Jump to content
American Road Magazine
Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

No Beer At This Yellowstone Trail Watering Hole

Recommended Posts

Hello Everyone,


I want to dedicate this story to "Keep the Show on the Road" Dave. For the intial discovery of the existence of this trough, which steered me in the direction to find this artifact and in helping me write the story and come up with a snappy title for it. Dave has been a great help to me in honing my skills as a road historian and writer.


Thanks Dave!!!!!!


No Beer at this Yellowstone Trail Watering Hole


Last week my wife Leona and I met with Dave and his wife Sheila for breakfast in North Bend, WA. After breakfast, we drove up to Snoqualmie Pass to explore the Yellowstone Trail (YT) / National Parks Highway (NPH) also known as the Sunset Highway. There is a segment of the original 1915 highway leading down the pass on the western side. Today this road is Forest Service Road 5800 or FS-5800.


We were trying to locate (along with some other items) the old water trough used to fill radiators of the early autos that over-heated going across the pass as many did. Dave had told me about its existence. I never heard of a radiator fill trough before or knew that one was on the pass. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate the trough. The day was still exciting and we all had a great time exploring together.


Saturday June 8th my wife and I drove up to the Denny Creek Campground. This is just below the second set of switchbacks on the western side of the pass next to the 1915 road. You can park there to take a hike on the many trails that originate there. Today we are going to hike up the pass on the Historic Wagon Road.

This wagon road was the first route for wheeled vehicles over Snoqualmie Pass, which began in 1867. In 1905, the first auto crossed over the pass using this wagon road. In 1909 as part of the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, there was a coast-to-coast automobile rally, which started in New York and raced to Seattle. The promoters claimed it to be the first transcontinental race of its kind and this rally would include a passage across Snoqualmie Pass.

The Alaska–Yukon–Pacific Exposition was a world's fair held in Seattle, publicizing the development of the Pacific Northwest.

Only four of the six vehicles that departed New York were successful in traversing the Pass, and the accounts that exist today are remarkable.


Snow and mud tortured the teams on the road across the pass, described by some accounts as “little more than a wagon road.” And it was in fact, a wagon road!


Today you can hike a one-mile portion of this historic road. We began at the Denny Creek Campground and started up the hill. It is remarkable that you can still see the road very well in its original state. Yes, it is just wide enough for an old auto to pass through. Near the end of the one-mile journey, we discovered what appeared to be the remains of planking. This area is very wet and the use of planking would indeed be needed. There is so much vegetation over the rotting wood but I could make out some rows of boards where the water had washed out part of the ground.


I also found what looks like a metal bracket possibly used to secure the planks but I do not know what it actually is. It was in the mud along side of the wooden planks so I wonder if it had anything to do with that.


Numerous places huge trees have fallen and the folks who cleared the trail for hikers in the mid 1980 have just rerouted the trail around the large fallen trees. We walked along as much of the original route as we could.


In the mile, we climbed 272 feet and the trail ended at the point of the lower curve in the upper switchback. I could see that the wagon road continued up the hill beyond this point but was impassable due to fallen trees. The trail makers must have decided that this was far enough of trail to maintain.


From looking at the 1913 original blueprints for the upper switchback and comparing them to today’s map. I could see that the switchback was realigned. I also have a photo dated 1915 and it shows clearly the same alignment as the 1913 map. I believe that sometime after 1915 this part of the highway was upgraded. It could have been done in modern times but this will need more research.


The Sunset Highway was dedicated in 1915 at the time the YT and NPH had reached Washington State. From 1905 until 1915, the early automobiles had to use the wagon road.


From 1915 to 1925, you used this route (FS-5800) up the pass. In 1925, the Milwaukee Road had completed the tunnel under Snoqualmie Pass to Hyak. In 1926, the road was realigned to go across the river at the point were FS-5800 begins. The new route crosses the river on what is now FS-9034. The bridge that this new alignment uses is the bridge that Dave had photographed with me pointing to the old railing in the river. Then the highway went up the pass on the old railroad grade to the summit. This segment is now the eastbound lanes of Interstate 90 going up the western side of the pass to the summit.


We still didn’t find the water trough.


The next day we decided to go back and look for the elusive water trough.


We parked near where our earlier expedition with Dave and Sheila had parked to look for the trough. I had read a report that it would be near where the 1915 road reached the trees after going down past the upper switchback. We walked up and down where we had walked last week. To no avail, so I stopped for a moment looking for the wife as she had wandered into the woods and I could not see where she had gone. Then I said to myself while waiting for the wife to pop out of the forest that it had to be over where the trees had started from the clearing and I should try one more time. As I walked back up the road, I noticed a piece of rock that had a squared edge. I scraped some muck from the top and noticed it was flat and longer than it looked. I yelled for the wife and got no reply. I walked back down to find her and let her know that I had found something.


I heard her say something I should not type into this story as she was struck by a thorn going through the brush while trying to get back to the road.


We then walked back up the road and I showed her what I had found. We were not completely sure what it was. It looked like an ordinary concrete block. It was completely covered with weeds and mud. We could see the concrete I exposed but when we stuck a pry bar into the middle, it went right down into mud. Eureka!


We both cleared the weeds and mud with our hands breaking loose the sediment inside the trough with the metal bar we had. We were able to clear enough muck away from the trough so we could get some photos of it.


Now it is easy to find and for many, to pass by and wonder what the heck it is.


Link to all photos and maps of the trip - http://www.ilwu19.com/sunsethwy/pass.htm


Link to just photos of the wagon road - http://www.ilwu19.com/sunsethwy/wagon.htm



Link to comment
Share on other sites

I haven't died, so it is nice to have such a kind statement of appreciation!


It is always fun to encourage someone with the talent to pursue it, and Curt is a natural. To be truthful, I am the student. It is a bit humbling to have been doing this stuff for 40 years and then have a new kid on the block run circles around me! But it is fun, none the less.


John and Alice Ridge will be out this way this weekend, and Curt has led the way in setting up a gathering of the road faithful. Now he and the rest of us have something special to share with the Ridges, who know the Yellowstone Trail better than anyone in the country.


And I can't believe that the automobile water trough was where it is!! I'd swear in court I looked over every inch of that section of the road when we were up there with Curt and Leona. I must have walked right past it at least five times. Or maybe at my tender age, I did find it first, but forgot before I had time to tell the rest of the group.....Yah, I like that version.




keep the Show on the Road!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 2 weeks later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...