MARCUS, Stevens County – Saturday, Oct. 1 — Dennis Jenson was watching his machine do its thing. He poked at a drive belt, then...

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MARCUS, Stevens County – Saturday, Oct. 1 — Dennis Jenson was watching his machine do its thing. He poked at a drive belt, then adjusted a chute. He watched apples thunder down the chute, splash in the horse trough, then get scooped into wire baskets and rise dripping to the top of a Ferris-wheel sort of affair. The Ferris wheel then dumped them into a grinder that fed the slurry into the wood-slatted squeezy things, from which the juice went into one tank, then another, then got pumped through PVC pipes that went over the crowd’s heads like the Alyeska pipeline feeding freshly squeezed cider to the nice folks who were selling it for a buck a glass at the Cider Saloon, 15 feet away.

This was the annual Marcus Cider Festival, and Dennis Jenson’s baby makes it all happen.

Jenson, 63, an industrial electrician by trade, built the amazing cider-making machine.

“We used to do it by hand with a cider press and it took so many of us to do the hand cranking — 25 of us to put out 100 gallons, and it just seemed, well, that wasn’t the American Way!” he told me with a big grin. I’d made a special detour to this little town on Lake Roosevelt in apple-growing country — just for the cider.

What’s In a Name?

Sherman Pass was named, oddly enough, for THAT Sherman: the one who marched through Georgia. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Union army during the Civil War, came through the area in the 1890s on a final inspection tour of the West. It’s now believed he followed a route north of today’s Sherman Pass. (Extra trivia points if you already knew that U.S. Grant once served at an army post in Vancouver.

Ten years ago he built the machine, and now Jenson and his buddies can make 1,200 gallons during the one-day festival, the first Saturday of October. The profits go to the local volunteer fire department.

The machine not only makes lots of cider, it attracts spectators.

“I could have built a lot simpler cider press, but I had to have it be something to look at — more than a black box where apples go in and cider comes out,” Jenson confided.

So there are all sorts of moving parts, spinning wheels, belts, even a bicycle chain. It whirs and rattles. Apples tumble, bounce and squish.

I couldn’t help asking Jenson if he might have a few traits in common with Rube Goldberg, the fabled master of complicated contraptions.

Jenson smiled and nodded. “Yeah, I like Rube!”

P.S. The just-right recipe for cider the crowds love: mostly golden delicious, with a smattering of Jonathans thrown in for spice.

High point of the trip

Gas and mileage

Lowest gas price of the day: $2.98.9 at several stations in Colville.
Car of Discovery: 47.8 mpg today, 121 miles of driving from Republic to Metaline Falls.

Today, I felt like Lewis (or Clark) arriving at the Continental Divide. The Car of Discovery and I crossed Sherman Pass.

I’m an unabashed map junkie. Long ago I had pinpointed the highest paved highway pass in the state of Washington: Sherman Pass, elevation 5,575 feet. But I’d never crossed it.

I imagined a narrow road heading east out of Republic, winding to the sky before squeezing between two impossibly steep and pointed peaks, with St. Bernards standing by with brandy for the lightheaded.

It wasn’t quite like that.

The incline was deceptively gradual, and I almost drove past the Sherman Pass sign before stomping on the brake and pulling over.

It was chilly up there, I’ll grant you. (Thanks to the reader who warned, “If it’s raining in the North Cascades, it could be snowing at Sherman Pass.”) It wasn’t snowing, but at 36 degrees it didn’t need to get a lot colder.

Lining the highway, rock walls grew moss like the shag carpet I had in my bedroom when I was 15. Alpine fir, golden larches and a bit of drooping vine maple filled out the scene. Larches are as common here as Douglas fir in North Bend.

I locked the car and hiked for 20 minutes on the Kettle Crest Trail, the only place I’ve ever stopped to wonder what would happen if I encountered a cougar. The woods were quieter than a church on Monday morning. I remembered my horseback-riding guide in Republic telling a story about getting stalked by a cougar once.

That’s about the time I headed back to the car.

Beachfront, once upon a time

Just east of Sherman Pass at a scenic viewpoint a sign explained the area’s geology. The Kettle Range, which Sherman Pass crosses, was a product of volcanic action that raised the mountains out of an ocean millions of years ago. (So Sherman Pass was once waterfront property!) Glacial action and erosion rounded off the peaks, so this range is more like high bumps than the pokey peaks such as Mount Index on the way to Stevens Pass.

Geology 101 lesson for my day.

Autumn ahhs

All along this eastern half of Highway 20, the fall colors are spectacular. I’m constantly screeching to a halt so I can whip out my camera for yet another impossibly neon-orange colored aspen. It makes for slow going.

The Tree Army, and log flumes

An unexpected history lesson in these backwoods: I pulled off Highway 20 at a Colville National Forest marker to inspect the site of Camp Growden, a major work camp for the Civilian Conservation Corps from 1934-1941. The CCC, called “Roosevelt’s Tree Army,” helped bail America out of the Great Depression by hiring young people to work in the West’s national forests.

Historical markers tell how, for $1 a day each plus room, board and clothing, CCC workers in the Pacific Northwest built 677 lookouts, 85,000 miles of roads, 42,000 miles of trails and planted millions of trees.

Just a few miles down the highway, another Forest Service site told about log flumes built here along Sherman Creek in the 1920s so a Spokane timber baron could move logs downstream to the nearby Columbia River. Timbers that supported the flumes are still visible along the creek.

Two History 101 lessons for my day. Maybe it sounds hokey, but I love this. What better pastime than to poke along a scenic highway, pulling off at every chance to learn interesting stuff?

Metaline Falls

I’m in the historical Washington Hotel, circa 1906, in the quiet, charming little burg of Metaline Falls tonight – quiet except for the thunder that just rattled the windows! Just to give you an idea of how far in the north woods this place is, when you cross the bridge over the Pend Oreille River, you can either turn into town or turn left. Pointing left, the highway sign simply says, “Canada.”

Most businesses here don’t take credit cards. There’s no cash machine. One pay phone. (Good luck with cell-phone service.) In Cathy’s Cafe, I jumped when the phone actually rang – with a bell.

Oh – thanks, reader Don Brocha of Woodinville, for your tip on the Metaline Falls Trading Co. You’re right, they have everything under the sun, including a travel alarm clock (which I needed because my historical room is, well, historical). And though it’s about the most jumbled hardware store I ever saw, the charming couple that run it helped me find what I needed and sent me off with a smile.

Exploring a bit of Pend Oreille County tomorrow, then on to Spokane. See you then.

A note to readers

You folks are wonderful, with all your tips and even invitations to come to dinner or stay at your cabin. Thank you. And the roadside dining suggestions have been overwhelming. I’d weigh 400 pounds if I stopped at them all.

The technical logistics of this trip are challenging, which means its tough for me to keep up with my e-mail, read all your suggestions and keep up this crazy itinerary. So if I miss some good stops, forgive me. (I might not forgive myself for passing up the Cinnamon Twisp bakery, which a couple of you suggested. Wish I’d seen that tip sooner.)

Even transmitting my stories is tough in areas with no cell phone service, no internet cafes, and even limited access to public phones of any kind. This trip is a technological adventure, as well as a plain old adventure.

Reader tips

Here’s a selection of recent reader tips:

On Hwy 97, detour to Liberty to see a living ghost town.
— Sean Albright, Blaine, Wash.

You’re going to have to send him out again. The fact that he’s been to a county doesn’t mean he’s BEEN to a county. Tip: Dusty’s in Ephrata for a burger. Sorry he missed breakfast at the Branding Iron in Twisp. High quality diner food there.
— Doug Shirk, Wenatchee, Wash.

Chewelah is a small town — 2,600 pop in Stevens Co. We have the only 27-hole golf course east of the Cascades in Washington. Stop by to meet friendly people and play some golf. Stay at the Nordlig Motel. Try the Mia Casita for delicious Mexican food.
— Linda Jones, Chewelah, Wash.

See Charlie Potts in Walla Walla of the Temple Bookstore. He’s a brilliant mind, has a new book out of his selected writings and is a legend in Walla Walla. Enjoy!
— Paul Nelson, Auburn, Wash.

More reader tips »