Hiking the Curiosity Trail - the Human Touch
In the second of the two-part series, Hiking the Curiosity Trail, we examine The Human Touch. The destination is created or enhanced by something that people have left behind - from the very large (a school bus) to the very small (a tiny hobbit village). We wouldn't necessarily condone the Leave No Trace practices that created many of these outdoor curiosities, but that doesn't mean we won't visit them.
So come along, and visit these eight destinations along the Curiosity Trail. And when you're done, you'll want to check out the Part 1 of this series: Amazing Geology Hikes.
Psychedelic School BusTrail: Oak Creek Wildlife Area - Cowiche Segment
Location: Yakima area
Season: May - October (summer can be hot!)
Anyone who has spent time wandering the desert steppe country of central and eastern Washington will know that there is all sorts of random junk discarded in the most perplexing of places. Refrigerators cast off in remote creek beds, cars abandoned on steep hillsides in the middle of nowhere, homestead remains from a century or more ago.
But there is only one psychedelic school bus. Clearly inspired by the Merry Pranksters of the 1960s, the joyously and colorfully painted bus is perched high on an exposed and treeless ridge west of Yakima. It's a great place to have lunch while exploring the rolling hills and admiring the array of spring wildflowers in an area where you are unlikely to see another soul all day. Note that the school bus sits on private land adjacent to the wildlife area and is still used as a hunting cabin by the owner. Look but do not touch.
Rusty Logging JalopyTrail: Dirty Harry's Museum
Location: I-90 - East of North Bend
Season: May - November
Many seek the Dirty Harry's Museum; few find it. Nature is rapidly taking over the remains of Harry Gault's "museum" of artifacts from his logging days. He was known for getting his equipment into areas no sane person would go, building roads and creating clear cuts throughout the Snoqualmie Valley. The old character eventually acquired the nickname "Dirty Harry." And when his logging days finally came to an end, he purposefully left them behind - his museum.
If you can even find the museum, you're unlikely to find much left. This old logging truck (pictured) is still visible among the alder and brambles, bullet holes and all. The other stuff is mostly buried or gone. But it's still fun to think of how Dirty Harry actually got this truck back here, long before I-90 was built, when vehicles were not as reliable and before he cut down all of the old growth trees.
Ghost TownTrail: Monte Cristo
Location: Mountain Loop Highway
Season: June - October
In the 1890s a mining boom brought thousands of men to Monte Cristo, an isolated area nestled in the mountains along the eastern edge of today's Snohomish County. To deliver the lead-silver ore to Everett, a railway was built along the South Fork of the Sauk River. Homesteaders filled the valley and the miners created two tiers of housing at the steep Monte Cristo site, as well as mills to process the ore. By 1893 there were more than 200 mining claims. However, the dreams of riches came to a crashing halt as funding woes, flooding along the rail line and miscalculations about the mining potential caused the production to stall and then cease by 1907. There were a few attempts to make this a resort destination, but they too were abandoned.
Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few relics remain, but not much. When visiting, do respect the remaining structures and property. Take photos and imagine the scene here more than a hundred years ago - teaming with men and with tramways bringing ore down from the steep hillsides. Do note that this site may be closed at a future date for clean-up of hazardous materials still remaining from the mining days.
A Blast from the PastTrail: South Coldwater Trail
Location: Mount St. Helens
Season: late June - October
The logging artifacts along South Coldwater Ridge come courtesy of an event that man had nothing to do with: the volcanic eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. Before that fateful day there were numerous logging operations underway near the mountain. Many pieces of equipment are buried under tons of dirt and rock, but two pieces blew from another location and came to rest here: a bulldozer and a yarding tower. Today, hikers can see their mangled remains about three miles in on the South Coldwater Trail. Also visible are toppled trees that show the lateral force of the blast. It's not all doom and gloom on this hike, however. You've got plentiful wildflowers to enjoy, views of the lake and Mount St. Helens, and a good probability of seeing elk.
PetroglyphsTrail: Ozette Triangle
Location: Pacific Coast
Hikers along the Ozette Triangle can get up close to more than 40 Makah petroglyphs 300 years old that are etched into rocks between Cape Alava and Sand Point near the Wedding Rocks. Chipped into the stone with bone and antler tools, these petroglyphs tell a story of a foregone time when whales were abundant and the first ships appeared off our coast.
If you go, do some research ahead of time to learn the exact location of the rock carvings. It is very easy to miss them entirely as you wander along the beach. Please also respect these artifacts by enjoying them simply with your eyes and your camera. The Ozette Triangle is a nine mile loop trip - three miles out to Cape Alava, three miles along the beach and three miles from Sand Point back to the trailhead. It's possible to do this trip in a day, but an overnight is much more fun.
Giving TreeTrail: Second Beach
Location: Pacific Coast
Sometimes the inspiration of a single hiker blossoms into a work of art. Such is the case along the Second Beach trail near La Push. Just before the short trail descends to the beach, hikers pass an unexpected and very decorated tree and root ball. It would be rather unremarkable but for the offerings of hikers after their visits to the beach. Gull feathers, rocks, shells, crab exoskeletons and other natural items adorn its crevices and are poked into its mossy sides.
The Giving Tree's presence at the portal to Second Beach sets the tone for this magnificent and magical place. It's less than a mile to the beach where more than a mile of wide-open sandy seashore beckons. Low tide will expose all sorts of sea creatures, especially around a sea stack that protrudes directly from the beach. A natural arch can be reached on the north end of the beach and the impressive sea stacks before you are called the Quillayute Needles.
Note: This tree was present during a visit in the summer of 2010 and may not be there any longer. When visiting, please leave a Trip Report and tell us if you encounter it!
High Altitude Post OfficeTrail: Mailbox Peak
Location: Near North Bend
Season: May - October
The lure of Mailbox Peak is irresistible to many hikers from our state's most populous area. It's a close-in butt-burner with the added caché of real mailbox on the summit. No, the letter carrier doesn't trek up the 4,100 vertical feet in three miles each day. You can, however, read notes from other hikers or leave your own in the mailbox. It's a good excuse for catching your breath at the peak because this is one of the hardest hikes around. It's also one of the most popular, as people use this trail as a training ground for long hikes and challenging climbs. People hike to Mailbox Peak year-round, but during winter or spring hikers will likely encounter snow and slippery conditions.
Hobbit VillageTrail: Federation Forest State Park
Location: near Enumclaw
Season: April - September
Federation Forest State Park is known for its immense trees, interpretive trails and a hidden gnome village along an historic pioneer trail. It started several years ago with a single gnome and a small house, but it has bloomed into a full-on village today. Wee tables and chairs, a tiny hammock, a miniature outhouse, micro gardens and much more inhabit this forest village.
It is not an easy place to find. It's small, after all. It's also a couple of miles down a lonely trail that isn't maintained very well. Your best chance to locate the Hobbit Village is to go when the visitor center is open for a map and directions. It's on the main Naches Trail that heads west from the center, but even hikers who have found it before are unable to find it on return visits. Make a treasure hunt of it and enjoy your success if you do indeed find the forest gnomes.