May 8, 2004
At the end of a quiet road, just a few miles outside the town of Leavenworth, WA, I turned into a small driveway. A drizzle of rain had started to fall, and I knew I needed to be in Idaho later that day. But I trust the recommendations of locals, and Leroy had insisted this was a side trip worth taking before leaving the area.
Sleeping Lady is tucked into a canyon in the Cascade Mountains. It’s one of those secrets that isn’t likely to be found through regular advertising channels. Nestled alongside Icicle Creek, this eco-friendly conference and retreat center offers a peaceful escape from the hectic pace of modern life, providing groups and individuals with time for regrouping and meditation.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the grounds, followed in the 1800s by early settlers. Stepping along the timeline, the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction buildings on the property in the 1930s and, for many years, it existed as Camp Icicle. In 1946 it became a private dude ranch, operating under the name of Icicle River Ranch. Former CCC barracks were dismantled and turned into smaller cabin units.
The ranch provided families with accommodations until 1957, when it became a youth camp, owned and run by the Yakima Diocese of the Catholic Church. With the import of a progressive-minded priest from the Spokane area, it soon became a thriving center for children. Father Joseph O’Grady, originally from Boston, was well-loved by the community. He encouraged free-thinking and musical creativity. Services were held in a newly-built chapel, as well as around an outdoor campfire.
In 1991, local resident Harriet Bullitt purchased the 67-acre property and Sleeping Lady, as it stands today, began. After several years of planning and construction, it opened in 1995.
Not for the budget-minded, individual accommodations start at $170., though off-season prices are sometimes available. Making these rates more reasonable, however, is the fact that three meals are included in the price, a value that seasoned travelers will quickly recognize. Use of the fitness center, sauna, pool, library, and recreation facilities is also included.
From the beginning, Sleeping Lady was formed with a focus on environmental awareness. The tables and bar counter in the cozy Grotto bar are made from recycled glass plates. The bar’s flooring uses salvaged heartwood yellow pine beams from the original Sears in Chicago. Additional wood on the property was obtained from the old city hall and library in town. Decks are made from hard wood chips and recycled plastic grocery bags. Food service waste is used for compost. The cellulose insulation in many of the walls is made from recycled paper products.
I decided it was worth a rain-drenched jacket and delayed Idaho arrival later that day to take the time to walk the grounds. Calming pathways meandered between cabins and activity centers, surrounded by clusters of pine trees, meadows of wildflowers, and whimsical, modern statues. An overwhelming sense of relaxation and renewal floated in the air. Occasionally conference attendees passed me on the trails, smiling and nodding as they walked by. It was evident that a community spirit had replaced the typical, tunnel-visioned daily lifestyle of the modern world.
I sauntered through the chapel building, browsed the gift shop, and gazed longingly at the sauna and dance facilities. I picked up a brochure in the lobby area and chatted briefly with the front desk attendant about the various programs offered, which include concerts and workshops in partnership with the on-site Icicle Creek Music Center.
I was tremendously impressed with Sleeping Lady and would have splurged for the chance to stay for a night, just to soak up the sense of renewal that hovered on the grounds. But with an appointment down the road—something I try to avoid on these trips, for exactly this reason—I knew I had to move on. I departed reluctantly and, after one more detour through the town of Leavenworth, headed for the Washington/Idaho state border.