Grand Coulee Dam
Average summer high 82
Just an hour-and-a-half drive east of chelan lies 12 million cubic yards of concrete evidence that all this talk of alternative energy sources is not just a thing of the future. Built in the 1930s and ’40s, and harnessing the waters of the Columbia River, Grand Coulee Dam (usbr.gov/pn/grandcoulee) is the largest producer of hydropower in the United States (yes, bigger than Hoover Dam)—and a perfect edutainment side trip on a visit to Lake Chelan. (One can only hang out on the beach for so long, right?)
After winding your way along the scenic, craggy eastern Washington landscape toward the dam, park at the visitor’s center, where you can marvel at the mechanics of the dam’s inner workings and pay homage to folksinger Woody Guthrie, who was commissioned to write songs about the building of the dam (strains of “Roll On, Columbia” echo throughout). For a close-up look at the generators, turbines, cranes and gravity-defying feats, take a free, 50-minute high-security tour (no purses or backpacks allowed), on which buses whisk you from the visitor’s center to the bowels of the plant, a remarkable setting that is right out of 1970s sci-fi/spy film.
The surrounding town is worth driving through if only to see the tiny identical white cozy cottages in which the dam builders once lived. There are plenty of places around the visitor’s center to partake of a picnic and soak in the sun, and there is even a laser light show (end of May through end of September only) against the dam wall, if you’re staying past dusk. Rachel Hart