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Sampling Snohomish County

Spend an afternoon browsing great roads close to home

If every ride is a story, then Snohomish County has a multitude of stories to tell. It offers an incredible variety of experiences for the road rider - everything from mountain highways with sweeping vistas to tight, twisty secondary roads like tunnels dug through the forest's dense green.

These rides are close to home for many Puget Sound riders: Snohomish County is only about a third as populous as King County, its neighbor to the south, so you don't have to get very far east of the Interstate 5 corridor before traffic begins to thin out, especially on the back roads. Today we'll ride a fine sample of Snohomish County's roads and never get more than about 20 miles (as the crow flies) from the shores of Puget Sound! The route covers only about 60 miles; if you take the suggested side tour eastward on US 2, you'll ride about 30 miles more.

We'll start today's ride from Monroe, which is only about 30 miles (by road, not air) from Seattle. Fuel for your mount is abundant on U.S. Highway 2, the Stevens Pass Highway, where it runs through town. So is fuel for yourself, if you're content with the usual chain-restaurant fare.

But part of the fun of riding, for me, is getting away from the beaten-track culture of standardized feeding stations and discovering new and different places to eat. If you've seen one set of Golden Arches, you've seen 'em all!

Your roving reporter has not sampled Monroe's restaurants: none of them has ever tugged at me with the appeal, sometimes subtle and mysterious, that pulls me off my bike and through the door. I've spotted a couple of eateries you might want to try on Main Street (turn south on Lewis St. at the east end of town; Main is the second or third light). But the town's restaurants suffer from competition close by. Probably the best place to catch breakfast or lunch is the Maltby Caf�, on State Route 524 just off SR 522. (Go east on 524 toward Maltby; look for the caf� on the right. When you come back to SR 522, note that a couple of filling stations are tucked away on Paradise Lake Road, on the opposite side of the highway.) You might have to wait for a table at the Maltby Caf�; Snohomish also has a couple of decent places to eat, and we'll get to them later in the day.

You'll need to bring a map to help with your explorations. The King of the Road map entitled King County/Snohomish County is a good basic guide, and it shows all the roads we'll traverse on this ride. Note, however, that the map incorrectly labels some of the roads. Where it makes a difference, I'll give you the road names as stated on the crucial road signs. If you later decide Snohomish County merits careful exploration, you'll probably want DeLorme's Washington Atlas & Gazetteer and the Thomas Guide for Snohomish County.

A Snohomish County Classic

Our ride begins with one of Snohomish County's classics: Ben Howard Road. If you're in Monroe, proceed south out of town on SR 203 (Lewis St.); Ben Howard is the second road south of the Skykomish River. Turn east here.

Ben Howard Road introduces a theme that is prominent in the "story" of today's ride. The theme is visibility - or, rather, the lack of it. At many points along Ben Howard Road and others we'll traverse today: trees, fences, rocky outcroppings, shrubbery, and underbrush all crowd in close to the margins, restricting sight lines; curves and hazards are not always well marked. Deer, furthermore, wander onto the roads at any time of day, and they seem to ignore the signs marking their designated road crossings, choosing instead to cross on their own ineffable whim. Stay alert.

Speaking of hazards, the deputies of Snohomish County and Sheriff Rick Bart have acquired a reputation for diligence. Speed traps are not common, but the roads are regularly patrolled. Again, stay alert.

Ben Howard Road roughly parallels the meandering Skykomish River. Sometimes it runs through the peaceful farmlands along the river bottom; other times it climbs a hillside above the banks, giving great views of the river below. If the day is clear, we ride through a flicker of sun and shadow. As the road winds through hills and bluffs above the river, it challenges just enough to demand all our attention at quasi-legal speeds.

It's a beautiful road, but the story is over all too soon. About eight miles east of the intersection with SR 203, we arrive at a stop sign. The crossroad is 311th Ave. SE, and the road ahead is marked DEAD END. A left takes us through another mile or so of countryside 'til we arrive at an intersection with US 2, right in the middle of Sultan.

A Taste of the Cascade Loop

Now's one of your chances to add your own sub-plot to today's story. US 2 is, of course, the southern leg of the justly renowned Cascade Loop , a 400-mile circuit of some of Washington's - no, the world's - most beautiful mountains. You needn't do the whole loop, though, to enjoy the alpine vistas. In fact, you can get some great views of the Cascades without even leaving Snohomish County.

When I decide I need some mountain air but don't have time to do the entire Cascade Loop, sometimes I'll head east on US 2 as far as time permits One of my favorite turnaround points is the Espresso Chalet, about 13 miles east of Sultan just east of the turnoff for Index. The chalet serves good espresso, along with locally made cookies and other snacks, but don't expect anything more substantial. The place has a laid-back, funky kind of charm: a chain-saw style sculpture of Bigfoot, smiling and cuddling a raccoon, welcomes you to a small "park" where you can sit at a picnic table and admire the gray grandeur of the Cascades, which, even in summer, are dappled with snow on their high northern slopes. There's also a shady seating area behind the espresso "chalet" (more like a shack). It's a good place to get in out of the sun, but it's easy to overlook: I never spotted it till I'd been there several times.

A wide selection of burgers and other foods, most from the fried part of the spectrum, is available at Zeke's Drive In, just east of Gold Bar. I stopped there once and chose an ostrichburger from Zeke's array of sandwiches. The girl at the window told me ostrich meat had 97 percent less fat than beef, which seemed like a good idea. When my order arrived I realized that a fat-free burger was about like fat-free potato chips: lacking something essential. Like the Espresso Chalet, Zeke's also provides picnic tables and sheltered space for customers, and the views from the tables somehow makes the food worthwhile.

The mysterious appeal was very powerful when I rode past the Trailhead Caf�, in Gold Bar. I've never tried it, but it seems to do a brisk business. The sign out front advertised catfish and hushpuppies when I passed by the last time, and I was sorry I had already had dinner. Maybe it was the word "hushpuppies" that gave the place its mysterious appeal.

Lake Roesiger and Granite Falls

If you decided to sample the Cascade Loop, you're now coming back into Sultan from the east on US 2. If you decided not to take the side trip you're still at the intersection in Sultan, and should turn left. Go about a half mile west of 311th Ave. SE. Turn right at Old Owen Road, follow it till you see the signs for Reiner Road, and turn right there.

Reiner Road toodles along for a few miles in bucolic country-road fashion. Eventually, you'll pass through a little cluster of houses - hardly even a village - and arrive at a stop sign, and find that the road has changed its name to Old Pipeline Road. Proceed straight through the stop sign.

This segment of Old Pipeline Road soon enters forest so thick and green you would think you're driving through a rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula. But then the road crests a hill and you pop out into the immense clearing that surrounds a power station. The power-line right-of- way stretches far in either direction, with angular towers holding aloft the gently curving wires. Then you suddenly dive again into a forest that's not exactly primeval, judging from the tree stumps, but thick and lovely and whose cool shade is satisfying on a hot day.

Old Pipeline Road ends at Bollenbaugh Hill Road. Turn right, and follow Bollenbaugh to its intersection with Woods Creek Road. This section is a little more open than Reiner, Old Pipeline, and other roads we've been on recently.

Turn right at the intersection with South Lake Roesiger Road if you'd like to cruise past this charming little "residential lake" crowded around with cottages and vacation homes. At the junction with Southwest Lake Roesiger Road, bear right, staying on South Lake Roesiger Road, to see the east side of the lake and to visit Lake Roesiger Park. It's a small park, offering little besides picnic tables and public restrooms (and at-your-own-risk swimming, if you really need to cool off), but it's a good place to take a break and watch the water for a while.

If you want to turn south now, at the north end of the lake you can turn left onto 239th Ave. and head south to pick up Dubuque Road.

But if you do that, you'll miss another example of the diverse stories Snohomish County can tell the rider. Lake Roesiger seems to be a rural suburb of Everett; north of the lake, however, the roads begin to feel more remote; most of the side roads are gravel, and signs indicate that almost all end at some small lake or campsite. Ever since we left Sultan we've been gradually climbing out of the Skykomish River valley. We're heading up into the mountains.

Continue straight on North Lake Roesiger Road through the intersection with Robe Menzel Road; the road becomes Lake Menzel Road at that intersection and leads into the east side of the little town of Granite Falls.

Granite Falls is a starting point for a ride I want to take someday: along the Mountain Loop Highway, which climbs eastward, roughly paralleling the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River, finally attaining Barlow Pass (2361 feet) about 30 miles outside of Granite Falls. From there the route heads north at the feet of Sheep Mountain (6120), Sloan Peak (7790), and others. It also passes near the once famous Twin Peaks, which, ironically enough, stand next to Mt. Forgotten. Soon, the Mountain Loop Highway enters an area designated the "Skagit Wild and Scenic River," even though here it is the Sauk River you ride along. The other end of the loop is at Darrington, from which you can head west toward the Sound, or continue north to pick up State Route 20 - the north segment of the Cascade Loop - having bypassed the less-interesting flatlands that lie along 20 to the west of Rockport.

Lake Menzel Road (called Anderson Road on the King of the Road map) enters Granite Falls at E. Pioneer St. Turn left at the main road, Granite Ave., or right to find fuel and snacks in the old downtown. The Spar Tree Tavern, on W. Stanley St. just west of Granite, offers a tongue-in-cheek comment on the dangers of drinking and riding (right).

Go right (west) on Dubuque Road to start your approach into Snohomish. The road is fairly open here, and you might find it relaxing after the twistiferous segments we've done recently. Soon, however, we encounter the congestion outside of Snohomish.

Where Dubuque ends at Machias Road, turn left. If it's a nice day you'll likely see skaters and pedal-bikers on the Centennial Trail, which begins in Snohomish and here parallels Machias Road - and continues north from here for at least another 15 miles, all the way to Arlington!

Old Snohomish

Machias runs into Maple Ave., which you can follow into town. Turn right at First Ave., the main drag, to visit the "old town" of Snohomish. That part of town has quite a few restaurants and taverns, in case you've worked up an appetite on the roads we've ridden today. If you like to dine alfresco, you can eat at a picnic table on the open patio of Chuck's Seafood Grotto, which has a great selection of you-know-what. Or get something to go and walk down to the riverbank, where the town has provided quite a few benches and picnic tables, as well as a small park.

My favorite place to eat in Snohomish is the Rivertown Alehouse. Its well-rounded menu includes sandwiches, pasta, and old faves like meatloaf, as well as a number of decent microbrews.

Home Again

The most direct route back to where you live is apparent from the map. If you're heading for the south end of the Sound, though, why not prolong the pleasure? Go east out of town on First St., and right (south) on Lincoln Ave., to take the Old Snohomish-Monroe Highway back to Monroe. Continue past SR 522 into Monroe, where the highway runs into Main St. Continue through town to Lewis St., and turn right to go south out of town on SR 203. After you cross the Skykomish, resist the urge to ride Ben Howard Road one more time. Instead, follow 203 into Duvall, and pick up Cherry Valley Road just north of town, and work your way south along the Snoqualmie Valley to Interstate 90 (see "The Roads of Snoqualmie Valley" in the archives).

As for myself, I'm heading home to get some work done, and I'm counting the days 'til I can ride that Mountain Loop Highway. I want to see whether it's as good as it looks on the map!

Bill Nolan/Summer 00

Bill Nolan is a local rider, member of WMRRA and regular contributor to Sound RIDER!.

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