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Interesting Places

brian next to brake wheels at monte cristo
brian next to brake wheels at monte cristo

I like outdoorsy stuff: Hiking, Camping, Bicycling, and various other things. Being that I am an engineer/nerd/geek too, and I have an interest in local history, I like to seek out old ghost towns, mines, and railroad structures on my expeditions out into the woods and mountains. There are a plethora of such sites in Washington and surrounding states. Sometimes there is very little remaining evidence of the early industry and human influence in these areas, and other times there is quite extensive remains.


Nearly all of these places involve hiking or mountain biking to access them, at varying degrees of difficulty, but any reasonably fit person can get there. Furthermore most of these places are within a range for a day trip from Seattle.

Note that I don't intend these pages as a guide to how to find these locations. As far as I am concerned, that is half the fun. I will provide some details as to what I know of, and my impressions of the sites as well as their general locations, but I will leave it up to you to find them if you are interested. Of course, some are well known already and you won't have any problems at all, while others are more obscure.

Please Note: All of these places are of historical interest as they harbor the artifacts of early industry: Logging, Mining, Railroad Structures, and other early industrial activities. Many of these artifacts are fragile and must be treated with respect to avoid being destroyed or lost forever. Once they are gone, they are gone. In fact, Ours is probably the last generation that will have the opportunity to see wooden structures from the turn of the last century, at least within western washington. Tread lightly, and leave things as you found them to avoid accelerating the decay and loss of these artifacts. Respect private property as well. I do encourage you to take many, many pictures. You never know if you will be the last person to document a building, bridge, or piece of machinery before it collapses, burns, is buried by a landslide, washed away by flood, or is stolen or vandalized.

Also: Be aware of the inherent risks of sites like these. Open pits and shafts at mines, unstable buildings and bridges, rotten pilings and cribbing, cave-ins, floods, agressive animals, rusty jagged metal fragments, nutcase hermits with shotguns, and chemical contaminants from ore processing are only some risks. Use your common sense and you should be fine, but I (of course) have no control (and thus no resposibility) over how you conduct yourself.

I will summarize each location briefly below. You can follow the links for more details and pictures as appropriate.

Sites Within Washington

Duwamish industrial waterway

This is your chance to view abandoned industrial artifacts without ever leaving the city of Seattle. You will need a Human Powered Amphibious Recumbent Tricycle. (Or a kayak) You will also need to watch out for submerged pilings, and stay out of the way of barges and native fishermen. Exploring the Duwamish industrial waterway will reveal evidence of huge wharves and docks that no longer exist, as well as several half sunk and abandoned wooden barges that likely date to the turn of the last century. There are also several wetland/estuary areas to explore, some involving Pedalling or Paddling through drainage pipes at low tide to access. There are several parks along the waterway as well that provide some refuge for wildlife as well as humans, in addition to places to launch your boat. (Or bike). Bicycle trails, though somewhat disjoint, follow nearly the whole length of the waterway from downtown Seattle south to the cities of Tukwila, Renton, Kent, and Auburn. There is also a quite large urban greenbelt within the city limits of Seattle that borders the Duwamish and has hiking and mountain biking possibilities. The Duwamish Industrial Waterway also cuts right through the South Park Neighborhood of Seattle, so you just might bump into me.

Friend Joe alongside huge retaining wall on the Great Northern Railroad Route
Friend Joe alongside huge retaining wall on the Great Northern Railroad Route

Great Northern Railroad Route

In the late 1800's and early 1900's, the Great Northern Railroad Route was built over Stevens Pass in the North Cascades of Washington State. This was a difficult route, and in order to combat the terrain and conditions, many large snowsheds, tunnels, and trestles were built. Many of these very impressive structures are still visible and safe to enter today. Of course other structures (notably some of the tunnels) are death traps. Use your judgement, or if you don't trust that, obey the signs. Today the route is easily accessible and maintained as the Iron Goat Trail. It is a long-ish but easy hike along the route. The townsite of Tye exists at the western end of the main tunnel under the pass, but very little remains except foundations. This railroad route was abandoned in the 1920's when a much longer, lower altitude tunnel was completed to bypass all the problematic terrain.

Goat Lake Wagon Road

This hike is on the other side of a ridge from much of the ruins of Monte Cristo. Though fairly light on industrial ruins, it is a very nice combination mountain bike ride and hike. The hike used to be less than two miles due to easy access from a spur of the Mountain Loop Highway, but washouts along the loop that have not (and probably will not) be repaired have rendered it much more remote. A mountain bike ride of seven or eight miles along overgrown forest service roads takes you up to the wilderness boundary. Then, a short, moderate hike takes you up to Goat Lake, with several camping options. Several sections of the trail are obviously old, unmolested wagon road, complete with wooden planking still visible. There were mine buildings constructed on the opposite side of the hill above Goat Lake, where mines from Monte Cristo punched clean through the mountain, but I was unable to access or see any visible evidence of them at the lake.

Hamilton Logging Railroad

About two hours north of Seattle in Washington State is the small town of Hamilton. It got its start, as did many such towns along the foothills of the Cascades, as a logging town. An extensive network of rail lines into the mountains were constructed to access the timber nearby. Many trestles were built, as was an "incline" which was a very steep ramp with a huge steam winch at the top, which was used to drag entire trains straight up and down the side of the mountain, to avoid having to construct endless switchbacks. I have visited the incline site (as near my friend Brad and I could determine) and though we found bits of rail, pipe, and other such things that suggested we were in the right place, no obvious grading or other evidence of it was present. The steam winch was still in place as late as the 1980's, but has since been moved off the mountain and is now in the town. There is a huge heap of cables on a levelled off area on the side of the hill where we belive the hoist was located. Also in the area are many remnants of the old trestles. Many of the vertical piles (simply entire trees that were cut off and pounded into the ground) are still there, and the occasional piece of cross bracing or horizontal timbering is still standing. We also found the sites of a couple of logging camps, with dishware, trash, and tools lying around. Also of interest were early wooden range and township survey markers. We found several, still standing and legible, next to the railroad grades. The area was obviously largely untouched since the loggers left in the teens and 20's. Unfortunately the area, still owned by timber companies, is ripe for harvest again, and may well have been logged off again by now. In doing so it is likely that many of the trestles, with their highly unstable piles, were toppled for safety. Even if the area is not disturbed, the trestle ruins are not going to stand much longer. They are already mostly rotted away. Historical books with lots of pictures are available that focus solely on logging in the Hamilton area. A steam excursion train still runs in the area as well.

Stables/Barn at Lester Townsite.
Stables/Barn at Lester Townsite.

Lester Townsite

Located just east of the City of Tacoma watershed along the route up to Stampede Pass in Washington State, The town of Lester was supported by the railroad and logging industries. When Tacoma began acquiring surrounding lands for the watershed, and with advent of more reliable trains, the town began to die off and has been largely bought up and levelled by the city authorities. However, there are still several homes and other buildings still standing, and which can be explored. There are few actual ruins aside from bulldozer-chewed foundations, due to actions of the city. Rummaging around through the trees and bushes will yield evidence of many more buildings and other signs of humanity, long absent now. It is obvious that glass bottle hunters love the area, but if you are going to do that, at least pick an obscure corner well away from standing buildings, and fill your damn holes in. It is possible to drive most of the way to the townsite, coming from the east. However the last couple miles are closed to automobiles and bicycles from the general public, so plan on walking in. If you go in late summer, plan on collecting huckleberries up on the pass.

Melmont Townsite

Melmont was a coal mining town that was built on the northwest flanks of Mount Rainier. It had a rail line that was used to haul out the coal and probably lumber as well. I don't know a whole lot about the site. There is little left today except for a few interesting foundations (one a schoolhouse, and another probably a hopper or watering structure for the railroad). There are some earth works visible and a lot of evidence of garbage dumping around as well. There is one mine tunnel that I know of. The walk in along the carbon river on the abandoned rail route is very muddy, but flat and pretty short. Walking in also affords you an interesting perspective on the large steel bridge built for the access road into the national park as you pass underneath it.

The nearby town of Carbonado dates to the same era, and is obviously an old company town with many identical cottage-like homes and a few surviving wood frame municipal and commercial structures. The footings of a large mill are located at the edge of town. The also-nearby town of Wilkeson is a bit larger and sports an interesting main street, old homes and some abandoned railroad bridges in the middle of town.

Due to the proximity to Mount Rainier national park, there are lots of hiking and camping opportunities in the area as well. Also nearby is the Evans Creek ORV park, for those who like offroad motorsports.

ore cart at mercury mine site near Snoqualmie River, middle fork
ore cart at mercury mine site near Snoqualmie River, middle fork

Middle Fork Snoqualmie River

About an hour east of Seattle, there is a road that follows the middle fork of the Snoqualmie river many miles up into the foothills. The road provides access to many hiking and camping options, as well as access to some interesting early industrial sites. There is such a plethora of interesting sites and good hikes and mountain bike ride options that despite a couple of dozen trips up there, I still have not fully explored all it has to offer. Some of the highlights are an abandoned mine site (mercury, I belive). It is unmarked and unadvertised to the public, but is owned by the Washington State mineral council. They have taken the "anonymity is its best defense" approach. While there is nothing too exceptional about it, the tunnel can be found, along with footings from the shaft house and some bits and pieces of machinery including a large water tank and a couple mine carts. I had heard that a couple rail cars were still stitting at the site waiting to take ore back down to the town, but my (abbreviated due to encroaching cold and dark) visit did not reveal these. It could be the reference was to the mine carts. Another interesting feature of the area is an abandoned CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) road that forks off from the middle fork road and goes diagonally back to the nearby town of North Bend. The road is totally abandoned along several miles of its route, and has a few artifacts and some interesting views along the way. I followed the entire abandoned route on my mountain bike, but it is sufficiently overgrown that it is a serious bushwhack and walking would have been better. There is also several well preserved logging railroad grades in the area, but only hints of the trestles that were constructed. The area is extremely beautiful and very easy to access from seattle.

railroad turntable at Monte Cristo townsite.  Can still be turned.
railroad turntable at Monte Cristo townsite. Can still be turned.

Monte Cristo Townsite and Mines

Monte Cristo was a mining town that was founded in the late 1800's, after a series of mineral wealth discoveries in the surrounding North Cascades region of Washington State. Many mines were developed around it, and some are still accessible today. Overhead tramways carried ore from the mines down to a concentrator mill at the townsite. A very problematic railroad was built to carry ore and lumber down to mills in the town of Everett. The town survived in various forms for a few decades, enduring severe weather, economic downturns and upturns, and various other hardships typical of the era. It ended its life as a resort. Today, there are remnants of the mining and railroad structures scattered over a fairly wide area. A few buildings are still standing at the townsite, most are either privately built cabins that aren't original to the town, and small cabins that were built for the resort. Much of the townsite and some of the mines are still privately owned, but as long as you respect the cabins you basically have the run of the place. The area is beautiful, and has plentiful hiking and camping options, and much of it is difficult enough to reach to keep the crowds down, though the townsite itself is an easy mountain bike ride or hike in, mostly following the old railroad grade. Monte Cristo and the surrounding region is one of my favorite areas for hiking and camping. If you would like an in-depth read on Monte Cristo, look no further than the book "Monte Cristo", by Philip R. Woodhouse.

Milwaukee Railroad Route

The milwaukee road built a rail line over Snoqualmie Pass, south of Stevens Pass. The route is lower altitude, and as such less complicated. It was only abandoned in the early 80's. Today it is maintained as the Iron Horse Trail, and it is an excellent long-distance but low-challenge mountain bike ride. You will pass over several large trestles, past rock climbers, and through the several-mile tunnel at the summit (closed in winter). Watch for bears. I've seen more up there than anywhere else. Don't know why. There is also a small section of wooden snowshed still standing. More was standing up until a few years ago, when it was torn down and burned, presumably due to instability. The rail route is part of a cross-state trail, so it continues east past the summit and can provide for some intersting experiences. Just bring sufficent supplies to repair your bike, and enough food and water for a 40 to 100 mile ride depending on where you start and where you turn around, as most of the route is pretty remote and services are nonexistent. Bring a headlight and a jacket for the tunnel. I've played "bat" and ridden through the tunnel by sonar (you can hear/feel the difference when you are close to a wall) but I don't recommend it.

remains of track layer car at Tiger Mountain
remains of track layer car at Tiger Mountain

Tiger Mountain Train Wreck Site

Early mechanized logging in the pacific northwest used steam trains for hauling timber out of the forests. Locomotives were purpose built with extra low gearing and designs that allowed for hairpin turns and rough tracks and steep grades. The Shay, Climax, and Heisler were the most common logging locomotives. Of course, occasionally things went wrong.

Tiger mountain is a 3000-ish foot peak only an hour or so east of Seattle, and it was crisscrossed with logging railroad grades in the early 1900's. I don't have the details in front of me (search the Seattle Times Archives for an article) But a maintenance train was returning from salvaging useful equipment from a logging camp that had been burned, when its brakes failed. The train went out of control and derailed on a curved trestle, sending its locomotive and three cars (a passenger car, flatcar and a track layer) flying.

Today, some bits and pieces of several trucks (the wheel thingies under the railroad cars), some unidentifiable bits, and the chihuly-esque twisted remains of the track layer are what is left. The locomotive was salvaged. The railroad grade is still clearly visible as is the position of the trestle, though the wooden trestle itself is nearly all gone.

Also, the logging camp site can be found, and has evidence of bunk beds, cooking equipment, and some very worn out Climax locomotive brake shoes. Hmmm. The site is near, but not on, any maintained trails. Many trails on Tiger mountain and the surrounding vicinity follow old logging railroad grades, and the occasional artifact such as a piece of rail or other items can be seen. There is also the very-skeletal wreck of what I believe to be a "galloping goose" (a gasoline powered bus converted to run on rails) On the same mountain.

steam locomotive upside down in Wynoochee River
steam locomotive upside down in Wynoochee River

Wynoochee River Train Wreck Site

This is another train wreck site in Washington State. This one is located south of the Olympic National Park, in the Wynooche River Gorge. This wreck was staged for a movie called "Ring of Fire" which was released in 1961. While wreck was staged, the steam locomotive and two passenger cars are real, and are still there. The location is unmarked, but can be driven out to. It is a short but treacherous climb down into the gorge to get up close to the wreck. Alternatively, exploration along the edge of the gorge will reveal views of the locomotive (upside down in the river) and cars (standing on end on the side of the gorge). If you decide to go, get your map, mark some suspicious locations, and get your GPS-fu on. That's what I did. Also, go during late summer or fall so that water levels are as low as possible, otherwise the locomotive will not be visible at all. There are a few footings and timbers from the trestle left behind, but most of it has either burned or washed away. There are other railroad ruins and still-standing trestles in the area that I have not yet explored. DO NOT go during times when rain is in the area, there is a dam upstream that may release water without warning.

Sites Outside Washington

brian and brad at Doreleska stamp mill
brian and brad at Doreleska stamp mill

Doreleska Mine Site

Located in the Trinity Alps region of northwestern California, The Doreleska mine is one of hundreds that were built during the gold rush in this area, dating from the mid to late 1800's. This remote, abandoned mine site is accessed via a long, dusty, bumpy drive on Coffee Creek road, past ranches and small private placer mines, and then a moderate to difficult (depending on your abilities) hike of several miles, that comes in over the old miner's trail, through one fairly impressive mine site, and over a ridge, and back down to the excellent Doreleska mine site. There is another hiking route in as well, that is longer but possibly requires less hill climbing, but I have not tried it.

Doreleska is quite impressive, with lots of old machinery and building ruins, including a 10-stamp mill with the boilers, steam engines and stamp frames still in place, all set in footings carved out of solid rock on a hillside. The site is well worth the effort if you are anywhere nearby.

Incidentally, the nearby town of Weaverville has a very impressive historical museum containing many artifacts relating to mining and daily life of the era. It is free, but well worth stuffing something in the donation box. The museum includes a complete, fully functional steam powered two-stamp mill that was salvaged from one of the more obscure mines in the area before vandals could get to it. Ther are other interesting attractions in the town as well, including the Joss House, a well-preserved temple built by local Chinese work force despite the unfortunate but typical resistance of the local white population at the time.

old trucks abandoned at Jawbone Flats townsite
old trucks abandoned at Jawbone Flats townsite

Jawbone Flats Townsite and Mill

Jawbone Flats is another old mining town, located east of Salem, Oregon along Opal Creek. I like to refer to it as "Oregon's Monte Cristo". Like Monte Cristo, Jawbone Flats was a town that was built because of surrounding mineral wealth, but eventually died out for various reasons. I don't know as much about the history of the region, except today it is within a natural preserve area containing a lot of virgin timber, that was the subject of some controversy that made national news a while back. The townsite itself contains a plethora of old machinery, early trucks, steam equipment, some old buildings and some new, and other interesting items. There is a mill site that dates to the 70's and represents the last concerted mining efforts in the area. Much of the area immediately surrounding area around the townsite is off limits, but there are many other hikes and camping opportunities in the area. There are also some impressive ruins from a large sawmill that operated nearby, including a very large boiler form a decomissioned warship, and some big pieces of machinery. Access is again, an easy/moderate hike or bike ride in over the sometimes-dodgy access road. Unlike Monte Cristo, this area isn't explicitly labelled on any maps that I have, though it is probably well known to locals, and there are full-time caretakers at the townsite.