Autumn in the Okanogan

This is my favourite time of year for shooting.

I’m always excited by the bright reds, yellows and oranges against a brilliant blue sky.

Since I moved back to B.C. temporarily, I’ve passed by this lake countless times, en route to Spokane or Omak to visit My American. We spent last weekend in Omak with Bella, our seven-month-old Maremma sheepdog.

The lake again caught my eye on a day trip to Oroville. It was surrounded by trees losing their leafy green colour and the water was so calm, it could have been mistaken for a mirror.

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The patience to go long

I’ve never had a good tripod.

Our American has one he never uses. So you know what I did. That’s right, I heisted it.

I’ve freehanded waterfalls but never quite got the practice I need to get long exposure right.

Sunset skies always had a bit of shake to them.

With sturdy tripod and remote shutter release in hand, I set out to masterattempt long-exposure photography.

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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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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.


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.


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.