I recently travelled to northwest Oregon to explore an abandoned railroad and ghost town on the Salmonberry River. The section I explored is part of the 86 mile long Tillamook Bay railroad that was damaged and abandoned in 2007 after a heavy storm. My mission was to hike five miles from an access road down the tracks to a ghost town called Enright.
From my research, I learned that there are plans to develop the railroad into a rail trail that will allow cyclists to ride from the suburbs west of Portland all the way to the coast at Tillamook. I also learned that the trail has recently been closed to the public; apparently it became a popular place to go after some internet posts a few years back, and the authorities were concerned about public safety. They had been allowing people to visit at their own risk, but that was no longer good enough for the government, who apparently acted after someone’s dog fell 180 feet off a bridge and died. Wanting to see the route before the rail trail tamed it, and not worried about restrictions that were probably unenforceable and designed to keep non-Scouts out, I packed up my Scout bag and headed south.
I began my hike from the confluence of the Salmonberry and Nehalem rivers; the more popular starting point is at Cochran Pond 16 miles up the tracks, but I was intrigued by the ghost town and wanted a more discreet access point that was less likely to be monitored by authorities. The tracks at the access road looked almost normal, like you’d see at any rural railroad crossing, but that would soon change. I ignored a sign saying the area was closed and walked quietly past several houses near the tracks, feeling rather exposed in broad daylight.
Fortunately the tracks soon became overgrown and the houses ended as I passed into one of the wilder sections of the route. The tracks ran along the Salmonberry river, which was a beautiful clear turquoise that looked very inviting as the day warmed up. Half a mile down the trail I ran into three friendly loggers, who warned me about some lines they had put in place two miles further down but didn’t seem concerned about my presence at all. I crossed trestles and an impressive bridge, which was built in 1922 but still looked very solid:
The next notable sight was a piece of track hanging in mid-air from where the storm had washed out the bank beneath it:
I also caught my first glimpse of the fiber optic cables that ran along the tracks, which were laid in the early 2000s to connect Portland to transpacific cables going to Asia and Australia. Apparently they were also damaged by the 2007 storm and abandoned.
A few miles in the going got more difficult, as the tracks became overgrown and swampy and I was forced to bushwhack, jump and machete my way through. It was impressive to see how quickly nature reclaimed the abandoned tracks, and it made me realize that if they don’t develop the rail trail and keep the area closed, this route might become totally overgrown and unhikeable in a few years.
I assume it was a water tower, thought it might have held something else that was loaded onto freight cars at this stop. There was a rusted ladder running up the side, which I quickly started climbing, wanting to see if I could get inside the tank. Halfway up, the ladder started to get wobbly and I decided that it wasn’t worth risking a dangerous fall in the middle of nowhere. So I unfurled my shadow sun banner instead and claimed this tower for the Shadow Empire.
Moving on, I soon came to a no trespassing sign on my right. Investigating, I saw that it led to a house with a large lawn that had been mowed recently. Retreating back to the tracks, I walked quietly past the rustic house, which appeared to be empty but well maintained. It was a creepy scene, like some post-apocalyptic country home where you might encounter mutant hillbillies or zombies or whatever disturbing thing you want to imagine. Fortunately I didn’t find any of that and soon moved on. I passed a long line of overgrown rail cars that had apparently been stranded here after the storm, which added to the end-of-the-world vibe. Then I came to a second house, also empty but with a large well maintained yard and some rather aggressive signs warning trespassers:
Who was mowing these yards and maintaining these houses, miles from civilization down a rough trail? Were they owned by the railroad? Were they planning to turn them into rental cabins? Your guess is as good as mine.
Near the second house, I came across this piece of artwork on one of the rail cars:
The artist presumably favors keeping the Salmonberry river wild and opposes the rail trail, and I can’t disagree with the message.
At this point I had seen what I came for and decided it was time to head back. I did some more Scout rituals to symbolically mark the area, then began the long trudge back to civilization. On the way back I did a little ninja training, using my grappling hook on the rail to climb up and down the steep railroad embankment and climbing on top of the bridges.
This was a magical expedition into a beautiful post-apocalyptic world, which I will definitely be back to explore further in the near future. Here is a video I made of my adventure: