|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 Two - June 28, 2003
|The town of Liberty, Washington.
|The next morning, Saturday, June 28th, we got up and got ready to make our first mine explorations of the trip.
Only a few miles away was the old mine town of Liberty, Washington. Liberty has quite the history. Today, it is
little more than a paved street with a few modern and older cabins mixed together. A few buildings date to the very
late 1800s. The general store closed here a few years ago and the town has no public services. Not long ago, the
town was fighting for it's very survival. Since the town was never incorporated and people were living on mine
claims rather than actual private property, the Forest Service attempted to throw the residents out of the town and
off their property. For several decades a bitter court battle ensued. In the end, the court ruled in the town's favor.
But after the mine claim and homestead laws were changed in the 1970s, the town was again threatened. This
time, a special national law was enacted by Congress to make the town legal. The town is virtually surrounded by
National Forest and hundreds of mine claims. When you drive through it today, it is not really a drive through
history as some other old mining towns like Silver City, Idaho, but it is nonetheless interesting as they frequently
display everything from old mining equipment to old fire trucks along the sides of the road. We passed through
Liberty in an effort to reach a few mine sites outside of town.
|The town of Liberty, Washington. We never bothered to
stop and get out to look around. What you see is pretty
|Just outside of Liberty were these old mine relics rusting
away in an open field.
|The Virden Mines
|After driving through Liberty, we followed the old mine roads into the hills. There are several major mine claims up
there, but not a lot of remains or open adits. The town residents, who likely hold many of the claims have cleaned
out much of the mining areas and brought back some of the equipment to town.
We did find a few buildings and a flooded mine shaft. Because is not cost effective to mine gold in the current
market, little if any mining is done today. But the area has seen some recent activity by the locals.
|The Virden Mine, outside of Liberty. Mine dates to the 1890s, but has seen recent work as late as 1990.
On the left, a well built cabin, probably from the very early 1900s. In the middle, a flooded mine shaft on the
property. A building covering a filled in shaft. There are several other mine shafts on the property that we weren't
able to locate. There are other mines in this area, but we didn't spend a lot of time looking in this area for them.
|Interesting sign posted next to one of the
mines in the area. These mines are on
public National Forest property. The
claim holders cannot ban people from
entering the property, only from mining
|Parked along the old mine road. Many of
the roads are traversable with a car, but
high clearance and 4WD is nice
|Red Top Fire Lookout
|Just west of Liberty is the Red Top Mountain fire lookout. At approximately 5300 feet, it's not the tallest lookout
we've been too, but it offered a great view of the surrounding area, especially the high jagged peaks of the
Wenatchee Mountains to the northwest. The road the lookout is passable by 2WD, but it very long and fairly
steep. It's a great drive with good views. It was hard to believe that not too many decades ago this lookout was
only accessible by pack trail the entire way. You can't drive right to the lookout, but you can get fairly close. The
last 500 feet in elevation is a very, very steep hike. Very steep indeed. We were surprised to find the lookout
occupied. Our books marked this as an emergency only lookout. As it turns out, it's only staffed by volunteers and
on certain days. The views at the top were incredible.
|The Bloomquist brothers cabin and mine on the road to Red Top Lookout.
The mine shaft was caved, but this very well built cabin survives. Someone
was wise enough to board up the cabin to help preserve it.
|The Red Top Lookout
viewed from the trail head
to the top.
|The lookout is perched on
the highest rock in the
area. Elevation 5300 feet.
|View of the Wenatchee
Mountains to the NW from
the lookout rock.
|The Lookout operator
allowed us up to the cabin
and showed us around.
|Some external and internal views of the Red Top Lookout. Note the fire indicator on the far right, used for pinpointing the
location of smoke and fires.
|The Red Top Lookout. Pictures by John Notis.
|Southern Star Mines
|The next stop was the Southern Star mine claims and what was reported in one of our books to be a building with an
intact water wheel. The road to the mines is very steep and very rutted. High clearance is mandatory and 4WD is
highly recommended. Once above the mines, a brand new gate prevented from driving into the mine claim area.
Here we had to hike down to the mines. We found very little remains, but the old mine roads and trails were very
evident and crisscrossed the hillside. We discovered several very large adits, some collapsed, some not. We also
notice some brand new signage and a box that contained explosives. All of this was brand new. Perhaps only a few
months or weeks old. While there were no other signs of activity, it was obvious, someone intended to do
something here in the near future. We theorized the perhaps they were going to reopen the mines, or maybe even
blow closed the remaining open shafts.
After a long hike down the hillside, we attempted to locate the building with the waterwheel at the lower creek.
After walking through trees and brush and almost giving up, we stumbled upon it, almost by accident. Expecting to
see a fully intact building and an 8 foot waterwheel, we were disappointed by what we found. Barely the remains of
a building and very rotten collapsed waterwheel. This was a mill that dates to the late 1890s, when the Southern
Star claims were first discovered. The ironic thing is we found little water in the area that would be sufficient to
power the wheel. We began to wonder if perhaps the mill ever worked, except maybe in the early spring. There
was evidence that flume or diversion dam might have been used to power the mill but, we found no evidence of a
near by stream that could provide enough flow, at least this time of year.
While is was disappointing to not find the building and waterwheel in better shape, it was worth the hike as the
remains are in a very remote area and likely get very few visitors. It was interesting to imagine what it must have
looked over 100 years ago.
|Parked outside the Southern Star mines. Here we are studying our books
and maps, before we embark on our attempt to locate the old building with
the waterwheel. Hiking down the trail to the Southern Star mines.
|One of the larger shafts of the Southern Star mines. We only explored a few feet inside this hard rock mine. In the far right
picture, where John is standing, the mine shaft split off into three different directions.
|A brand new steel box
placed on the mine
property as recently as a
few weeks earlier.
|The water wheel and building remains. This was a mill that dates to
around 1897. You can almost make out the remains of the 8 foot
diamter water wheel. This water was enclosed inside a building at one
time. Most likely water was diverted by a flume to the mill. Today,
access to the site is difficult and I imagine few people have been to the
site in a long time.
|Another view of the
waterwheel. Picture by
|After leaving the Southern Star mining area, we headed north. We explored several more mine areas, but little
else of interest was found. We decided to drive over the old Blewett Pass. Old Blewett Pass is one of the few
remaining sections of the old US 10 highway that ran through this area before I-97 was built. As you drive north on
I-97 from the town site of Blewett, you can see parts of the old highway on the left hand side. These section are
closed, and many of the bridges were removed. Large sections of the old highway having fallen into the creek. But
old Blewett Pass remains as a one lane road, maintained by the Forest Service in the summer months. It was
abandoned in the late 1960s. It's original pavement still exists, but it's a very rough narrow road, and you can tell it
gets little or not maintenance. Driving this very narrow and twisty mountain road, it was hard to believe that it
carried vehicle and truck traffic heading both directions back in the 1960s.
|Old Blewett Pass Highway
|One of the great views
along the way.
|The summit. The
highway is now a one lane
forest service road.
|What the old Blewett Pass highway looks like. Easily
passable by car, much of the original pavement remains.
It was abandoned as the main highway in the late 1960s.
|1892 Gravesite of Pat King
|The grave of Pat King. This grave site is along an old mine road. Pat King died in this very spot in 1892. He was
hauling supplies to the mines by wagon, when a wheel broke. When he jacked up the wagon, and crawled
underneath, the jack fell and he was killed. He was buried on this very spot. However, the current grave
markings are a bit newer. A homemade metal plate indicates that the grave site you see here was built in July,
1959. The site was in remarkable shape for being more than 44 years old. On the wooden tombstone is reads, Pat
King, died September 11, 1892. Gone but not forgotten. That's for sure. Few common people that have been dead
for more than 111 years have such a prominent grave site.
|The old mine road where
Pat King died in 1892.
|Pat King's grave site. The
current structure dates to
|A plate with the original
grave marker's names,
|This concludes day two of our trip. We drove back to the Blewett town site and camped at an old mine site above
the town site. Before settling down for the night, we noticed we were camped on one of the largest mine tailings
piles we had ever seen. After exploring the area, we discovered many mine shafts, but they were all long collapsed.
So, back to our campsite we headed and went to sleep. In the morning we would soon visit some of the most
interesting mines yet and see some amazing things.
|Copyright © 2003 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
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