Every year, around the time of Christmas, Leavenworth hosts tree lighting festival. We delayed our visit to make sure we attend the same in the snow and decided to visit on Dec 19. Fortunately, weather forecast predicted snow on 19th. I chose to take the scenic Highway 2 and WSDOT recommended snow chains/AWD for the drive. After my recent snow driving experience at Yosemite where I drove with snow chains, this time I wanted to try an all wheel drive and I made sure to book it before hand. It was a Ford Escape which provided us fun, exciting and a safe ride.
I, along with 4 other Cornell/Amazon friends, started at around 10.30 AM. After having brunch at Bothell Gurudwara we hit Highway 2 to begin our scenic ride. We were soon spellbound by the snow covered tall mountains along the route. Even though I had been on a snow drive just last month at Yosemite, I was equally mesmerized to see the snow covered mountains and trees. We decided to take a short break at a town to enjoy the scenery around us. We walked to the bridge which stood on a greenish river and wondered about the setting of the town amidst such beauty. After some time we started the drive again.
I drove on the streets of the town to get back to the highway but something scary happened here which helped me drive safely throughout the trip. Unaware of the capacity of traction I was negotiating a turn at quite a speed. This is when I lost control on steering. The car skid to the right and then to the left before getting under control again. Fortunately there were no other cars on the road and it wasn’t a major skid; it however taught me a lesson. After that I drove on the snow with utmost caution. The next 20-30 miles were hilly and covered with heavy snow. I drove carefully, mimicking other vehicles. Other vehicles either had snow chains or were AWDs or driving extremely slowly. Some vehicles zoomed past us and we wondered how were they able to pull it off. Although quite apprehensive at first, I found the drive exciting. We saw people skiing at Steven’s Pass and the mountain looked quite steep. Every driven mile increased my confidence and I was able to pick up speed and pass other vehicles. During single lane, a slower car would usually delay number of vehicles behind it which in a way was good by keeping everyone’s speed at check.
It was around 2:30 PM, by the time we reached Leavenworth and fortunately we found a parking spot at P4, right across the front street where the tree lighting was supposed to happen. There was snow all around and it was quite cold. Ithaca had taught me well to dress for cold and I was well prepared with layered clothing, cap, gloves, woolen socks and snow shoes. It was a very lively and fascinating atmosphere. The town itself was nestled between the tall snow covered mountains. The streets were lined with Bavarian styled shops and restaurants. There was snow all around and families were having fun time with kids sliding on board from higher areas. Christmas, a family festival was so evident here. Some people had dressed in costumes like angels and Santa. While my friends chose to go to a restaurant, I took stroll admiring the happenings and the architecture. I entered a shop called Kris Kringl which had numerous Christmas decoration items which looked shiny and cute. I liked the snowbabies the most.
After roaming for a while, I went to a nearby waterfront park along with a friend. It was a downhill to the river and people(adults) were sliding and it was fun watching them. There was a broken plastic slide laying around and I slid cheerfully and ended up breaking it into more pieces. I enjoyed being in the fresh snow and somehow felt being home. During my visit to California, i thought it was nice to have sunny weather but realized I like variations. After spending some time along the river admiring golden lights on houses we decided to go back to the front street. We choose to take shortcut instead and ended up climbing a 70-80 deg elevation which reminded me of final ascent in the Himalayas at Rupin Pass. It was around 4:30 PM and we unknowingly had made it to the front street just before tree lighting where everyone were eagerly waiting for the lights. There was a big Christmas tree with lights and decorations around it. After a countdown, first shops and restaurants were lit and then number of other trees. Apparently there were half a million lights, but it didn’t seem so. With the snow covered mountains in the background, lights all around and smiles on people, the town looked amazing. We entered a candy shop and had a delicious hot chocolate fudge. For the first time I was happy that it was dark so soon as we could see the lights and leave for Seattle soon.
My friends decided to take I-90 instead for the drive back. We took Highway 97 first and then hit I-90. There was even more snow on road and heavy snow fall to make things more exciting. I could see the heavy snow bombarding on the windshield which reduced the visibility to say 50-100 mts. We saw number of accidents on I-90 and the recommended speed was 35 mph. Steering wheel was literally shaking under my hands. We could see some cars skidding and going slowly. Holding our breath we covered the distance carefully and quite swiftly. It was one of the most interesting and exciting drives I have had. After driving a Mini Cooper previous week, I found the Ford Escape much more comfortable. With each mile I drove westwards, we felt a gradual rise in temperature from the initial -1C. There was no snow a few miles from Bellevue. We had dinner at Kanishka Cuisine and headed back to Seattle.
My experiences reminded me of the movie Polar Express and I had really loved it (By the way I wrote this post while watching it).