the laundromat, and the Peshastin Post Office.
A Place for Orchards
Tree fruit, primarily apples, but also pears and cherries, are the core of the economy for the upper Wenatchee River valley. Most of the land that is not too steep to farm is devoted to orchards. People own or work in orchards or work in the large concrete warehouses that store and ship the fruit. Though the dates vary from year to year and with changing elevations, apple trees usually blossom in mid-April to early May along the Wenatchee River valleys.
Apple trees march up a hill to meet the pine and fir trees above. White apple blossoms, green firs and pines, blue skies above, and an orange tractor decorate a fertile hill above Peshastin.
Beekeepers rent bee hives, the white and yellow boxes in this shot near Peshastin, to orchardists to encourage bees to pollinate the blossoms in late April or early May.
A massive, concrete warehouse in Peshastin stores tree fruit, apples and pears, and packs and ships the fruit across the country and around the world. A huge cooling system on the roof chills the fruit for storage. Fruit warehouses in Peshastin and Dryden are vital to the economy of the Wenatchee River valley, employing more workers than any other enterprise along the river. Fruit is transported by large trucks and on nearby BNSF freight cars.
Peshastin is cradled on the northeast side of a long curve of the Wenatchee River, surrounded by orchards. US 2 runs along the southwest side of the river. Peshastin is a small unincorporated, rural community of about 1,600 people. It shares an elementary school with Dryden. First platted in the 1890s by two brothers named Gilbert, the town is the namesake for the Peshastin Ditch, a hand-dug irrigation ditch, constructed in 1889, that draws water from Peshastin Creek and waters the orchards on the west side of the Wenatchee River. The gravity-fed Peshastin Ditch relies on the contours of the land and is still providing water to the orchards down river.
Visitors to Peshastin and folks passing by on US 2 on their way to other destinations are struck by the natural beauty of the area. Tucked in a rolling valley that is embraced by pine-clad slopes and higher peaks beyond the hills, Peshastin is surrounded by orchards, and a few vineyards. Green is the dominant color three seasons per year, though white apple blossoms are resplendent in late April and early May and maples turn red and aspens and birch are dressed in yellow for a time in the fall. In winter, the land and trees are deep snow quiet.
Five locomotive engines haul freight through the multi-hued, fir and apple clad hills between Peshastin and Leavenworth on the eastern slopes of the Cascades. The freight trains need the extra engines to climb up and over Stevens Pass in the North Cascades. This cargo is probably bound for the Seattle seaport and far destinations over the sea. White apple blossoms decorate hillsides, center and upper right.
The railroad was crucial to the development of towns and orchards on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades. Great Northern tracks were constructed through the Wenatchee River Valley in 1892. Apple orchards became profitable when the orchardists were able to ship their produce to distant markets by train. Shipping large quantities of fruit required the construction of large concrete warehouses for storage and shipping. The warehouses, built near the tracks, became focal points for communities like Peshastin and Dryden, and, farther east and downriver, Cashmere and Monitor.
The image below shows Hi-Up fruit warehouses, left center, and a huge stack of tan fruit crates. The traditional red wood crates have been replaced by these plastic crates. The houses are on Main Street across from the high berm that is the base for the BNSF tracks. In 1927, Great Northern built a high wooden trestle to change the grade as the tracks climbed through the Upper Wenatchee River Valley towards Leavenworth. The trestle was backfilled with dirt and gravel to provide a stable foundation for the track bed. The track bed was and remains roughly 15 feet above Main Street in Peshastin. The high dirt berm crosses the image below, left to right, between the fruit crates and the houses. The slope below the five locomotives in the image above is also part of the track elevation, a short distance west of Peshastin.
Big Y Intersection
US 97 merges with US 2 midway between Peshastin and Dryden, and the two highways run east together past Dryden and Cashmere, past the north end of Wenatchee and across the Columbia River where both roads run north at East Wenatchee. In the image below, US Highway 97 comes north after crossing Blewett Pass, beyond the peaks on the far left.
In September, the apples in the orchard above the red car on the right side of the image have been picked and stored or shipped. US 97 travels south from US 2 between Peshastin and Dryden, over Blewett Pass, and down through Ellensburg. A September sky brightens the hillsides freckled with pines and fir trees growing randomly above the orderly orchard rows.
Near the intersection of US 2 and US 97, between Peshastin and Dryden, apple orchards dress up the old hills. A tall pine towers above fading apple crates, stacked and ready to be filled with the fall harvest. The area near Dryden was called Pine Flats because it was heavily forested with pine trees. The forests in the valley were harvested and much of the lumber was floated down the Wenatchee River to the Columbia and beyond to be used elsewhere. Some of the timber was used for constructing houses and farm buildings. The lumber was also needed to build the millions of apple crates needed to store and ship apples and pears.
US 2 heads west from the Big Y intersection, skirting Leavenworth, passing through Tumwater Canyon, over Stevens Pass, and down the west side of the North Cascades through Gold Bar, Startup, Sultan, and Monroe, to its beginning at I-5 in Everett. (The highlighted links lead to other blogs about US 2 crossing the North Cascades.)
A semi parks in a truck parking space on the shoulder of US 2/97 just east of the Big Y intersection near Peshastin. Leavenworth is four miles ahead on US 2, Wenatchee is 19 miles behind the camera on US 2/97. The exit ramp for US 97 is in the center of the image. The American Harvest billboard, right of center, advertises a cannabis shop in Peshastin.
The intersection where US 2 from Leavenworth to the west merges with US 97 from Ellensburg to the south is called the Big Y Intersection, though it is actually more of a Big T. A bus stop stands beside the off-ramp from west-bound US 2. US 97 connects under US 2 in the center of the image.
The Wenatchee River Valley is home to many orchards. Apples, pears, and cherries are abundant, and are central to the economy and livelihoods of the people who live in the valley. Small farms are also scattered along the river. Below, images of the Wedge Mountain Inn and the Big Y Cafe, both on the north side of US 2 and a short distance east of the Big Y Intersection, welcome hungry, tired travelers. A sheep pen and horse corral are tucked behind the motel and cafe. If you stay on the back side of the motel, chickens and a rooster from the farm will welcome you in the morning and evening.
Wedge Mountain Inn shines bright blue against the tan and green foothills and gray and green peaks of the eastern North Cascades. The Inn sits next to US 2, which runs beyond the front of the motel on the left, a short distance east of the Big Y Intersection and midway between Peshastin and Dryden.
Big Y Cafe in Peshastin opens early for coffee and breakfast. Beyond the cars of early diners, US 2 runs in shadow, on the left, as the hills behind are spotlighted under a sun break.
A sprinkler provides a morning shower to a grazing horse in a pasture just off US 2 in Peshastin.
A flock of sheep graze and rest in the early morning sun. The sheep pen is behind a motel east of Leavenworth on US 2 in Peshastin.
US 2 and US 97 merge at the Big Y intersection near Peshastin. The two highways travel together through the Wenatchee River Valley east from the Big Y for 17 miles to Wenatchee. This shot looks east from the Park and Ride parking just east of the intersection.
Dryden Avenue, 2.9 miles southeast on US 2 from the traffic light at Peshastin’s Main Street, travels into the community core of Dryden, south of the Wenatchee River. A residential area is spread on the north side of the river. An S-curve in the River splits the community. Dryden has a population of just under 400. Like Peshastin, the primary industry is growing, storing, and shipping tree fruit, mostly apples. Children attend the elementary school in Peshastin and middle and high school in Leavenworth. The schools are part of the Cascade School District.
Dryden Diversion Dam and Highline Canal
The eastern slopes of the North Cascades are in the Pacific Northwest rain shadow, receiving less than eight inches of rain per year. Though pine trees flourished on the upper slopes, the land becomes drier on lower slopes. Below Dryden, sage brush and rabbit brush are common and the land is desert-like without water. The hillsides and valleys of the Upper Wenatchee River Valley are fertile, but orchards and other crops need water. Orchardists and other land owners cooperated to fund,and dig a gravity-fed irrigation canal from the Wenatchee River at a site between Peshastin and Dryden. A diversion dam was engineered and built by W.T. Clark and Marvin Chase in 1902 and the canal was completed from Dryden to Wenatchee in 1903. The Wenatchee Reclamation District owns and operates the dam and 34 mile long canal, which is still gravity-fed, in 2021.
The Wenatchee River rolls over the low Dryden Diversion Dam in spring. The Dam is between Peshastin and Dryden and serves to divert river water to the Highline Canal, a gravity flow irrigation canal that serves the orchards along the Wenatchee from Dryden to Wenatchee and across the Columbia River to East Wenatchee. The dam and canal were completed in 1903.
The broad Wenatchee River flows from Lake Wenatchee to the Columbia River at the city of Wenatchee. Below Leavenworth, the river passes through a fertile agricultural valley, draped by fruit orchards and vineyards. The Wenatchee Reclamation Ditch carries water to orchards in that valley and in and irrigates Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. Dryden Diversion Dam, the rust colored structure, right of center in this image, is the beginning of that irrigation ditch system.
The historic Wenatchee Reclamation Ditch draws water from the Wenatchee River at Dryden and carries it through Wenatchee, across the Columbia River by pipe, through East Wenatchee, for 34 miles, all the way to Rock Island. The ditch irrigates orchards, farms, and family gardens along its route. Here, it passes Eastmont High School, the playing field is top center, in East Wenatchee.enatchee.
Many people travel US 2, over the North Cascades and east, up the Wenatchee River Valley and west. Big semis and family cars and farm trucks and pickups. If you have occasion to travel US 2, it will be worth your time to look around at the beautiful green valleys and treed hillsides and tall mountains, orchards and towns, around the communities of Peshastin and Dryden.
The images and text in this blog are copyrighted by me as Tom Cochran Vagabond Photography. The images are available for browsing and/or purchasing at a collection of my images at US 2 Tumwater Canyon to East Wenatchee. An extended blog describing communities and places along US 2 on the eastern slopes of the North Cascades is under construction.