I Really Blewett

In the 1870s, gold miners in central Washington began using a series of Indian trails to travel across the Wenatchee Mountains and between camps. As interest in the mines grew so did the trails, curving close around the side of the mountain and relying on switchbacks to offset the steepness of the terrain. In 1897, a Geological Survey made a map of the area and named this road “Blewett Pass.”

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Heading toward Dryden at Echo Point

In 1915, Governor Lister dedicated Sunset Highway, the state’s first safely passable route across the Cascade Mountains. Seven years later, it was re-routed to include Blewett Pass, which was designed as a two-lane dirt-and-gravel road with one-way concrete bridges. The pass was paved in 1925.

Although considered safely passable compared to its wagon trail predecessors, Blewett Pass was hardly a safe road. Built into the hillside, it was narrow and windy, filled with switchbacks, and dotted with “caution” signs. Despite the safety projects carried out by the CCC in the 1930s, by the mid-40s the road was too outdated for modern traffic.

In 1956, a new pass was constructed through Swauk Pass, resulting in the demolition of the town of Blewett. The new road boasted less curves (37 instead of 248), passing lanes, and shoulders. The road, known for years as Blewett Pass Highway, US 97, and Primary State Highway #2, was renamed Swauk Pass Highway.

In 1991, the Department of Transportation changed the Blewett Pass signs to Swauk Pass, sparking a local outrage. While the state and Federal Board of Geographical Names hoped to be geographically accurate, the locals refused to change the nomenclature of their road. The state relented in 1992, and officially changed the name and the signs back to Blewett Pass.

The Old Blewett Pass still exists, and portions of it can be seen from the new pass, Unfortunately, the lack of maintenance and decades of weather have taken their toll and much of the road has fallen into Peshastin Creek. The white center line and rock bridge abutments can still be seen.

The Forest Service maintains a 13-mile stretch of the road that includes Echo Point and the old summit. The road is open to traffic April through September.

I had the chance to travel this stretch of road Monday with my dad, who vaguely remembers traveling over the original pass as a small child. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my postcard along as a reference, but I think I did okay taking a modern-day shot of Echo Point.

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Echo Point, August 29, 2016

There are no more guardrails, and the surrounding flora looks a little different, but it was clear to tell when we had reached Echo Point. “How do you know?” my sister asked me. You just know.

If you park and walk a little bit off of the road, you can get a glimpse of the new road, a tiny look at the Red Top Mountain Lookout, and, of course, miles and miles of trees.

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The new pass viewed from Echo Point

This particular postcard, sent from Cle Elum in 1955, spells Blewett as “Blewitt.” Although sent when the road was considered dangerous and obsolete, the caption tries its best to romanticize the pass. The message, sent to Miss Dessie M. Dunagan in Ferndale, WA, reads as follows:

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BLEWITT PASS HIGHWAY AT ECHO POINT, WASH. The highway over this scenic mountain pass is one without a peer in breathtaking beauty and thrilling panorama.

“Dear Dessie May, I expect you are near home by now. I have been here two weeks: plan to stay until Armistice Day. Ralph will bring me home then. On the 9th we went to a golden wedding at Sunnyside. People they know. It rained hard all day. Heavy traffic in evening. Hunters going out to the (?). Some had deer. One bear. Hope you are well. Bye, Belva.”

Interestingly, the recipient of this postcard was the daughter of James Dunagan, a prominent farmer and mail carrier in Whatcom County. She was a graduate of the Whatcom Normal School (now WWU).

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