Monday, October 19, 2015

A Hike to the Monte Cristo Ghost Town

What could be more appropriate for October than a spooky hike to a ghost town? Monte Cristo an old deserted town in the mountains of Snohomish County, Washington was our destination.  I actually did this hike last October, but am just getting around to posting it.  Enjoy the trip vicariously because unfortunately, this trail is now closed to hikers until a toxic waste clean-up is completed.

Sign from the Monte Cristo Lodge
The hike to Monte Cristo is one of many beautiful hikes accessed from the scenic Mountain Loop Highway that winds along the western edge of the Cascade Mountain Range and connects Granite Falls, WA  to Darrington, WA.

A Map of the Monte Cristo Area



The Mountain Loop Highway is paved for about 34 miles past Granite Falls.  Where the pavement ends there is a parking lot and the Barlow Pass Trailhead.  A Forest Service Recreation Pass is required to park in this lot.

Barlow Pass Trailhead
Across the road from the parking lot is the closed, barricaded, washed-out 4 mile long road that leads to Monte Cristo and the first of many warning signs.

The Road to Monte Cristo

The road was at one time a railway bed that follows the south fork of the Sauk River.

Tim the border collie enjoys some scents along the trail
The trail starts out easy enough on the old road.  On this hike Tim was my canine companion.  Hank was back at the farm with my husband.


It wasn't long before the trail led across a rickety bridge with yet another warning sign about proceeding at your own risk.
Spooky Trees on the trail to Monte Cristo
It was a typical misty, overcast Pacific Northwest fall morning.  Maybe it was just my overactive imagination after seeing so many danger signs and because we were headed to a GHOST TOWN, but it wasn't long before the trail narrowed and the trees closed in and it all felt very spooky.

Devil's Club (Oplopanax horridus)
It didn't help that I noticed that a lot of the plants in the forest understory were DEVIL'S CLUB even the botanical name sounds ominous - Oplopanax horridus!

Amanita Mushroom in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest
We saw plenty of different types of fungus along the trail including this beautiful, but probably poisonous, deadly member of the Amanita genus.  I'm not even remotely a mycology expert, so I don't know which species.



Next we passed another warning about a mud slide zone and then a washed out bridge came into view - proof of the power and wrath of mother nature in this river valley.


Since the bridge was washed out, the only way to cross to the other side of the cold, deep river was by using this huge old fallen tree.  I was concerned that Tim might have trouble scrambling up and through the roots to get on the log, but I should have known that although he was about 9 years old  - he's a border collie and extremely agile.  This is one reason I would NOT recommend this hike for anyone with mobility issues, dogs that are not athletic or families with young children.  Although the trail may be improved when/if it is reopened, the area has a long history of floods washing out bridges and rebuilding them is not always in the budget.


Tracks from an old railway
After crossing the river, we soon found remnants of the old Everett & Monte Cristo Railway that carried gold, silver and other minerals from the mines to Everett.

Weden House Railway Station

A plaque marks the former site of Weden House, a station on the Everett & Monte Cristo Railway.  Several of the mines also used buildings on the site as their headquarters and warehouse.  From near here a 7000 foot long tram brought ore from mines in nearby Gothic Basin to the train.


Privately-owned Cabins along the trail to Monte Cristo
Further along the trail we passed some dilapidated cabins posted with "no trespassing" and "private property" signs.

Monte Cristo Townsite
In about another mile we came upon a sign that indicated we had arrived at the old town.  Monte Cristo was divided into a "lower town" and an "upper town" and this was the site of the "lower town". At one time the combined town areas included shops, five hotels, bars, a school, a newspaper, and a population of approximately 2000.  The gold, silver and lead that drew the mining companies to the area turned out to be unprofitable to extract, transport and process.  It didn't help that huge avalanches and floods roared through the valley several times destroying bridges, roads and rail lines.  By the end of 1920 the mining business at Monte Cristo was over.

Bridge over the Sauk River South Fork at Monte Cristo
We crossed a bridge that was still in relatively good shape.

Signs at the Entrance to Monte Cristo
Some old metal "Welcome to Monte Cristo" and "Monte Cristo Lodge" signs propped up against a large boulder, gave further evidence that we had arrived at our destination.

Monte Cristo Picnic Area
After the trail curved around the boulder, we arrived at a grassy meadow with picnic tables and surrounded by old cabins. This was once the railroad yard and part of the "lower town" of Monte Cristo.  It later became the site of the Monte Cristo Lodge and these were used as resort rental cabins.  After the mining companies and miners left town, several successive owners tried to make a go of turning Monte Cristo into a resort destination with mixed success. The final blow was delivered to the resort by Mother Nature in 1980 with a devastating flood that washed out the road and bridges we passed earlier on our way up the trail. There was no funding available to make the costly repairs to the road.  Then in 1983 a fire burned the main Monte Cristo Lodge building to the ground.



Some of the cabins were still in use by the forest service and volunteers who served as town hosts in the summer.

Old Railway Turntable in Monte Cristo, WA
There are still some artifacts from the mining days, like the old railroad turntable that can still be rotated.

Old Railroad Parts in Monte Cristo, WA
And some other items which I am guessing are train wheels?



Information Board About the History of Monte Cristo
A board with historical photos and information is displayed near the bridge between the Monte Cristo "lower town" and "upper town" by the The Monte Cristo Preservation Association.  The non-profit organization was formed in 1983 to, according to their website (link above): "save, interpret and restore the values of this important historical site."  For more detailed information about the history of Monte Cristo,  there is an excellent book, Monte Cristo, written by Phillip R. Woodhouse who researched the history of the town for over 20 years before writing the book.






Or there are numerous articles about Monte Cristo on the Washingont History Link.org website.

Border Collie, Tim in front of the "Poodle Dog Pass" Trail Sign
We paused, (or should I say pawsed?), before crossing the bridge leading to the "upper town" by a sign indicating that this is also the way to Poodle Dog Pass.  Even though he is a border collie and not a poodle, it seemed appropriate for Tim to pose in front of a sign with a trail named after a dog.   More remnants of the former lodge include the old bed frame to the right of the sign.

Old Cabin in Monte Cristo, WA
Beyond the bridge is the "upper town" with more old buildings.  After viewing the "upper town" we started our return trip back to the trailhead.  We never saw anything that seemed haunted and on the way back, the sky lightened and the trail didn't seem quite so creepy.

Rugged Peaks Along the South Fork of the Sauk River
The area is actually very scenic so it is easy to see how some could imagine it as a lovely resort destination.

South Fork of the Sauk River - Snohomish County, WA
The river, the trees and the rugged mountains combine for some beautiful views.

Sunshine in the Valley of the South Fork Sauk River
Before we arrived back at the trailhead, the sun and blue sky actually made an appearance chasing away my thoughts of ghosts, spooky forests, devilish plants, poisonous fungi, toxic chemicals and the fury of Mother Nature.


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