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No trespassing: A followup on the Kelowna hippie commune

I never wonder why I do this.

I’m intrigued by the history of the areas I live in, how people lived in another time, and why they up and leave their homes, abandoning what may have been precious items.

I make up stories in my head, some of them inspired by Criminal Minds episodes, and I don’t share most of them with you. I’d rather you not know just how dark my imagination can be. Ha!

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Do you see enough?

I try to take a 360-degree approach when I’m out exploring and taking pictures.

I take some shots of what I see, then turn and turn and turn, making sure I don’t miss anything.

Some places draw me back for more. Dorothy, the Atlas Mine and Rawley are my Alberta favourites. I’m keeping a mental list of Washington spots.

Sometimes I get home, look at my pictures and think, “I didn’t quite get that right.”

Or maybe, no matter how many times I turned around, I know there’s more to see.

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Time travelling to junior high

I’d already been yelled at once.

When I heard footsteps behind me, I thought, ‘oh great, here we go again.’

I wasn’t in trouble. The fellow seemed rather pleasant, so I asked, ‘oh dear, am I trespassing?’

Yep, I sure was. I apologized profusely and thought I should leave, but the fellow was in the mood for a chat.

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The other ghost town named Bodie

Bodie is a popular ghost town in California.

It’s a state historic park and it’s known as the most well-perserved ghost town in the state.

Bodie, Calif., is on my bucket list.

So when someone mentioned recently they’d been for a day drive to Bodie, I got confused. (If you’re a regular reader of our adventures, you know that happens a lot.)

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A look back on simpler times in Douglas

It had already been a long day.

I was without my co-pilot, heading to Vancouver for a conference and playing catchup with some friends.

Driver pouting

No co-pilot

I was late leaving Vancouver on Wednesday and thought it would be a nice drive through the Cascades, dodging the logjam of Seattle commuters on their way from work.

I wasn’t disappointed.

Rapids on the Columbia River

The day was drawing out, though, and I thought it would be best if I took the most direct route from Wenatchee to Spokane. That’s where life had a different plan.

My Google Nav told me to take a right at the dead-end intersection but all the signs said “Spokane, left.”

I thought “how could the signs be wrong?”

I was 20 minutes down the road before I realized I had three hours and change of driving left, instead of the two-and-a-half that Google Nav said I would if I had just hung a right.

Dammit.

Oh well, it was too late to turn back now.

That’s when I realized the route I was on. I knew I’d be passing through Douglas County, the farmland just past our last trip to Govan and the abandoned schoolhouse.

Trouble was, my atlas was on the living-room floor in Spokane and I had no mobile reception. I kept my fingers crossed that I might spy something — anything — from the road.

Sure enough, I passed through the village of Douglas. The township was platted in 1886 and named after the county in which it is located. It was a popular spot for miners on the Gold Rush trail but a fire ripped through the town in 1891, destroying the downtown core.

A new general store sprung up in 1904, right where it sits today:

Douglas, Washington general store

Many of the buildings are in pristine condition, kept up by the loving touch of the 31 residents of Douglas.

It’s an outdoor museum of sorts, with an old fire truck and Ford tractor sitting in front of the old blacksmith shop.

Old fire truck

Old Ford tractor

There was no one stirring in Douglas on this night, however … no one to ask about the town or how long they’ve lived there.

I jumped back into the Escape and resumed my trip back eastward.

Then, I spied my gold.

It was sitting on the side of a hill, seeming lonely in its state of dilapidation.

Forgotten. Abandoned.

Abandoned house in Douglas, Washington

The faded sign reads ‘No hunters’ and there’s another on the house reading ‘KEEP OUT’.

I spy a boot, sitting on a counter and switch to my long lens.

Old boot in an abandoned houseA barn lies in a pile of sticks behind the house.

Owls hoot nearby.

Just up the hill from the house on Old Creek Road lies a brand new home. New residents love the small-town atmosphere, writes Luke Ellington on the Douglas PUD (public utilities department?) website.

“Douglas never boomed the way its pioneering founders wanted it to,” he says. “Yet, for this reason, it has retained the same charming and relaxed way of life the continues to draw new residents, customers, and enthusiasts.”

A simpler life, out of the big city, borne from a simpler time.

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Where’s the gold?

What do you plan on doing in Oroville?

No U.S. border guard asks this question without an eyebrow raised and a hint of surprise in his voice.

Most people who cross the 49th parallel at Osoyoos-Oroville are bound for other places … Spokane, Seattle and beyond. For me and my American, however, it’s our halfway point.

There really isn’t much to the town. It lies at the south end of Osoyoos Lake and has a population of about 1,600. Everywhere in town is closed for dinner by 9 p.m. on a Saturday night and the brewery we keep wanting to visit is never open.

The Hometown, which is halfway along the main drag and right across the street from our motel, serves a fantastic prime rib dinner. We get out of there with a beer and a glass of wine for about 45 bucks. Cheapest prime rib ever.

And there’s the chocolate they sell at the front desk.

There’s always more than meets the eye to every small town, whether it’s the history or a fantastic meal.

Oroville, the town of gold, was founded in the 1850s by prospectors looking for chunks of the miraculous metal. When the hills dried up, some stayed behind.

The weather and summer time fun, like swimming, fishing and quadding, started to liven things up 10 years ago, according to Wikipedia. Developers started building condos and hopes were high for Oroville.

But the recession hit and everything stopped in its tracks.

Me, I wrangle my boys into a day of driving. Shep doesn’t need as much convincing. My American gets onside when he realizes he can find new spots to cast his line.

Like Palmer Lake.

Oroville 013

Or the Simalkameen River that wound along next to the Loomis-Oroville Road.

Oroville 045

We stopped to take pictures at the foot of Chopaka Mountain:

Oroville 028

And spied some hoodoos carved into the hills.

Oroville 057

And then I found my gold: the little town of Nighthawk.

It was a booming mine town at the turn of the century, complete with hotels and a burlesque house. The Vacation Planner map I picked up at the motel, dated 2010-11, says it’s a registered ghost town and the original school house, a mining office and the old mill still stand.

Trouble is, there’s a sign that says everything sits on private property.

According to a web search, others have gotten pictures of the existing buildings. It may beg a return and maybe try to find a resident for a friendly chat.

You can bet your ass that will happen.

In the meantime, this old house is in my collection:

Oroville 037

Until next time, Nighthawk.

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A little town called Molson

I didn’t give the sign a second thought.

It said Molson Museum.

What would anything related to Molson beer be doing stuck in The Middle of Nowhere, Washington State, United States of America … other than possibly cans tossed out of a British Columbia pickup truck?

This Canadian (nationality, not the beer brand) gal didn’t even make the connection when she learned it was a ghost town.

A GHOST TOWN?

Well, hell’s bells … I have to go now.

My American rolled his eyes. We met for a romantic getaway in what I estimated was halfway between my new locale, Kamloops, and his home in Spokane. We ultimately calculated that I got the driving advantage by landing in Oroville, a little town just south of the border. It’s on the other side of Osoyoos Lake. Many might wonder ‘why not Osoyoos and do some wine touring?’

It’s a simple answer: two prime rib dinners with one beer and one glass of wine in Oroville came to $50, including tip. Do you think we’d beat that anywhere north of the 49th parallel?

But I digress.

I begged and pleaded for a day of exploring. Shep, our faithful co-pilot, stood at my side, his head bobbing and tail wagging in agreement. My American’s shoulders dropped a few inches, he sighed and finally acquiesced, knowing he would be stuck for something to do while I snapped away with my camera.

We made our way down to Tonasket to grab some coffee — our first attempt at joe in Oroville fell flat — and headed northeast on Havillah Road, stopping at an abandoned farm for this one:

We cut through fresh snow on the seldom-travelled road once we started getting into higher elevations and then headed for Molson.

Typically, I dislike the pre-fab type of ghost town, like Fort Steele, B.C., and I may have been setting myself up for disappointment when we got to the little town. I didn’t want anything to be too new, too clean or too shiny.

It wasn’t.

While Molson — current population 35 — is set up for tourists, the buildings that are set up for viewing have not been restored to a painted, prettified existence. While they have a museum-like quality, with pictures of Molson’s bustling times pinned on the walls or artifacts thoughtfully displayed, the buildings are as they might have been found in their abandoned state.

A mossy wagon and other farm machinery sit in a nearby field.

And signs are posted to warn those who might choose to run afoul of the law.

It was a little chilly last Sunday and we thought we’d seen everything there was to the little town of Molson.

Except for the school house, which houses the museum but is closed until Memorial Day weekend (that’s Victoria Day weekend in Canada).

And then I saw the mercantile store. With this sign next to it:

The Molsons? The Molsons of the beer gods of Canada?

Yep. Sure enough, according to Ghost Towns USA.

The once boom town of Molson was started in 1900 by George B. Meacham, promoter and John W. Molson, investor. Molson operated the largest brewing company in Canada and owned the Molson Bank, with branches in every province in Canada.

Buildings couldn’t be built fast enough in the little boom town that started to go bust a year later after prospectors failed to pull up much gold.

The town shifted to two more sites before most folks picked up and left.

Now, it just sits and waits for occasional tourists, like a surprised Canadian, who stumbled upon the little site in search of a glimpse into the past … and maybe a ghost or two.

For more photos from our visit to Molson, check out the album on Google Plus.

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More than a feeling

Yes, I drive around the country poking my head into and taking pictures of abandoned houses.

They have fascinated me since I was a kid. And I’ll never forget my first one. An old house stood next to Columbus Field where we had track and field training. It was probably my brother Kevin who hid behind a door, jumped out and yelled BAH, scaring the living crap out of me.

Then there was the old farmhouse on the Antigonish Landing. We’d jog out to Brown’s Mountain and explore the old dilapidated home. One of our coaches, Dave, pretended he was going to fall through the floor … and then he almost did.

Now I find myself in the Old West, where men mined the land for coal and tilled the field for crops.

The coal mines have been stripped dry and many of those crop fields now lie fallow, long since left behind by their residents.

Leaving me with a gold mine for my camera and my curiosity.

I wander the properties, turning the keys left in the ignition of old cars and trucks, wondering what I’d do if the engine ever turned over.

Poking my head into the houses, wondering why that table was left behind.

Touching the ovens tossed into the field, wondering why they couldn’t bake anymore pies.

I struggle to imagine what possessed a person or family to leave behind their homes. Did they simply drop everything and leave for a life of greater convenience in the big city? Were they forced out by foreclosures and the banks never found anyone to buy the property? Did they run away in the middle of the night, in fear of something?

It was cold on Sunday when we hit the road for the Badlands.

And when we spied an abandoned home from Highway 575 near Drumheller, I felt a weird chill. It was the kind of house that gave me shivers, not the least bit welcoming or warm.

I gingerly made my way around the property, always keeping an eye on the house. Its windows, the glass long since shattered away, and the door formed a large dark face of a gaping mouth and eyes.

It  was watching me with every step I took. Every press of the shutter release. Every breath.

I made my way around to the back of the house where Jack had found some rusty cans on the ground. He was bent over, trying to find the right angle, the right light.

I looked at the door. Though my guts were telling me to stay outside, I took a step into the house.

I felt a sudden chill.

The kind of chill that goes right into your bones. But there was no wind. Just a sudden drop in temperature.

I turned and went back outside.

Jack was standing by now, a confused look on his face. He said “that’s weird, my camera just adjusted to f95 on its own.”

Um … hey, Jack, there is no such thing as f95.

“I know.”

OK, waddaya say we get out of here?

We left.

I caught the house in the corner of my eye as we headed back to the highway. It gave me another chill.

I picked up my phone and launched my Dolphin browser. It seems to be extremely rare but other Nikon D300s owners have seen f95 in their EXIF data. Jack reset the camera and all was fine.

Was it merely a coincidence?

Was there a wind I didn’t notice?

Did the tiny little computer in Jack’s camera decide to shake things up on its own?

Or was it all more than a feeling?

Do you believe in ghosts?

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On deadline

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

It’s the mantra of procrastinators around the world.

Wait … let’s get one thing straight. When it comes to work and writing, I don’t miss a deadline. I stare that stone-cold bitch in the eyes and I turn her into a whimpering pile of tears.

But for the last couple of years, I’ve been saying to myself , ‘self, you gotta get back to Lomond and shoot that beautiful yellow farmhouse again.’

I spied the abandoned farmstead from the 531 on a February trip through Vulcan County in 2010. The faded yellow paint was still bright enough to stand out on the prairie hill but the dark holes of smashed-out windows gave away its abandoned state.

I didn’t get a great shot of the house, instead silhouetting it against the brilliant winter sun.

I explored the inside of the house, finding little artifacts left behind.

I promised to return during the summer, hoping for easier access than the knee-high snow Shep and I trudged through.

I didn’t go.

I thought of the yellow farmhouse often, mentally penciling in a visit every time I added a better piece of equipment to my photographic arsenal.

I didn’t go.

Life gets in the way. Other abandoned areas beckon. Trips back and forth to Spokane took up my travel time.

And then I learned I was too late.

My shooting friend Dan drove through the area last weekend on his way to Retlaw. I advised him to watch for the farmhouse the next time he drove through.

It sparked in me a need to hit the road. I started planning my trip last night, starting with the ‘cute little church’ Dan said he found in Gladys and running through Milo, Lomond and Blackie.

My heart fell when I landed on a post on Ghost Towns Canada.

“Gonzo!”

The farmhouse was gone … a smouldering pile of ashes.

OK, don’t give up, I thought. The foundation may still be there, giving the property yet another level of eerie abandonment.

I passed by Lomond and I mentally kept my fingers crossed, hoping something would be there.

Something was.

A new house.

Aye. The old barn still stands.

And the old GMC truck still sits rusting in the hay field.

If it’s possible for ‘new’ and ‘progress’ to tarnish, though, it happened today.

There’s a little less mystique about the property, with the spot where the old farmhouse stood fully bulldozed and covered in fresh gravel.

There’s a little less intrigue as the ghosts of the past seemed to have been whisked away by the future.

And there’s a lesson to be had.

Ghost towns and abandoned buildings have a deadline.

They just don’t tell us what it is.

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A meeting by chance

Moyie Lake and Frank 039

Phillip is a kindly, somewhat nutty old fella.

He ambles out of his little home in Moyie Lake, B.C., his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim overalls.

His fluffy white beard conjures thoughts of Santa Claus, while the ink art travelling up his arms gives hints to a rougher life spent on the union trail or on a motorcyle.

“Can I meet your dog?”

His voice is gruff and gravelly, evidence of a life spent smoking.

Sure can, I say.

We hopped out of the truck at Moyie Lake, curious about the little town we’d passed by a few other times, not even blinking in a quest to just get home.

As we stood in the shadow of the little Victorian style church, Phillip approached us.

He keeps his pockets full of Milkbones so he can treat the neighbourhood dogs on his daily walks through the little community.

He ruffles Shep’s ears and Shep gives Phillip his stamp of approval, letting me know it’s OK to trust the somewhat odd but friendly fellow.

Phillip tells us of the deer who visit his backyard, because he leaves apples and nuts for them on his picnic tables.

He tells us of his plan to shave his beard off in the spring, a chance to raise money for cancer research.

He tells us of his fight against cancer, surviving six months of chemotherapy, as he takes another long haul of his cigarette.

And he tells us that’s as much as he remembers of his life since a motorcycle accident and a severe bump on the head took away his memory.

But for some reason, he feels it’s important to tell us of his life before moving to Moyie Lake in 1976.

He was a travelling steamfitter/pipefitter.

He pulls out his wallet and hands me his identification card from the Syncrude project in Fort McMurray, Alta.

My hands shake a little as I hold his ID.

I look up at him and say, ‘My father was on that project.’

And the memories flood back.

The memories of his quiet, solitary life, spent on the road with brief vacations home to see his family.

The memories of his tortured soul.

Of his own battle with cancer.

And his death.

Phillip asks for his name and I tell him but his memory is blank.

We chat for a little while longer, learning a little more about Moyie Lake on a personal account from Phillip.

Shep, his belly full of Milkbones, and I hop back in the truck and continue our journey back to Calgary.

I can’t help but feel something greater was at work that day, something greater than just a quick stop at Moyie Lake to pound out an Exploring post for my site.

Even if it was just a distant, shot-in-the-dark connection to a father who was never really connected.