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The best way is the wrong way

It was right there on the damn highway.

I only drove past it three times.

It must be Our American getting in my head. Usually, I keep my head on a swivel … looking left, right, left, right the entire time I’m out exploring.

He thinks it’s unsafe driving.

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The best for last: Hedley, B.C.

Sometimes, you don’t find what you’re looking for until you’re near the end of the road.

Shep and I saddled up for an escape on Sunday and busted the open highway, bound for Hedley. I’d heard about the mine on the side of the mountain, about miners falling out of their cabins … to their deaths.

I had to see if for myself.

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Sneaking around in Cawston, B.C.

It had been too long since we’d gone on an abandoned adventure.

Life has been getting in the way. Shep and I moved twice since August, one to Summerland and two months later into West Kelowna.

And then real drama struck. Shep became very ill and I almost lost my precious boy.

While he was recovering from surgery, I cuddled with him and promised an adventure as soon as we ready.

Hurray! He got his staples out on Friday and we started plotting (read: Googling) areas in our new habitat.

Sunday morning, we set out … bound for Oliver, B.C., to find the historic Haynes ranch and the former townsite of Fairview. And don’t you wish I was about to tell you that story and show you those pictures.

I will. But not today.

Once we got to Kaleden, we hung a right and busted for Keremeos, taking the long way — er, scenic route — to Oliver.

And that scenic route did not disappoint.

fishing dock on lake near Kaleden, British Columbia

Yellow Lake, I was told by a (somewhat inebriated) fellow casting his line into the lake, is a popular spot for flyfishers and ice fishers. It’s stocked with Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout.

Since we aren’t fishers, we used the dock for a photo op.
maremma sheepdog sitting on a fishing dock

Hmmm … it looks like Shep might even be posing. Don’t worry. He returned to his old self later in the day, having no patience, refusing to look at the camera and harumphing off in front of me.

On we went to Keremeos. A little town from the Wild West deserves its own day of adventure, maybe when it’s warmer.

We took the bypass and cruised through the Cawston, a small community south of Keremeos. According to Wikipedia, it’s named for R.L. Cawston, a pioneer rancher and magistrate who settled in the area in the 19th century.

We starting to get hungry. I started to tell Shep about a stop at A&W in Osoyoos when I had to stop.

Not one, but two abandoned, derelict homes … one right after the other. My heart jumped, and I pulled our great Escape off the highway.

Abandoned farmhouse near Cawston, B.C.

I couldn’t get any closer, since it sat behind a locked gate.

I was a bit apprehensive about the other property. I saw a No Trespassing sign but the gate was swung open.

Wide open. Invitingly open.

Like a Welcome sign.

I bit.
Abandoned farmhouse near Cawston, B.C.

A broken window offers a peak into the house. A bedroom, strewn with boxes and refuse.

Bedroom of abandoned farmhouse

Trust me, I wanted to climb through the window and see what else this lonely house held. But my best bud was waiting patiently in the truck.

There was also a bit of fear around someone storming up behind me and yelling “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

Not in the mood to get arrested, I snapped off a pic of (what I think was) the chicken coop and hauled ass.
chicken coop at abandoned farmhouse

Now at home, I learn the two properties are significant to the history of the area. Michael Kluckner, a Vancouver-based artist and writer, is fascinated by the abandoned and ghostly areas of British Columbia.

He researched the first farmhouse and learned it was the Elton home, built in 1910,

Ralph Elton was born in India where his father was a colonel in the British army, moved to England as a child, and subsequently migrated to southern Alberta where he lived before settling here. Although one can imagine his house as the centre of a large “spread,” Elton in fact owned just eight acres around it, with another eight of pasture in the hills behind. On his little farm he had apple trees, chickens and horses, but his main source of income was work on the roads.

The gate that kept me from getting closer keeps lookie-loos from entering McCurdy ranchland.

According to the Keremeos Museum’s website, Daniel McCurdy moved to B.C. from Ontario in 1884. The next year, he went back to Ontario to bring back his family: wife, Louisa, and children Sarah (7), Sam (5) and Robert (3).

The other house, of course, was the second McCurdy homestead, built in 1895.

I just hope I don’t run into any of the McCurdys on my next trip through that way … cowboy justice doesn’t look kindly on trespassers.

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The summer of ’99: a Jeep, Ricky Martin, movies and drive-in theatres

Let’s hit rewind on my life.

We’re going all the way back to 1999.

My best friend’s name was Jacqui. She had a navy blue Jeep and we bounced around Kamloops with Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca blasting from the stereo.

We were young, heading for our 30s and making sure we sucked the marrow dry on every last day of our 20s.

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The church: centre of a community

I’ve driven Route 2 from Wilbur through Airway Heights more than a handful of times since I moved back to the B.C. Interior.

Typically, I’m on a mission to get to Spokane Valley, our second home where Our American lives.

It was only recently that a building, almost hidden behind overgrown bushes, caught my attention. I don’t know how my eyes had missed it on previous trips.

abandoned church in Deep Creek, Lincoln County, Washington

The bell tower is familiar to this ghost-towner, who revels in finding the buildings once considered important, from schoolhouses to homes and churches.

The pretty little church has fallen into a state of disrepair.

The bell seems to be gone, windows are smashed out and boarded up, and its paint is peeling badly.

It’s on private property, so getting too close is out of the question.

Douglas County church, Washington

Little information exists on the web about the church.

One photographer took a picture of the former schoolhouse-cum-residence just up the road and a commenter mentioned the church.

I belive the Church is of 1929 vintage and sadly the owner has no interest in preserving it. Deep Creek Falls (now just Deep Creek) was a town from 1883 or so till 1939 (I believe).

Oh, if I had my way, I’d win the lottery, buy the little church and restore to its former beauty.

You see, I grew up in a small town on Canada’s east coast. Antigonish, N.S., is known as “The Little Vatican” and my family dutifully attended St. Ninian Cathedral every Saturday.

I’m not a religious person as an adult but I remember the value church gatherings bring to a community. In Canada, the community churches are complemented by a community hall and, without question, the hockey rink — a part of our culture well documented by hockey personality Chris Cuthbert in The Rink: Stories from Hockey’s Home Towns. I used to have a signed copy, interviewing Cuthbert in Kamloops during my career as a sports writer.

And I wonder if, as we start to let these wonderful little churches wither away, it only symbolizes the loss of our sense of community and togetherness.

Ah, but maybe that’s too profound a thought for our little exploring blog. We stumbled onto a few other churches along the way.

When I took a wrong turn on my way back to Spokane from Vancouver, I saw the little Anglican church of Douglas:

Douglas County 032

Saint Paul’s Lutheran hasn’t been used in many years, says the Douglas County PUD website, but the folks who live in the area are trying to restore it. The website, unfortunately, has dated information as it says the Douglas Community Historical Association wants to have the church fully restored by 2006 and rent it out for weddings and other celebrations.

The site says the church is on the National Register of Historic Buildings, the official U.S. federal listing of significant historic, architectural and archeological resources.

Drilling down takes me to the Washington Historic Register. Its database shows the application of historical landmark status, prepared by Kenneth Duane Britt of nearby Wenatchee. Dated 1980, the application shows the church is (or was) owned by the Westerman family.

The Church is what is left of a once thiving Community. It is a landmark of the courage, strengh, ingenuity, morals, ideas, beliefs, and culture of the early settlers of Douglas and our whole State. I would love to see the Church on the National Register, and I believe it is a Landmark well worth it.

They’re words that apply to any of these old buildings that Shep and I find along the way.

The churches and schoolhouses and grain elevators and farmhouses, all long abandoned and nearly forgotten, are testaments to who we are and where we’ve come from.

And without those touchpoints, we’ll never know where we’re going.

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Another abandoned schoolhouse

The Highland Road schoolhouse was on my list of things to find in Washington State.

While pursuing my ghost-towning passion, I found the Ghost Towns of Washington on Facebook. The main website is a treasure trove of places Shep and I can go to find history and great photos.

It helped me find the abandoned schoolhouse in Govan.

And it’s where I first saw the Highland Road schoolhouse that stands on the corner of Highway 2 and the aptly named Highland School Road.

After one wrong turn on Wednesday, I struggled to remember if there was much left to see on the route eastward to Spokane.

The sun was setting and I was losing my light. But I didn’t miss the little building as I ascended the ridge of the Moses Coulee.

Highland Road schoolhouse in Douglas County, Washington

A Google search doesn’t come up with much on the one-room schoolhouse that’s said to have been built in 1905.

“The last classes were held here in 1949,” the Ghost Towns of Washington says. “The school was not part of any one township, but rather served several surrounding communities.”

It was a community hall and used as a voting precinct up until the 1960s.

Now it stands in a state of disrepair.

It has been ravaged by time, weather and vandals.

Graffiti on abandoned schoolhouse in Douglas County, Washington

A thought crosses my mind: maybe the kids who went to school here and suffered days with grumpy headmistresses would appreciate graffiti’s defiance against authority.

The lure of a schoolhouse in Govan

Clink, clink.

Clink, clink.

Clanging wind chimes  were all I could hear as I stood on a road that may once have been busy with cars, horses and wagons, and maybe children playing.

I was drawn to Govan, Wash., by pictures of the abandoned schoolhouse. Shep and I made the short trek from Spokane on a cloudy, windy day … the kind of dusty wind that leaves your teeth and hair gritty.

In its heyday, writes Charles A. Stansfield in Ghosts of Washington, Govan was a neighbourhood shopping centre, sandwiched between Almira and Wilbur.

“It supplied the daily wants of the people in the surrounding area,” he says. “It had grocery, hardware, clothing, and farm supply stores. It had a post office, a school, and a church. The automobile age brought a service station, along with the seeds of doom.”

The population of Govan started to disappear as people could travel.

country road washington

“Cars and paved roads changed the rules by letting people travel much greater distances in the time they were willing to spend going shopping for basic needs. Why not go further for more variety of choice and more competitive prices? People could and did. School buses eliminated tiny one-room schools. Mechanization led to larger but fewer farms in the neighborhood and fewer customers for local stores.”

Signs of life

People still live here. Four, actually … at least according to a few sites found via Google search.  The graveyard is gone, moved to nearby Monroe in the 1970s.

An older model SUV sits in front of the home with the wind chimes but around me, there are many signs of life abandoned.

An International.

grain truck abandoned

A home, maybe once loved but long forgotten.

abandoned house washington

The schoolhouse, the piece de resistance.

abandoned schoolhouse govan washington

Others have ventured inside. I took one look at the floorboards and thought, “No, thanks.”

I imagine kids in period clothing running around the field, playing kickball or catch.

A teacher grinding chalk on a blackboard.

Memories uncovered

Russell Yates found one of the many pictures of the schoolhouse online and wrote in the comments that his grandmother had taught at the little school.

“My aunt graduated from it, and my grandfather went there in 1909,” Yates says, his comment dated Nov. 25, 2007. “About 10 years ago, he wrote a short letter to my nephew’s class telling them what school was like when he went to school in Govan.”

We could walk to school, but many of the students lived 5 or 6 miles away. They had to ride in a buggy pulled by two horses. It might take them one and a half or two hours to get to school in the morning. The big brothers or sisters drove the horses. During the day the horses stayed in a barn by the school until the kids were ready to go home again. School started at 9 a.m. and was over at 4 p.m. In the winter those who came by horse and buggy would have to go home in the dark.

The school I went to only had two rooms. In one room were Kindergarten and Grades 1, 2, 3, and 4. In the other room were Grades 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9. Each room had one teacher and about 25 students. Some teachers had older kids help younger ones. In front of the room was a row of desks for recitation. When it was time for the teacher to work with my grade, we would go up to the recitation row for reading or other learning from Mr. Sickles, who was my first teacher. The other kids would be at their own desks doing their work quietly. Each grade took turns.

One of the books I remember is Black Beauty. My parents didn’t read to me at home, but our teacher read to the class every morning.

These are the stories that cannot be lost.

They let us know where we came from, an integral piece of the path we forge as we move ahead.

Govan … not forgotten.

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A quick drive around Saltese Flats

I watch too many episodes of Criminal Minds.

And I remember too well the creepy ones with plots centring around the Spokane, Wash., area. You know … there was the one with the brothers who played a hunting game … with people.

<shudder>

So, when an older fella kindly offered me the opportunity yesterday to take pictures of his root cellar, I politely declined.

Shep and I set out on a quick afternoon adventure, exploring the farmlands around Saltese Lake, just minutes away from My American’s house in the Spokane Valley.

I spied the area on a bike ride, looking for some hills to challenge myself without needing to drive anywere.

I found them both, making my first trek up East Saltese Road on the weekend.

On the loop, I passed the Saltese cemetery, established in 1892 and home to the original homesteaders of the area.

Old cemetery headstone in Saltese, Spokane Valley

And the one-room school, built in 1895 and later became the Greenacres Grange hall. It sits idle now, awaiting an architect’s interesting plan to turn it into single-family residence.

One-room school in Spokane Valley

It took only a couple days to get my hill legs back and I started to look for ways to make the route longer.

By the map, East Saltese Road turns into East 32 Avenue, which takes a hard left onto Barker, or keeps going as Saltese Lake Road. The lake road winds around to Henry, popping out into Liberty Lake. But I figured I should drive it first to check on the hills.

And, I thought, maybe Shep would like a jump in the lake.

The lake, it turns out, was drained by Peter Morrison in 1894 so he could farm the land.

He wanted to grow the finest Timothy hay west of the Mississippi, according to Spokane Valley Heritage Museum director Jayne Singleton.

So, no afternoon dip in the water for The Boss.

But that didn’t mean the day was a loss.

Once I turned the little Escape onto Henry Road, I spied jackpot. I drove past it once to hope for a parking spot but there was little shoulder to the rural road. I pulled a U, tucked the truck next to the intersection and walked back toward my goal.

Collapsed barn in Greenacres, Washington

To some, it’s just a pile of wood and rocks.

To me, it’s art.

And there’s a story there somewhere.

But what it is? The mystery was quickly solved.

As I reached my truck, a 1970s model pickup, deer grille on the front, canoe strapped to the top, pulled up alongside. An older gent leans out and says, “You’re not from around here.”

Nope. I imagine he saw my B.C. licence plates and I thought I’d strike up a conversation. If anyone knows the history of the area, it’s the folks who live around here.

After a bit of “get-to-know-you” chatter, he offered that the barn was the old stage stop for the area. It’s been there since long before he was born and it made its last standing breath a few years ago.

It sits untouched.

“If you look real close, you can see ruts in the fields where the wagons rolled through here a hundred years ago,” he said. “I tried to get people to do something about it, preserve them somehow, but nobody cared. Shame.”

I nodded in agreement.

And then …

“Well, hey, if you like taking pictures of old things, you can come on up and look at my root cellar.”

I followed with a nervous laugh and said, “Maybe not today. I have to get home and make the boyfriend dinner.”

He told me to have a great day and went off about his.

I’m sure it was a kindly, neighbourly thing to do, in that old-fashioned cowboy way.

But don’t horror movies start out like that? Or Criminal Minds episodes?

Ed’s note: In researching the Deep Creek church, I found a little bit more information about the Saltese schoolhouse. According to the Northwest College of the Bible website, church met in the schoolhouse under the leadership of Benjamin Edward Utz. The schoolhouse was built with volunteer labour in 1905 or 1906 and had a separate entrance for men and women.

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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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Up to my knees in snow

It’s covered in inches and inches and inches of fluffy white stuff.

And that makes exploring tough.

But it didn’t deter Shep, my trusty co-pilot, and I from jumping in the truck and seeing what Paul Lake Road had to offer my lens.

I recall an ill-prepared camping trip to Paul Lake some time in the late ’90s. I wasn’t a good camper and none of the three girls knew how to build a fire. I’m not even sure if we had an actual tent, it was that long ago. I know I didn’t own a sleeping bag until 2007, so there’s that.

The campground is a provincial park and it’s closed for the winter season, but it appears you can hike in.

While Shep would have gladly leaped through the snow up to his armpits, I was poorly dressed for the occasion. (Note to self: get better hiking boots and gaiters.)

As it was, my feet got soaked anyway.

We drove for a while, looking for any chance to stop and take pictures. But the road is so windy and twisty that there really isn’t a safe place to pull over.

We got to Hyas Lake Road and I spied this little gem sitting in a field:

I was already standing knee-deep in snow, wishing the barbed-wire fence in front of me wasn’t there.

I let it stop me.

But not when I saw this baby on the way back into Kamloops:

I swung my leg over some barbed wire, hoping and praying I didn’t tear a hole in my favourite ‘weekend’ jeans.

When I got closer to the Plymouth, I didn’t care … even as the snow soaked into the denim, my boots and my socks.

And while I love the effect of two feet of snow on the hood, I can’t wait for that stuff to disappear.

I want to go back.

I have to go back.

To get closer.

To this car. And that car. And the little abandoned homes and farms deep into snow-covered lanes that I won’t attempt to drive when I have no reception.

They’ll still be there in the spring.

Then again, you never know.

In the meantime, where’s a good place to go shopping for hiking gear, Kamloops?