There’s an old western film out there called The Cariboo Trail. It was made in 1950 and stars Randolph Scott and George “Gabby” Hayes. The storyline of the film is two cattlemen head into British Columbia via the Cariboo Trail with the intent to raise cattle and try their hand at gold mining, but they find trouble instead.
If you drive north or south on Highway 97 near Okanogan, you drive right by a historical marker put up in a widening by the Okanogan Historical Society. It marks one part of the actual Cariboo Trail.
The Cariboo Trail closely followed the Okanogan River all the way to Lake Osoyoos. With an elevation gain of just 125 feet from where it meets the Columbia River to the lake, it made for a rather easy route to move cattle. Not that it was a completely easy job. Fording the river at several points was particularly challenging.
This route is also sometimes referred to as the Okanogan Trail. It gets its name as the Cariboo Trail for the fact that it ended in the Cariboo mining district of British Columbia.
The southern start of the Cariboo Trail varies from person to person with some saying it begins at the confluence of the Okanogan and Columbia rivers, some saying it starts in the Wenatchee area, some that it begins when it enters the Grand Coulee, and there is evidence that some considered themselves on the Cariboo Trail after they left the Wallula Gap near the present day Tri-Cities.
Whether it was miners heading into British Columbia or cattle being driven there to feed them, the Cariboo Trail was an important local route that helped establish settlement in the region.
The image of the old west ghost town is not exactly what you find with every visit to a now abandoned former community, especially here in North Central Washington. Getting out though and seeing these communities can be a great way to stay in touch with local history as well as a fun way to have a great time just driving around.
If you were to zoom in on Google Earth or Google Maps just east of Waterville, and moved south from the tiny community of Douglas, you would see the name “Alstown”.
Alstown was established in the mid 1910s on a branch line of the Great Northern Railroad. This branch was abandoned in the early 1950s with the development of local highways through the area and advancements in the trucking industry. Left behind at Alstown are some crumbling homes, a resilient barn, and the still used grain storage facility.
The Green Bridge, located at the top of Tumwater Canyon, was originally built as a railroad bridge in 1900. In 1936, it was moved to where it spanned the Wenatchee River and converted to a highway bridge. Due to it being declared obsolete and deficient in regards to current bridge standards, a new bridge was built right next to it beginning in the summer of 2011.
Though it had aged quite a bit and was probably not something special to look at for most people, the Green Bridge was somewhat of a local landmark in North Central Washington. Depending on the direction of travel, it was either a sign you were getting close to Leavenworth or a sign that you were leaving civilization behind and what laid ahead was either Lake Wenatchee or Stevens Pass.
The new bridge is open now and it and the connecting highway have improved the travel conditions there immensely. The new bridge is perfect for handling the bigger rigs and oversize loads that travel the highways today. Loads that people 75 years ago never thought could be hauled down the road. For those wanting a walk down memory lane, or a drive to be more correct, here’s an animation from the old Green Bridge.
And here’s a look at it that you may never see again as the metal structure is slated to come down this summer. Here’s the Green Bridge’s frame without the road deck present anymore.
The new bridge is great… but it’s no Green Bridge.
Dry Falls is one of North Central Washington’s true treasures. these magnificent cliffs that once saw huge cascades of water pouring over them can be enjoyed both from the visitors center above (where this video is shot from) as well as from the many trails that explore the area below. Sun Lakes State Park is located just south of Dry Falls and provides access to the area as well as many things to do while there as well.
View photos of Sun Lakes State Park.
A great article by Herald writer Jackson Holtz is available that details the 1910 Wellington disaster that took place near Stevens Pass and captivated the entire nation at the time. Parallels are drawn by the author to our 2008 winter that also featured numerous avalanches, though by far less deadly. The Wellington disaster is a fascinating historical event that many residents of North Central Washington don’t even know exists. Read how one train stopped by heavy snow on the tracks met its fate that winter day by a mountain of rushing snow like few have ever seen.