MAZAMA, Wash. — In one of the most beautiful places on earth, you'll find one of the world's most exhilarating drives. It's officially designated as NF-5400, but most of the locals call it Hart's Pass Road, the highest-altitude location in Washington state where you can drive a car.
The journey begins in the Methow Valley town of Mazama, where local worker Alex Perz answers lots of visitors' questions about the road to Hart's Pass, like Why is one particularly treacherous section called Deadhorse Point?
"I don't have that answer," Perz said with a laugh. "But when you get up there you might have an idea."
You're in for a few bumps on this mostly unpaved 20-mile drive. But the scenery more than makes up for it, if you have the guts to take in the view. Deadhorse Point? Its hairpin turns overlook a thousand-foot drop.
You'll pass fields of wildflowers, or the occasional "rock garden" in your path.
"There's sometimes rocks in the road and you have to be mindful," Perz warned.
"You get avalanches and everything," said Cory Heuer, an avid outdoorsman who's driven Hart's Pass Road in every season.
He recently escaped to this breathtaking landscape to hike and camp after recovering from surgery.
"It's very healing for me. The mountains have saved my life."
But not everyone finds the same sort of solace in ascending Washington state's highest road, a one-lane test of courage.
"I was talking to one of the park rangers, and she says, 'You know I can't even get my workers to come up here. They're so scared of the road,'" Heuer said.
But if you do brave these wuthering heights you'll find a prize at the very end: A short trek on foot up Slate Peak. At a nearly 7,500-foot altitude, it's the highest fire lookout in the state, an eye-pleasing reward for a stomach-churning drive high above America's most beautiful state.
"I would highly recommend to anybody that's brave enough to make it up here to come on up," Heuer said. "It's a fantastic place."