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.

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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.


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.

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.


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.


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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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.


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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Hog’s not for the dogs

I thought I did my research well enough.

I thought I’d read everything there was to read about Hog Lake and Hog Canyon Falls on the old Google tubes.

It turned out a more difficult hike than I expected.

It turned out the falls weren’t quite as big as I expected.

It turned out there wasn’t as much access to clean water as I expected.

None of that means it wasn’t a fantastic day.

I have a passion for waterfalls. There’s something so majestic about them. Once I whet my appetite (get it? whet? wet? ha!) with Palouse Falls, I became insatiable.

I looked for more in the area and found Hog Canyon Falls.

The sun was blistering and we brought a jug of water for Shep and a couple of Gatorades for us. I figured we’d be lakeside for much of our trek and we’d relax by the falls while Shep laid in the water.

I was wrong.

The hike, about five miles (see that? I’m becoming American already) round trip, took us to the top of rocky scablands where I found carpets and carpets of wildflowers. We trekked through clarkia, blanket flowers, Indian hyacinth, rusty lupine and more.

The colours were as striking as the uphills were steep and quad-numbing.

With Shep at the ripe old age of nine (80-some in his dog years), neither one of us is in prime hiking shape any longer. Was it only two summers ago we climbed to the top of Barrier Lookout?

The falls, water cascading down a staircase of stones, were gorgeous, albeit a little smaller than I thought.

We took several breaks and were looking forward to cooling off in the water at the base of the falls. But the water pooling around the edges of the large rocks was murky and rife with algae.

Navigating the area is equally as difficult. One site described it as ‘scree’ but that’s different than any Rocky Mountain scree we’ve previously encountered.

And then there are the snakes. My American saw one slither past and yelled ‘snake!’ and, yes, I screamed. Was it a little garter or was it one of the rattlers that are supposed to populate the area?

Never mind, I don’t really want to know.

We ascended the hill to the top of the falls and found more murky water. We had no choice but to let Shep dip into the muddy pools, while we snacked on berries, almonds and sunflower seeds.

The trek back was no less rough at times, my spirits lifting when I could spot the wee truck in the distance. Then it was back to the city to get Shep a bath and learn about ticks (yep, we pulled five or six of the little buggers off him).

Lessons learned?

  • Bring more water than you think you’ll need
  • Take someone else’s degree-of-difficulty rating with a grain of salt
  • Forgo the big camera backpack with three cameras for the sake of water
  • Cotton socks suck for hiking, go for wool
  • Get better hiking boots
  • Water, water, water, water, water
Oh … and bring more water.



Over the top in Palouse

I have a thing for waterfalls.

Maybe it’s been since I stood on the viewing platform at Niagara Falls, wide-eyed in wonderment at the tons and tons and tons of water cascading … nay, pounding … into the pools below.

Lundbreck, Troll, Takkakaw, Athabasca … I hike to them. If I’m road-tripping and I see a sign, I stop for them.

That’s right. I brake for waterfalls.

Thus, when my friend John posted a video of some nut kayaking over a 198-foot plunge in Washington State, I knew I had to see it.

Tyler Bradt set the kayaking-over-a-waterfall record. I had no idea there was such a record.

The video may have made me queasy … me and my fear of heights … but it sparked my passion for exploring, one that’s been lying dormant for months.

Watching Bradt’s plunge over Palouse was no preparation for seeing the real thing. The Falls are the piece de resistance of Palouse Falls State Park in the southeastern corridor of the Evergreen State.

Translation: It’s a tourist trap.

We went on a rather hot day and the place was crawling with lookie-loos of all ages.

We ventured out onto the sand-covered scape, at first dodging the tourist-infested viewing area and saving the Falls for last. We peered over the cliffs and down to the rapids where folks were chilling in the cool water.

Poor Shep was in need of a dunk and we wondered how we could get down there.

When we realized it was by descending a path along the canyon wall, we opted for dumping bowl-fulls of water on his head.

Why drive all the way and not take the opportunity to head to the pools below?

Three reasons:

1. Fear of heights … as in mine
2. The area is rife with rattlesnakes … venomous rattlesnakes
3. Canyon walls that are descended must also be ascended

The trip was so so much worth it.

The 190-foot tumble of water is majestic. A constant rainbow forms in the mist created by the crashing water.

The coulees to the south end of the canyon are carpeted with blue lupines for miles and miles and miles.

With campsites and picnic areas, it may be worth another trip back.

A longer one.

I just have to work on that whole fear thing.