historic murals

Main Street Moments

In writing Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, I chose a moment of significance for each city.  See Main Street Moments, a photo essay on the University of Washington Press Blog.

Each city had at least one moment when it was significant in the history of Washington Territory or the state.

Vancouver started as a fur-trading post in 1825, commanding a vast empire from Alaska to California.

Olympia, at the Washington end of the Oregon Trail, became the territorial capital in 1854 and fought off rival cities until statehood in 1889.

Walla Walla boomed on mining rushes to claim the title as largest city in the territory in the 1860s and a rival to Olympia for the capital.

Tacoma won the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad and boomed for two decades in the 1880s and 1890s.

Seattle boomed as a jumping off point for the gold rush in the Yukon.

Everett’s corporate titans and labor unions clashed in the early 1900s.

BellinghamBellingham’s four-towns city emerged from logging, mining, railroads, canneries and a university.

Yakima marketed the riches of the Yakima Valley.

Spokane reclaimed downtown and the river running through it with Expo ’74.

Bellevue changed from a suburb to an edge city.

Elwha River

Elwha River

Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition
Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition

When the Press Expedition men hauled their gear up the Elwha River in the winter of 1889 and 1890, the river was wild.  When I hiked it and wrote about it more than 100 years later, the river was dammed and contained, the Altaire campground was good for a pre-hike wiener roast, and the Whiskey Bend trailhead was an easy drive.  No more.  The river has been un-dammed and unleashed to choose its own path, which has included flooding the road to the trailhead and the Altaire campground.  You may now have more sympathy for the six men, four dogs, and two mules who spent two and a half months just getting to Whiskey Bend from Port Angeles.  (This hike is described in Hiking Washington’s History.) 

Linda Mapes describes “A river gone wild” and its effects on hikers in The Seattle Times, March 13, 2016.

Yakima Pass

HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016
HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016

Yakima Pass has become one of my favorite historical hikes.  The first part is delightful–to Cottonwood Lake and Mirror Lake and then south on the Pacific Crest Trail to Yakima Pass.  It is rich in Native American and railroad exploration history, narrated by George McClellan’s journals.

In late July, on a sunny day, you’ll find bear grass, columbine, glacier lily, trillium, lupine, blue skies, and sparkling lakes. Frogs claim rocks in the creek that cascades down from Mirror Lake. Mirror LakeEven as trees grow again in the clearcut areas, the lay of the land and the pass visible from the lakes remain the same.  You’ll know you’ve reached the pass by the feel of the land and the weathered sign that marks it.

If you don’t want to climb back up to Mirror Lake, on the PCT, there is a short-cut back to Road 5480 (and your parked car) on two gullied old logging roads, which are easy enough to follow, but be forewarned that the footing can be tricky–rocky, slippery and overgrown.  When I first used this loop I could catch a glimpse of my car from this route, but now vegetation has grown obscuring that view–but not the lovely view of Lost Lake.

Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.
Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.

The hike has not changed greatly since I recounted it in Hiking Washington’s History, but here are a few clarifications: when driving to the trailhead, at the unmarked four-way intersection, veer right along the north side of Lost Lake (don’t take the sharp right). The last half-mile up to the trailhead is completely un-drivable, and parking spots on Road 5480 can be competitive on the weekend.  Although a sign points uphill to the Mirror Lake trailhead, the beginning of the trail itself is not marked by a sign but by a cairn or row of rocks, thoughtfully placed.YP sign


Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass
Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass

Coal Mines Trail


IMG_2648My Tuesday Trekkers group hiked the Coal Mines Trail in June 2014.  Since I wrote Hiking Washington’s History, the trail has become much more shaded by the growth of trees and brush on both sides.  Mining sites are harder to identify in the first two-thirds of the trail, but heaping  slag piles still rise above mine sites and Crystal Creek flows coolly along the walk.  Roslyn’s coal mining history is not forgotten by residents but seems less prominent.  The Northwest Improvement Company store building will reopen soon with new businesses.  The spire of the Catholic church soars above the town on the hillside, and the Roslyn cemeteries grow, including a memorial for Tom Cravens, native son who died fighting the Thirty-Mile Fire.



Columbia Hills Homesteads


As spring approaches, hikes in the Columbia Hills are some of my favorites. Spring and fall are the best times for these hikes as summer temperatures can be extreme, and the hills are exposed to the winds in the winter.

In October 2012 I led a Friends of the Gorge-sponsored hike to the Columbia Hills Homesteads. We hiked down Eight-mile Creek on the east side to see the Lucas homesteads and then came back to the Crawford homestead on Dalles Mountain Road. We saw deer, four wild turkeys, two apples trees in fruit, and a Concord grape vine, planted by the Lucases, still producing sweet grapes. The newer discoveries to me were the Henry and William Brune homesteads and timber cultures. These claims are largely west of the road to Stacker Butte. With help from local historian and hike leader Jim Denton, and with some hiking partners willing to ramble, we found the Skibbe gravesite, root cellar foundations, water troughs, the restored Brune cabin, and stone alignments.

Trails are planned for this undeveloped state park, but for now it’s a great place to ramble and find history. An interpretive panel has been installed at the Crawford complex. A Discover Pass is required for parking.

On a May 2013 hike for Friends of the Gorge, our group discovered the yellow rose bush planted by Mary Lucas in front of her homestead in the 1890’s. This Harrison’s Yellow was likely brought as a cutting from the east and has continued to grow wild here, surviving long past the house John Crawford built for his bride.