Category Archives: NCW Roadside History

NCW Roadside History: The China Ditch

The China Ditch

The China Ditch area is located just south of Pateros, WA on the south side of the mouth of the Methow River. This was an area where early Chinese settlers set up a gold mining operation and in the late 1800’s dug a rather large ditch to bring water from the Methow River down past their gold mining area on the Columbia River. These early Chinese miners inhabited the area from the 1860’s to near the turn of the century.

China Ditch

Many of the miners fled the area or were killed when attacked by Indians from the Methow River region in 1875. Anti-Chinese sentiment saw most of these early settlers leave the area shortly thereafter, though there were some Chinese placer mine operations ongoing in other North Central Washington areas until just after 1900 (in places like Rock Island and the mouth of the Chelan River).

After the area was abandoned, the ditch was then used as irrigation for apple orchards before it was destroyed by a flood in 1948.

A Brief Look At The Tumwater Dam

The Tumwater Canyon Dam is located just west of Leavenworth in the Tumwater Canyon. It is just east of the popular candy store, The Alps. Thousands of motorists pass this spot daily on highway 2 heading east-west towards Stevens Pass, most never find out that for such a small dam it has quite a bit of history.

Tumwater Canyon Dam


Unbelievably, at the time of its construction (1907-1909), the Tumwater Dam was the largest hydroelectric dam west of Niagara Falls.

The hydroelectric portion of the Tumwater Dam closed in 1956 and the powerhouse (located about two miles downstream) was dismantled. The following year, the Tumwater Dam was purchased by the Chelan County PUD.

The original purpose of the Tumwater Dam was to provide electricity to power trains through the 12 mile long old Cascade Tunnel crossing Stevens Pass. Later, when a new tunnel was built, there no longer was a need for this power.

Water was carried the two miles downstream to the powerhouse in a penstock that eventually crossed the Wenatchee River via a bridge. The bridge still stands and is used for hiking purposes. The bridge is unique in that the upper part of the pipe has been cut away and the bottom part leveled so that hikers can cross the river.

The Tumwater Dam seems small and insignificant now, especially compared with the more sizeable dams here in the North Central Washington area, but in its day… it was not only impressive, but much needed.

See more pictures of the Tumwater Dam in our NCW Dams Gallery.

Mission Ridge: Ski Area And Historic Site

One of the unique things about skiing Mission Ridge near Wenatchee, Washington is that it is also the site of a military plane crash. In fact, non-skiers may not know that many of the ski area’s run names and geographic features are named for the semi-famous plane crash. Mission Ridge itself, like Mission Peak and Mission Creek, gets its name from catholic missionaries who served in the area during settlement times.

Welcome To Mission Ridge

On September 30, 1944 a flight crew flying a bomber from the Walla Walla army base crashed on the ridge after getting lost due to darkness and bad weather.

There is a section of the bomber’s wing mounted at the ski area (and people can still occasionally find other remnants of the wreckage) with a plaque on it saying:

“On a stormy night of September 30, 1944, Flight Crew 22, on a training mission from Walla Walla Army Air Base, found itself off course and lost above the rugged Cascade Mountain Range. They were flying a B – 24 “Liberator” Heavy Bomber. The night was rainy and the valley was enshrouded with heavy fog. Around 8:00 p.m. the Beehive Lookout reported Hearing the drone of a plane’s engines as it passed directly overhead. Within moments a fire was seen faintly illuminating the fog, alerting the lookout that the plane had probably crashed. Due to the darkness, weather, and terrain, search efforts were delayed. The next morning when a rescue party reached this rocky bowl, just 500 feet below the crest of Mission Ridge, they found the flames had been extinguished by the heavy rainfall from the previous night. Pieces of the wreckage were strewn hundreds of yards across the slope and the bodies of all six crew members were found. There were no survivors.”
Vets of Foreign Wars of the U.S., Mission Ridge,
Boy Scout Troop 5”

Some of the names that the Mission Ridge Ski Area has given in honor of the plane crash are; The Liberator Express Chair Lift, Bomber Bowl, Bomber Pass, Bomber Chutes, Bomber Cliffs, among others. Very few ski areas are also actual historic sites too.

NCW History – Japan To Wenatchee Flight Was A First

When Charles Lindhberg became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic, his flight took him from New York to the internationally famous city of Paris. The glitz and glamour of this moment was easily one of the biggest happenings of the first part of the twentieth century. Lucky Lindy leaving from the most populous area in the United States and landing his plane in the vicinity of the Eifel Tower in the renowned city of Paris, the circumstances lend themselves well to the accomplishment. What about the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean though? Was it Tokyo to Los Angeles? Hong Kong to Seattle? Maybe Sydney to San Francisco? No, the first non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean was accomplished by Clyde Pangborn and his navigator Hugh Herndon and began at Samishiro Beach, Japan and landed at Fancher Field above Wenatchee and East Wenatchee. That’s right, such a big aviation first ended right here in North Central Washington.

The two most unusual things about the Pangborn-Herndon flight are that it didn’t end in a major United State city as one might expect, and it also didn’t end along the coast as North Central Washington is quite a distance inland from the Pacific Ocean. Clyde Pangborn had been familiar with the area, although he had served in World War I and been a barnstorming pilot for a number of years; he was actually born in Bridgeport, Washington.

Fancher Field

The famous trip began as an attempt to break the around-the-world flight record, but after some delays the two men decided instead to answer to call of a Japanese newspaper and try to become the first to fly non-stop across the Pacific Ocean. The flight included a mechanical malfunction that had to be fixed by Pangborn exiting the cockpit and walking on the wing in 100 mile per hour winds at roughly 14,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. After a little over 41 hours in the air and 4,500 miles traveled, Pangborn set the small Bellanca plane down, named the Miss Veedol, on its belly at Fancher Field. It was quite a local sensation at the time, as most would imagine, to think such a small rural area would have a connection to such an international event was very exciting.

A monument was erected at Fancher Field and the name Clyde Pangborn is now famous all over the Wenatchee area. Thousands of travelers now fly in and out of Pangborn Memorial Airport, located just east of the city of East Wenatchee, on a daily basis. Clyde Pangborn went on to recruit airmen and fly in World War II, become an accomplished test pilot, sell airplanes for major aircraft manufacturers, and be buried in Arlington National Cemetary after his death; but there is still a great deal of local pride in the Wenatchee area all because of where Clyde “Upside-Down” Pangborn decided to land his airplane one day.

A working replica of Pangborn and Herndon’s plane, the Miss Veedol, has been constructed and is flown and toured from time to time.

There is a small model of the Miss Veedol that sits near the northern entrance to the city of East Wenatchee.

Miss Veedol

East Wenatchee and Misawa, Japan have established themselves as sister cities because of their shared ties to the Pangborn-Herndon flight across the Pacific Ocean.

View current day photos of what has become of the Fancher Heights area where the historic flight ended.

View photos of Wenatchee, East Wenatchee, and many other communities in our NCW Communities Photo Gallery.

The Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center

Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center

On the north end of Entiat, Washington is the Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center. The Interpretive Center is a work in progress at this point and hopes to act as a vehicle that can bring wildfire and firefighting information to the public. There are many features that are still in the planning stage at this point, but a trip to the Center is still very informative.

You can’t miss the old fire lookout structure that sits at the beginning of this roadside attraction. This is actually the original fire lookout that sat atop Chelan Butte for many years, beginning in the late 1930s, and was manned by personnel responsible for spotting wildfires and alerting fire crews.

Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center

The Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center is a half mile long gravel trail that takes you through typical Eastern Washington forest land and describes the effects of both wildfires and fire prevention techniques. Learn about the history of firefighting in the Eastern Cascade Mountains, what native trees are more resistant to fire and why, how our forests have changed because of our fire prevention techniques and even what happens when wildfires stray from forestland and approach urban development. The Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center provides a handy brochure with a map of the trail. There are currently 12 stops on the trail and at each one a new wildfire related issues is tackled.

As we stated earlier, the Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center is indeed a work in progress; there are plans for a visitor center and an outdoor amphitheater, among other things. They are continuing to seek support for this project and more information can be found at

If you are driving by on vacation, a road trip, or even just your normal commute; the Columbia Breaks Fire Interpretive Center is a nice little break from your journey and is conveniently located right of of Highway 97A on the north end of Entiat between Wenatchee and Chelan. The half mile trail is a good stretch of the legs and you can even learn something about wildfires and fire prevention.

NCW Roadside History Lesson – Methow Rapids U-Bolt

On the south end of the town of Pateros, Washington just on the north side of where the Methow River empties into the Columbia River sits a roadside marker next to a big rock.

Methow Rapids U-Bolt

During spring runoff, early sternwheelers would tie up to this U-bolt embedded in rock near Pateros and use a winch to pull themselves through the Methow Rapds area that was just south of where the Methow River empties into the Columbia River. Sometimes the cable linking the boat to this rock would stretch over a mile in length.

More roadside markers can be found in our Points of Interest Gallery

NCW Roadside History Lesson – Blewett Townsite

The Blewett Townsite sits on the north side of Blewett Pass on Highway 97. Most people who take the time to stop, pull off into the gravel parking lot and read the aging wood sign…

Blewett Townsite

But, beyond this roadside sign there is so much more.

Highway 97, which leads up and over Blewett Pass, runs directly through the center of what was once the town of Blewett. To find remnants of the town you’d have to look pretty hard these days. No structures are left within eyesight of the highway and very few off the beaten path as well. A few hundred feet down the road from this roadside marker, within walking distance from the same road that thousands drive on every day, is some real life history waiting to be found.

Blewett, like many communities in early North Central Washington history, was a mining community. Blewett had a reputation as a wild town, again like most mining towns of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. By most recollections the area was last seriously mined in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

There are many mine shafts that are relatively easy to access, some have been partially caved in while others have been completely caved in. Some mine shafts even exhibit signs of flooding from underwater water sources. The area is on National Forest land and it is recommended that people not enter the abandoned mines. There is a good amount of artifacts sitting around, old mining equipment and things like that. Most enthusiasts recommend not removing what may look like “junk” to some people as it is part of the area’s history.

The road you climb to and through the mining area is blocked at the start by a metal gate with signage that reads “no motorized vehicles allowed”. The road is very steep and makes an approximately 1000 foot gain in the first 3/4 to 1 mile.

A full day and then some can be found exploring this conveniently located slice of North Central Washington mining history. Please use caution around old mine shafts and machinery.

More roadside marker photos can be found in our Points of Interest Gallery.