Finding Iron Horse: Snoqualmie Tunnel
Date of Adventure: July 28, 2015
For about a year we'd been wanting to explore the Snoqualmie Tunnel on the former Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad aka Milwaukee Road aka Iron Horse State Park aka John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Since it has so many names, we are going to keep it simple and call it the Milwaukee Road. But we always found ourselves going for longer trips. Then Julie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though that changed our summer plans dramatically, we did not stop exploring. Seeing the silver lining, we picked this trip for our first time out after her first major surgery.
From HQ in Seattle, it was a breeze driving up to Snoqualmie Pass. It's just a short drive from the freeway to the parking lot. And what a parking lot it is. This area gets a lot of winter snow-sport traffic and all of the roads and lots seem super-sized for that traffic. But we didn't think the Iron Horse State Park saw a lot of that action. In any case, there was plenty of space.
Standing in the middle of the paved desert is the bathroom. It's designed to look like the original train stations along the railroad. This one, honoring the Hyak Station, gives warmth to the place.
Along the south edge of the parking lot are several interesting interpretive signs. The sign we appreciated the most was the location and mileage sign. We love these because they give you important context. They also seem infrequent, at least in the places we travel. Our destination was the closest one, the Snoqualmie Tunnel.
We started the walk along the old railroad heading west toward the tunnel. We could see it almost from the start.
When we arrived at the entrance a cool breeze was billowing out of the pitch black. The tunnel closes in the winter, to prevent injuries from icicles. We guessed those doors help people stay safely out.
We equipped our lights and headed inside. After a short walk inside, we looked back. Already the darkness was enveloping us.
About halfway through the tunnel we encountered some trail maintenance happening. Maintaining a trail inside a tunnel more than 2 miles long poses some challenges. Luckily the giant generator lights provided some help. Without them this tunnel picture would have been pitch black except for the tiny dot of light from the east portal.
long the tunnel's north wall were many alcoves. In several we found wooden boxes holding electrical wires. We believe these were part of the electrified system that trains used through the tunnel.
Some alcoves had boiler-like metal containers.
A couple times we tried walking with our lights off. This created a very strange feeling. In this photo you can see the generator light mid-tunnel, and eerie highlights created by daylight coming through the west portal.
Then finally we were out into the daylight on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass. We wondered what it was like for workers who toiled away in darkness, to create this tunnel. Originally There was a plan to create another adjacent tunnel for passing trains. On the west side you can see the framework in place for the second tunnel, but it never came to be.
Inside the non-tunnel portal was some interesting equipment, including this item. It seems very similar to the items we saw in the tunnel alcoves. We wish we knew it's purpose.
After a pause at the west side, it was back into the darkness for the long march back to the car.
Thank you for reading about our adventure finding the Iron Horse: Snoqualmie Tunnel. If you choose your own adventure to this spot, we hope you will drop us a line.