|Exploring the Washington Cascade
Exploring mines, ghost towns, and abandoned railroads.
|June 27-30 2003
|Last Update: February 18, 2005
|For Four days, my friend John and I, using my truck, explored several mining areas of the eastern
Washington Cascades as well as ghost towns, abandoned railroad tunnels, tracks and trestles, and
one fire lookout. This trip was one of the most interesting so far.
|Day One - June 27, 2003
|On this trip, John and I would explore the Cascade Mountains up north in the great state of Washington.
Washington may not contain some of the vast remote areas of southeastern Oregon, but it does contain just as
much, if not more history to explore. Especially old railroads and mines. On this trip, we spent only a little time off
roading. Most of our adventures that took us off road, required that we mountain bike or hike into areas that were
gated to vehicles. Exploring these harder to reach areas, rewarded us with numerous interesting sites to explore.
On most of our trips, we leave the night before and drive for several hours, so that we are within a few hours reach
of our first destination by the morning of the first full day of the trip. Unfortunately, we were unable to leave
Portland until the morning of the first day. After not being able to leave until late morning, we spent a good deal
most of the day driving from Portland to our general area of exploration. Our initial destination would take us to the
Liberty and Blewett Mining areas of the eastern Washington Cascades. But we had one detour to take in an effort
to find a long ago abandoned railroad tunnel in Boyleston, Washington. What we would find would greatly surprise
To reach this area of Washington from Portland, Oregon, we drove east on Hwy 84 and then headed north from
Biggs Junctions on Hwy 97. Driving through the Columbia gorge is very scenic. The area of Biggs junction, well
passed the scenic gorge, is mostly rolling desert hills and is somewhat featureless. We gassed up in Biggs and then
crossed over the Columbia River into Washington. It was hot as hell and not having air conditioning would soon
wear on us as it would throughout the trip. Soon we would cross into the Yakima Indian Reservation, although you
might never know it. Just as other reservations I've driven on, there are never any signs to indicate that you've
entered or left a reservation. I've always wondered why.
In the city of Union Gap, just south of Yakima, we again gassed up and pressed on to our first major destination.
|The view from the truck of the eastern half of the Columbia Gorge
|Just north of Yakima, we noticed what appeared to be smoke from a fire brewing just off the highway. We then saw
a giant Chinook Helicopter making water drops onto the area. While we never saw the actual flames of the fire, we
were able to get some nice shots of the Helicopter, which you can see here.
|A Chinook Helicopter fighting a fire just north of Yakima, Washington. The fire appeared to be inside
or near a local park. We couldn't see the fire itself, but it was probably a brush fire.
|These two pictures taken by John.
|The abandoned railroad trestle and tunnel near Boyleston
|The Chicago Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad was a major railroad that ran through the state of Washington from
1910 until it went out of business in 1980. In Washington, it ran from Seattle and crossed into Idaho just south of
Spokane. From there it did indeed pass through Milwaukee and St. Paul. During its Washington route it crossed
into two major tunnels. The Snoquomia tunnel, which is 2.25 miles long and a much lesser known Johnson Creek
tunnel, near Boyleston. The Snoquomia tunnel is open for the public to ride bikes through and does see a lot of
tourist traffic since it's fairly close to Seattle. But the Boyleston tunnel (Sometimes called the Johnson Creek
Tunnel) is in a very remote area and is difficult to reach if you don't know exactly where you are going and have
permission to get there. The Boyleston tunnel is about 1/2 mile long.
When we drove within a few miles of the tunnel area on I-90, we were surprised to find a giant abandoned railroad
trestle that crossed over Hwy 90. The area is mostly vast farm land and empty desert. This trestle was most
interesting, because of its sheer size and height. It is completely intact, except for the missing top deck, tracks and
railroad ties. The concrete abutments were marked 1910, which is consistent with the year when the railroad first
laid tracks in Washington. The design of the bridge is consistent with other steel railroad bridges that I've seen that
were built between 1900 and 1920, so I would imagine it is the original structure. It is amazing that this structure
still stands today. Not because it is in any danger of falling down, as it looked just as sturdy as the day it was built.
But the fact is, most abandoned trestles are torn down. Thankfully, this one remains and anyone driving Hwy 90
between Ellensburg and the Columbia river will pass right underneath it.
Reaching the trestle was no easy task however. Highway 90 is an Interstate with no off ramps near the trestle. We
repeatedly drove up and down the highway, until we located an off ramp several miles west of the trestle. We then
followed the old roads into the back country eventually making our way to and old road that ran to the trestle itself.
|The trestle over Hwy 90. Only the ties and tracks are missing. Built in 1910. Note the old telephone and power poles in the far
right picture. The lack of wires indicate that they too were abandoned.
|This very interesting picture of the trestle was taken on
August 16, 1978, 2 years before it was abandoned. The 2nd
locomotive from the front is painted in Bicentennial colors
from 1976. Photo courtesy of Larry Bowman
|While exploring the trestle, we noticed that newer fencing was put up indicating that the entire area was a U.S.
Army training ground and off limits. We wondered if this would prevent us from continuing on to Boyleston and
exploring the tunnel. As it turned out, it almost did. Just up the road past the tunnel we found a busted open gate
and numerous warning signs not to enter the property. The signs seemed to indicate that visitors were allowed only
with expressed permission. I called the number on the sign and the Army desk Sgt. told me that he wasn't sure
where I was, but he couldn't give me permission to enter. He also seemed alarmed when I informed him that their
gate was busted open, saying that he would have to send MPs to the area. I said thank you and hung up very
disappointed. Only 4 miles ahead was a very interesting abandoned railroad tunnel that we desperately wanted to
visit and photograph. I decided to give it one more try and called a second time. I explained that the signs
indicated that visitors were allowed if we just checked in. I told him that I understood if we would not be allowed
entry, but that we only wanted to photograph the tunnel. He then relented and gave us permission. No activity was
taking place on the training grounds that day but we were instructed not to remain after dark. So I thanked them
and we continued on down the road. The road is passable by car, but the gravel rock used was extremely large. If
you travel this road, be careful. It's more suited for the larger tires of a truck, than a car.
|The warning signs we encountered at the
main gate. These were only some of the
signs as others were placed on the opposite
side of the road. This is a U.S. Army
training range. Public access is allowed only
by permission and not after dark.
|After driving for several miles, we finally came upon the closest parking spot to where the tunnel existed. We
would have to hike a few hundred feet to get to the tunnel itself. The first thing I noticed was how barren the area
was. The old USGS maps, which date to the 1950s indicated that a few buildings existed here. After all, this was
the town site of Boyleston. But not even a sign of any building existed. There was no one around for many miles
around us. We hiked down the dirt road that used to be the rail bed. The railroad builders open cut into the hill for
as far as they could before finally tunneling into the hillside. Once upon the tunnel entrance, the sheer size of the
tunnel was amazing. But obviously, large trains had to pass through it. The tunnel is approximately a 1/2 mile long
and almost completely straight and level. Once inside, we noticed how the concrete is deteriorating from the sides
of the wall and ceiling in places. It was not dangerous by any means, but almost 70 years of trains passing through
this tunnel obviously had some effect. About 100 yards into the tunnel, the concrete disappeared and the solid rock
was completely exposed. The builders apparently determined that concrete was only needed at the entrances as
solid rock alone was enough to hold it all up in the middle. However, we did notice some wood bracing used shore
up part of the center section of the tunnel, most likely added in later years and rocks began to fall from the ceiling.
The tunnel was very dark and flashlights are mandatory if you want to see anything inside. Foliage and the dirt rail
bed was more narrow. Along the way, I found one of the few remaining railroad spikes, left over from the railroad.
We also noticed several spent M-16 cartridges. We knew these were used during the Army training exercises,
because they were the blank type cartridges. I'm sure the Army has used this tunnel in many valuable training
This section of the railroad was electrified, which meant that for a period of time, electric trains powered by
overhead wires, until the last few years of operation. The Pacific Division was electrified from Seattle/Tacoma east
to Othello. From Othello to Avery Idaho it was not, using instead, steam and later diesel power. Milwaukee
employees referred to this section as "The Gap". From Avery East across the Bitterroots, Rockies and the Belt
Mountains to Harlowton Montana was electric as well. From Harlowton East to Chicago and Milwaukee was steam
and later diesel. Special thanks to Jim Davis for the correction.
I have a new page that I'm currently working on that will display all my Milwaulkee Road Photos.
|Parking a few hundred yards from the tunnel entrance at the
Boyleston town site. Nothing remains of Boyleston and today,
mostly only Humvees travel these parts as it now an Army
training ground. In the picture on the right (taken by John) you
can see the railroad grade and one of the few stands of trees in
the area marking the site of Boyleston.
|Looking inside the west
|Looking at the west tunnel
entrance near the Boyleston
town site. Nothing indicates
what year the tunnel was
built, but I'm sure it was
around 1910 along with the
rest of the railroad.
|Coming out the east
entrance. Even though you
could see each end of the
tunnel, we needed lights to
make our way through.
|The east entrance. The dense
brush is contrasted by the
barren west entrance. A
stream run downs the sides of
the old rail bed.
|One of the few, if not last,
remaining railroad spikes in
the area. No others were
|Picture by John.
The tunnel was only
reinforced by concrete
for a few hundred feet
at each end. The rest
was open rock.
|Picture by John.
The east entrance.
|Picture by John.
The tunnel floor was bare of
any rails or ties. It looked as
if it had been graded to allow
for vehicle traffic at one
time. Probably by the Army
for it's training.
|Picture by John.
The only exception to
the open rock was this
wood bracing about 50
feet long found about
half way through the
|As we began to leave the area, the sun was setting and our day was about to end. Our next destination was the
Liberty mine area, not too far away. We decided to head there and make camp for the night. Liberty is a very
small old mining town located about 25 miles north of Ellensburg just off of Hwy 97. Once in the area, and once we
crossed into National Forest land, we drove up a long logging spur road and camped for the night. This concludes
our first day of the adventure.
|Copyright © 2003 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos & content on this site:
Most photos were taken by me. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or websites. Simply Email me. I may not have authority to grant
permission regarding some photos that were only loaned to me by others specifically for this website. Every effort has been made not to include other's
photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if you see any photos which belong to you and that I don't have permission to use, I apologize. If
you send me an Email, I will remove the photos immediately or give proper credit, which ever you wish
|Picture by John.
Entering total darkness.
Note the scorched
roofs. From more
than 80 years of steam
engine and diesel