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Sunset On The Yellowstone Trail & National Parks Highway

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Sheila and I had a great day Sunday exploring the Yellowstone Trail with fellow road pros, Curt and Leonna. The weather wasn't great, and as I will explain later, we didn't discover three of my four artifacts, but it was fun none the less. Curt is new to the Forum as Curt C, but is a veteran two lane road pro. Leonna joins right in.


I wanted to check out four locations:


  1. two bridges on the original dirt section of the Sunset Highway which was the route of the National Parks Highway and Yellowstone Trail beginning when the road was opened in 1915 over Snoqualmie Pass,

  2. a roadside radiator water trough reputed to be on the old alignment just below the Pass on the west side,

  3. the site of the Cedar Falls railroad siding where automobiles carried over the pass by rail were unloaded, and

  4. the site of the Mt Granite Lodge, on the side of the old road as it climbed to the Pass.


Alas, only the last was achieved, but not for a lack of trying. The bridges turned out to be modern structures, the radiator water trough was so well hidden a half hour of four searchers' efforts produced no results, and the site of the old railroad siding and station was a part of the Seattle Watershed, and was closed with threats of arrest and imprisonment. But the adventure was fun, the company great, and along the way we found a few other treasures.


We met Curt and Leonna at a restaurant in North Bend, where Leonna surprised us with a terrific memento of the day ahead. She had produced a small pillow embroidered with the Yellowstone Trail symbol. We were delighted, and it set the stage for the day's plans. Leonna and Curt with her embroidery work are pictured below.




Leonna and Curt and the Yellowstone Trail Emblem She Created



King County, which includes Seattle, has done a nice job of documenting what they call their Harritage Corridors, including the old Sunset Highway. The whole report, which includes a map near the end of the Sunset Highway section, link is below.




I have pulled their map out so you can follow our trip sites (in violet font). The gray road is I90 and the red is segments of the Sunset Highway / Yellowstone Trail / National Parks Highway.





We headed off in two cars connected with walkie talkies, a traveling style I enjoy because it allows each party to explore at will but still remain connected and share discoveries. Curt has a keen eye, assisted by Leonna and they spotted several things I would have missed. Tinkham Road is part of the original Sunset Highway. We drove it to the site of two bridges I had spotted and hoped might be from the era of the road. They were not, but Curt spotted what appear to be origin ford sites.




The Original 1915 Yellowstone Trail and National Parks Highway Route along Tinkham Road...Old Sunset Highway


We doubled back and picked up the 1915 and 1927 alignments on the north side of I90, and Curt showed me a really nice 1927 bridge (South Fork Snoqualmie River Bridge,l 47.394245°, -121.473518°) that was on the YT and NPH near the end of the auto trails era. Curt had scouted it on a prior trip, and showed me some of his discoveries. The bridge railing was obviously modern, which made the bridge a rather uninteresting prospect from the road.


But in the river bed below, a segment of the old railing and abutment told a different story. And the steep walk down to the water was worth the effort as it revealed the graceful arch of the vintage structure.




1927 Yellowstone Trail Bridge...Note Original Railing in Water




Curt and the 1927 Bridge at Water Level


We returned to the 1915 alignment and of course stopped at the venerable Yellowstone Trail marker painted on the rock at 47.406036°, -121.443640°. Curt took a snap shot of an old vagrant pointing at the logo.




A Wandering Vagrant Pointing at Original Yellowstone Trail Emblem South of the Snoqualmie Pass on the Original Road



I had recently learned of another site beside the highway, the Granite Mountain Lodge. Exploring the reported site (just across the modern bridge from the YT marker, on the west side of the road, down by the river) we found some old foundations, but little else.




The Site of the Granite Mtn Lodge....Just the Foundation Remains (see movie for original buildings)


Several web searches turned up nothing, but Curt subsequently found a vintage movie (probably about 1940) that actually shows the 1927 concrete bridge, the original 1920 bridge (since replaced), and the “Granite Mountain Camp.” For the section of road we were following, start watching at 4 minuties into the movie, but the earlier parts are well worth watching as well!



We then drove up the old alignment to where the water trough was supposed to be and spent a fruitless hour searching. Fortunately after we returned, Curt again found an online reference to the trough with more specificity as to location, so another trip is needed.


We turned around and proceeded down the road a bit to a segment of the old alignment that had been isolated by later road adjustments. Along the side of the old segment stood an old cedar stump. Vintage photos of Washington State often show lumber jacks falling giant old growth cedars with ax and two-man crosscut saw. Some of the trees are as big around as the giant redwoods in Northern California, and sometimes their massive stumps housed homes and even small businesses. The old stump I photographed below was small by comparison, but it retained the holes where the loggers of the last century placed their springboards while they sawed the tree down.




Curt Showing Old Cedar Stump with Slots for Springboards for Loggers to Stand on When Using Crosscut Saw.


Our last stop of the day was technically not part of the Yellowstone Trail or the National Parks Highway, but it was closely linked. The Cascade Mountains were a formidable barrier to wagon and auto travel into Seattle and the Puget Sound from the east, and the old wagon road over Snoqualmie Pass was unfit for automobile travel, though a few adventurers used it. Before 1915, most put their automobiles on the train at Easton and their machines were unloaded at Cedar Falls ( 47.422392°, 47.422392°), where the motorist then drove via North Band and Snoqualmie Falls into Seattle on the Sunset Highway (YT / NPH).


After the Sunset Highway was opened in 1915, most automobilists used the new road, which we had been exploring, but many still preferred the railroad. A side note may be in order. It wasn't unusual to ship your vehicle by rail, even across country, in the teens. It was a fairly common practice, and transcontientalists often made the trip by road one way, and by rail the other.


I wanted to see what there was to see of the old transfer site where automobiles were loaded and unloaded. It was not to be. The City of Seattle watershed incorporates the old Cedar Falls town and railroad site, and they are serious about keeping the public out, with threats, fences and locked gates. They provide a couple of “tours” a year into the watershed, which when I checked, were already fully booked.


The watershed operates a very nice visitors center and even a research library east of the old town site, outside the watershed, which is well worth a visit. The staff was kind, and very helpful, but was unfamiliar with the history of the automobile transfer operation.


That last observation prompts a final comment. Most “normal” human beings travel the roads to visit places of interest. Very few have a clue about the history of our roads. It is almost as though, at least in the Northwest, we jumped from the Oregon Trail to the Interstate System in one leap.


I'm not complaining because that makes it easier to be an “expert,” on what happened between 1850 and 1950! And I have noted over the past twenty years a gradual recognition, and even a growing interest in our road heritage. I believe that American Road Magazine has been a big help, and I want to thank the Repps for what they have added to my life, and to the enjoyment of two lane travel for many of us. We would not have done it without you!




Keep the Show on the Road!

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It is always great to get a comment from a pro. Thanks!


I agree with your view, and the good news is that Curt has spotted a more specific description of where the trough may be. Darn, I'll have to take another road trip! Drats!




Keep the Show on the Road!

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Great article Dave! You did a great job telling about our trip. Leona and I had a great time with you and Sheila exploring the area. Too bad we didn't find the trough. Oh well it gives us an excuse to go back.


You forgot to tel everyone about the Ranger at the State park. He must have had a bad day or what? I guess he was grumpy because he had to work that day.


Anyways we look forward to our next adventure together.

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Thanks for the comeback. OK, I'll comment on the ranger.


A beautiful female park ranger mistook me for George Clooney......opps that is another story.....


I didn't tell the ranger story because he was rude, but I have a suggestion that some park ranger might take to the boss and get credit for.


I buy a park pass each year but haven't bought one this year yet. It is standard practice to allow people without a pass to visit a state park for 15 minutes without requiring a pass.....I think based on the assumption they might want to just use restrooms and be on their way. Our stay at the park was under 7 minutes. But we got rudely hassled by a ranger....end of condensed version of story.


So.....I suggest that rangers be equipped with credit card scanners connected to their cell phones ( a small, common, and simple device readily available) and rather than threaten passers through, they offer a pass as a courtesy, right on the spot. Welcoming instead of angering guests, and a needed income generator.


That way I get what I want, the ranger is helpful rather than threatening, and everyone leaves with a smile. I like win wins.




Keep the Show on the Road!

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