Finding the Ghost Town of Wellington
Date of Adventure: September 7, 2014
When you think of ghost towns in Washington State, Wellington is near the top of the list. Not because much is left, but because of tragedy. 96 people died on March 1, 1910 when an avalanche destroyed two trains and some of the buildings in town. We don't know why, but there is something about stories like this that draw us in.
Our research led us to the Iron Goat Trail website, where a group of dedicated volunteers have been documenting their work on this rails-to-trails project. On the site we found a beautiful PDF map, which is much more than we usually have to go on for these adventures.
We set out for Wellington on a beautiful early Autumn day. We missed the turn off highway 2 onto the Old Cascade Highway the first time. This turned out just fine though, as making a left turn across the highway near Stevens Pass at that spot is pretty sketchy. So we drove a little farther east, turned around in a ski area parking lot, and then found our road.
The Iron Goat website said to look for the Old Cascade Highway, but the road we found was labeled as Tye. This was our first warning that website and world do not always match up, but since we knew that Wellington was renamed Tye after the avalanche, we took this as a sign. Also, there are not very many roads in this rugged country.
Turns out we were correct, and after a short stretch of frost-heaved pavement, we found the right turn into the parking lot for the trailhead.
We were pleasantly surprised by the large, well-designed parking area for the trailhead. We were equally surprised to find a Vietnam era tank sitting in the middle of it.
Later we came across a sign that explained the tank has a very important purpose. It helps provide avalanche control, which is still a very real danger.
In the parking lot island of brush we found a sign that explained that this is the area where the depot was moved after the avalanche tragedy. It was also renamed Tye, after the nearby river. These changes helped ease the worries of post-avalanche travelers.
The trail begins on the south side of the parking lot. A poster-sized version of the map we found on the Iron Goat website is displayed on a kiosk. From this spot you can go east toward the Cascade Tunnel or west toward the snowsheds.
We decided to head east toward the Cascade tunnel first. The path winds through two foundations with interpretive signs.
After about 500 feet the trail ends at a viewpoint of the Cascade Tunnel. While it was once possible to enter the tunnel, it is now too dangerous. A combination of groundwater and crumbling tunnel debris has caused at least two flash floods.
We backtracked to the parking lot and then followed the trail west toward the snowsheds. Here we encountered our first railroad milepost. The number marks the railroad miles from St. Paul Minnesota where the Great Northern Railway began.
Just beyond the milepost we caught sight of a beautiful bridge. Moving a little closer we realized the bridge crosses a creek and enters into the snowsheds.
We had read that as many as 800 people on 3 round-the-clock shifts had been employed to build these structures. Standing under these giant arches we could easily imagine it taking that many people.
But when man decides to battle nature, it rarely turns out in our favor. Farther into the tunnel a walkway leads to an overlook. This is the spot where an avalanche took the lives of 96 people in 1910. While we didn't venture in to the ravine below, we've heard others say that some of the wreckage is still down there.
After a moment of silence we continued west through the snowsheds. At the far end of the still intact shed, we could see where time is twisting rebar and concrete like toys.
We stayed on the trail and continued farther, as the trail map indicated there were more snowsheds. But we only saw a few walls holding back the hillside.
After exploring the cavernous snowshed a little more we headed back to our car and the modern world.
Thank you for reading about our adventure to the ghost town of Wellington. If you choose your own adventure to Wellington, drop us a line. We'd love to hear about it.