Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

Scouting an Abandoned Railroad and Ghost Town in Northwest Oregon

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 been recently closed to the public; apparently it became a hip 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.

The trail opened up as I approached the location of Enright, and suddenly looming over me on my right was a huge, rusted tower that looked like a giant teapot:

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:

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

Scouting the Lost Bunkers of the Pacific

I recently travelled to the far northwest corner of Washington state in the Makah nation to look for three World War II observation bunkers located on the Pacific coast: at Anderson Point, Portage Head and Wa’atch Point. These bunkers are more obscure than the Camp Hayden fire control structures on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, such as the Camp Hayden and Agate Rock bunkers I scouted previously. I’d never heard of them until a local informant sent me some interesting documents published about 30 years ago by a local military historian. By studying these documents and some old topographical maps I was able to determine the approximate location of the bunkers, though the exact routes and conditions of the trails were unclear. The trail to the Anderson Pt. bunker was shown on a 1960 topographical map, but it was removed from all later maps. I couldn’t find a trail to the Portage Head bunker on any maps, so I assumed I would have to bushwhack the third to half a mile up the bluff to the bunker location. The Wa’atch Point bunker was at the end of an old forest road that was still on maps, so I didn’t expect it to be too difficult.

For this mission I met a local informant and fellow scout named “Dabquatch”; we made a base camp in the Makah fishing village of Neah Bay and spent two days exploring the area. We eventually found all three bunkers, but I don’t want to give away too much information about how we did it. The tribe seems to want to keep their locations obscure and I respect that; I wouldn’t want to see them become too easy to find or turned into tourist attractions—better to leave them to the Scouts.

After finding the Anderson Pt. bunker high up on a bluff, we couldn’t locate any trail to the Portage Head bunker; all obvious traces of the old access road were gone. The bushwhack looked very difficult and we were on the verge of giving up when a local Makah scout that I recognized from a youtube video happened to come rolling down the trail in an ATV. I told him what we were doing and he very helpfully guided us to the vicinity of the old road to the bunker. It was totally overgrown and very difficult to see; if we hadn’t run into this local we would have missed it. He asked us to bushwhack in from the side to keep the location of the road secret, which we happily complied with. We hiked up to Portage Head and got spectacular views from the top of the bunker down to rock formations near Shi Shi beach and west across the Pacific.

The next day we drove north past Wa’atch point where another observation bunker was supposed to be located at the end of an old access road. This was an easy hike but the bunker was buried under a mound and I didn’t see it until I walked down to the cliff beyond it and turned around. The views here were also spectacular, as you would expect at the site of a Pacific coastal lookout.

Here is a video I made of this scouting mission:

At the entrance to the Portage Head bunker.
Admiring the view from the Wa’atch bunker.
Power Line Scouting: P.A. Station to Deer Park

Power Line Scouting: P.A. Station to Deer Park

I’ve posted before about “shadow routes”, which are stealthy routes that aren’t frequented by authorities or the general public. There are many forest roads, hiking trails and bike paths in my area, but some are popular and not really off the beaten track. That’s why I like to scout power line corridors, which often have access roads or trails allowing foot or bike travel for miles, but are never crowded.

Mountain bikes are excellent for scouting power lines in some locations.

One reason for their unpopularity is that power lines often run through private property—farms, ranches, yards, industrial areas—where you might have to deal with fences, owners, dogs, etc. Another reason is that the lines are laid straight from point to point, and don’t have much regard for topography and terrain. Lines may go up or down very steep slopes, across rivers, swamps, brambles and other difficult  terrain. As a Shadow Scout I don’t let those obstacles stop me; in fact I see them as a challenge and an opportunity. 

I recently decided to scout a section of power line corridor near my home to see how well it would work as a stealth travel route. I first reconned the route on Google Earth, which gives a detailed 3d view, showing houses, fields, fences, forests, ravines, creek crossings and other challenges I would have to deal with. The street level view on Google Maps showed close-up images of some of the road crossings to give me a better idea of which areas I might need to bypass; Gaia GPS maps showed me forest roads and trails I might be able to use for detours. I thought about conducting the mission at night for greater stealth, but decided to do it in the daytime because if you run into a property owner you look far more suspicious if you’re creeping around at night.

The mission turned out to be very interesting; I was able to travel several miles without any major obstacles, passing through private properties without encountering any hostile owners. I did have to detour twice; once using a main road and once by a long side trip down an abandoned forest road, across a creek and up a steep bushwhack back to the road on the other side. I could have stayed on the power line corridor the whole way if it I absolutely had to, but in broad daylight some of the properties were too exposed and had too many fences to safely cross. I learned that his section of the corridor has good potential as a shadow route in a stealth travel/bug-out scenario; I will be returning to where I left off to continue scouting this power line corridor soon.

Here is a video I made of this mission:

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Mission Summary

For this mission I decided to scout some abandoned northern Olympic Peninsula coastal defenses that were built during World War II. These are a series of artillery emplacements, bunkers and lookouts set on bluffs overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles, Washington.

From my online research I determined the approximate location of several of the bunkers. The most interesting resource was this page, which contained the original secret military maps and schematics of the facilities made in the early 1940s. Several of the bunkers are located in Salt Creek Recreation Area, part of the Camp Hayden artillery fortress:

The original map of the Camp Hayden harbor defenses from 1944 (click to enlarge).

A few miles west down the coast are the more obscure Agate Point and Agate Rock bunkers:

Map of the Agate Point bunkers (click to enlarge).

My plan was to scout these in stealth mode using my bike and see how many I could locate in an overnight trip.

Camp Hayden Recon

Starting from Port Angeles, I rode the Olympic Discovery Trail for about six miles until it joined highway 112, a dangerous road with little shoulder and giant trucks whizzing by. I turned onto a side road toward the Salt Creek Recreation Area to get off the highway and make a stealthier approach to the area. The road into the facility had a sign saying it was closed, which I was happy to see because it meant I was unlikely to encounter anyone else:

Closed roads are good news; it means you will probably have them all to yourself!

Sure enough, the road was empty, but it was also steep and rough and I ending up mostly walking my bike up to the top of Striped Peak. There were some fun trails and gravel roads to ride down, spectacular views of the Strait, and before long I found myself in the vicinity of the first bunker on my list. Looking off to my right, I caught a glimpse of it through the lush foliage, looking like a ruined Mayan temple in the jungle. This was Battery 249, which once contained two six inch anti-ship guns but now apparently houses a bat colony.

“You will all parish in flame” — spooky graffiti outside the Battery 249 bunker.

There were two chambers, both barred and covered in graffiti. There was also a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down to a rather spooky underground chamber that I explored. On top of the complex there was a pillbox structure and a nice flat area; as it was getting late, I decided to set up my stealth camp there, get up early and look for other bunkers nearby.

The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of water and there were no streams around. My only choice was to ride down to the nearby campground and get some water from the bathroom. I bombed down the gravel road, which unfortunately came out right next to the home of the resident park ranger.  I casually pedaled past it into the campground, hoping that no one saw me and there was nothing overly suspicious about a mountain biker coming down this road from the direction of a closed road. I rolled my bike into the bathroom and filled up my water bottles using the tortuously slow timed water faucet, during which time three other people decided to use the facilities, which was less than ideal. Then I rolled out out of there and casually headed back up the road toward the bunker. The recreation area closed at dusk, so it was a bit suspicious to be heading up there with dusk approaching, but I didn’t have much choice. I got back to camp without event and made the report about my mission shown in this video:

Early the next morning I studied the Hayden Camp map and realized that a bunker labelled “BC12” should be only about a hundred yards east of my campsite. I packed up, left my bike hidden on top of Battery 249 and bushwhacked in the direction I thought it should be. Sure enough, there it was, naturally camouflaged and with a tree growing on top of it:

Bunker BC12 was well-camouflaged from the “bushwhack side”.

This bunker wasn’t barred off so I was able to walk in and admire the view through the gun slot. When I went on top of it I was disappointed to see a driveway right next to the main gravel road and realized I hadn’t made much of a discovery; the bunker was clearly visible from the road and I could have ridden right to it. I scratched it off my list of potential Scout lookouts and road-walked back to my bike. As I rolled my bike back up toward BC 12 to take some more pics, I spotted a guy just ahead of me walking right toward the bunker. I waited a few minutes until I saw him continuing up the hill, unsure if he spotted me. I returned to the site, took some video footage and thought about what to do next. There were two other sites in Camp Hayden that I could’ve looked for, but I decided that since I’d violated park rules by stealth-camping and had just seen some guy walking in my direction, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On my way out of the area, I rode through the campground to scout it out for future reference. There was a dramatic viewpoint where I walked out onto rocks with waves crashing over tide pools. As I returned to my bike, I looked up and saw a third bunker staring me in the face, this one also barred off, labelled “Tongue Point” on the old maps.

Agate Rock Recon

My next target was a more obscure site called “Agate Rock” a few miles down the coast. After a scenic ride around Crescent Bay I came to an abandoned forest road with a gate and a no trespassing sign, which a Shadow Scout always considers an invitation:

A very inviting sight: a gated, overgrown forest road with a no trespassing sign.

The road was overgrown but rideable for about a half mile before it turned north and disappeared into the bush. Not discouraged, I stashed my bike, put on my long pants, jacket and gloves and bushwhacked north, where faint signs of the original access road were still visible. After a while of this I intersected a newer, easily walkable road which took me up the hill to the very edge of the Peninsula. There was a small clearing and a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the ocean. The views across the strait and down the coast were spectacular. I saw large ships in the distance and could imagine being a soldier manning a lookout on this spot, watching for enemy battleships.

Commanding views of the Strait from the top of Agate Rock.

But where was the bunker that should be nearby? After admiring the view for a while, I turned around and again, what do I see but the slot of another overgrown bunker staring me in the face!

I was so distracted by the view that I almost missed this well-camouflaged bunker.

I crawled through the slot into the vault. There were two concrete pedestals that once held six-inch guns; from this high ground it was easy to imagine them raining deadly fire on enemy ships miles away down in the Strait. Walking to the back of the vault, I came out the front entrance, which was wide open. There was graffiti everywhere, so despite the difficult route I had taken it was apparently not a problem for others. And I soon discovered the reason why: there was a nice gravel road nearby that apparently offered easy access by a different route. I was a bit disappointed to see this, but still carved some scout sign on the bunker wall and put it on my list of potential Scout lookouts for the spectacular vista and obscure location.

My Scout sign marks this bunker as a place of interest.

I ate some food at the cliff’s edge and contemplated my next move. It was midday and I still had a hike and a sizeable bike ride to get back to Port Angeles. There is another bunker in the area that is supposedly on private property and well-secured, and others further down the coast that are even more difficult to find. I decided that I would save these for another scouting mission and headed back the way I had come. The ride back was uneventful other than some close truck passes on Highway 112 and a buck eating leaves in someone’s yard right off the trail in Port Angeles. I was tired but buzzed, both by the things I had discovered on this mission and the prospect of returning for more scouting in the near future. This definitely belongs at the top of my list as one of my favorite missions to date.

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

I decided to scout the the old P-5000 road (now called Forest Road 6126) that runs along the Pilchuck river after reading WTA user mato’s reports and doing a little research. Apparently people could drive this road all the way from Menzel Lake Road to Spada Lake 30 or 40 years ago, and it was a popular motorcycle trail until a boy was killed in 2005 and they restricted it to non-motorized travel. I wanted to see if it was still possible to hike the entire route to Spada Lake, and there was only one way to find out.

The road begins at a gate off Menzel Lake Road about 5 miles southeast of Granite Falls. The first eight miles are an easy, pleasant river walk. Then you come to a pile of trees across the road and things quickly go south. At 8.5 miles, the full-on bushwhack begins.

Entering the bushwhack section.

For the next five miles, you will be pushing aside bushes, scrambling over trees and up and down washouts, while making sure you’re still on the road. It’s not as bad as it looks, but it’s definitely a grind. There was a faint trail most of the way and it’s usually not hard to figure out where the road is by following the corridor through the trees.

At about nine miles you come to a ruined bridge over Wilson creek, but it’s an easy scramble and ford to get back on track.

The ruined bridge over Wilson creek (9 miles in).

I hammock-camped in the forest above the road; everything was covered in moss, a reminder that this area gets heavy rain. About 13 miles in I came to a crossing of Pilchuck River that I was concerned about from looking at the maps. As it turns out it’s no problem; there’s a ruined bridge that can still be walked across.

The ruined bridge over Pilchuck River (13 miles in).

Then you hit a perfectly maintained forest road—a beautiful sight after all the bushwhacking—that takes you down to the Culmback Dam on Spada Lake—which is another beautiful sight after having no views but trees and bushes for miles.The entire route to the dam was about 15 miles. From there it was a long road-walk down to Gold Bar and refreshments, ending a long but adventurous 24 hours.

At Spada Lake. Mission accomplished!

I liked the post-apocalyptic feel of this scouting mission; this is what hiking will be like after civilization collapses, when everything is overgrown and falling to ruin and nature reclaims the land. Is this is a glimpse of our future? Shadow Scout thinks so!

Anderson Mountain

Anderson Mountain

Panoramic views of Mt. Baker and Skagit valley near the top.

One of my ongoing missions is scouting sections of the Pacific Northwest Trail near me. For this trip I hiked over Anderson Mountain from Highway 9 to Alger, then did a loop from Alger along the PNT through Squires Lake.

PNT trail marker near the summit.

The trail begins at a gated forest road several miles south of Wickersham. It was a bit of a grind switchbacking up the mountain on a hot day, but several cold streams helped. After about 5 miles the road opens up to spectacular views of Mt. Baker and the surrounding peaks to the north and along the Skagit Valley. Near the summit I left the forest road and walked a nice section of trail marked with a PNT sign. I rejoined a forest road and got some nice views west to the Chuckanuts and the San Juans. At some point, due to the GPS track I was following, I got on an overgrown forest road that looks like it was abandoned 15 or 20 years ago. There were huge piles of logs on the trail and I finally ended up in deep bush with no sign of the trail. I pushed straight through the bush and finally connected to another section of the PNT foot trail, which took me the rest of the way down the mountain. Road-walking along narrow-shouldered Alger Cain Lake Road got me to Alger and the Shell station for refreshments. I hiked about 15 miles from Highway 9 to Alger and ninja-camped in the woods near I-5.

Lost in the bushes coming down the mountain.
Massive stump at the base of the mountain.

The next morning, fueled with a coffee, muffin and breakfast sandwich from the Shell station, I rejoined the PNT at the gated forest road just outside of town. This was an easy walk toward Squires Lake, with a side trip up Alger Alp, which has a nice vantage point over Alger. I followed the South Ridge trail to the Squires Lake Trail around the lake and back down to the highway. Several miles of road-walking got me across I-5 and back to Alger for more refreshments.

This was a fun little PNT scouting mission, but the trail toward the top of Anderson Mountain was confusing; you might have to do some serious bushwhacking to get back on trail. The mountain was surprisingly scenic, I had the trail all to myself, and Alger is a nice re-supply point that thru-hikers will welcome.