NW Snapshots: Old Olympia Brewery

Old Olympia Brewery near Capitol Lake in TumwaterWA. Photo: KGilb.

Old Olympia Brewery near Capitol Lake in Tumwater WA. Photo: KGilb.

What’s that aging brick building perched, tantalizingly out of reach, on the eastern shore of Capitol Lake? Ask any of the locals in Tumwater, WA. The “old” Olympia Brewery built in 1906 has been a local icon for decades. Once a bustling bottling plant located near the foot of Tumwater Falls, the six-story Italianate-style structure was abandoned when a new and improved brewery was built upstream in 1934.

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The Thundering Roar of Spokane Falls II


Spokane's lower falls. Photo: KGilb

Spokane’s lower falls. Photo: KGilb


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The Thundering Roar of Spokane Falls


Spokane River during spring run-off. Photo: KGilb

Spokane River during spring run-off. Photo: KGilb

There are hundreds of waterfalls scattered all over the Pacific NW. But I’m pretty sure Spokane Falls is the only one located in the heart of a bustling downtown business district.

The Spokane River flows from Lake Coeur d’Alene in northern Idaho to Lake Roosevelt near Grand Coulee Dam. As it flows through the middle of Spokane, WA, the river takes a dramatic plunge less than a block from City Hall. Depending on the season, the results can be spectacular!

When is the best time to visit Spokane Falls? Definitely during the spring when snow melt rushes down from the mountain tops and turns the river into a raging torrent. The water turns frothy white as it swirls past jagged boulders and pours through chasms in the rocks.

There are several spots inside Spokane’s Riverfront Park from which to view both the upper and lower falls. A number of foot bridges span the river, offering unique vantage points. And for visitors feeling a bit more adventurous? They invariably take a ride on the Spokane Falls Skyride–an aerial gondola that carries passengers and their cameras out over the thundering falls.

Finally, there is a path that leads down to the bottom of Spokane Falls. Follow the driveway that runs right beside Washington Water Power’s vintage red brick building to a paved walkway beyond. The paved walkway leads to a broad flight of concrete stairs that ends in a viewing platform at water’s edge. From here, you can feel the full force of the river as it tumbles over a spillway. But be warned . . . the walkway and the stairs are pretty steep!

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Mima Mounds II

Mima Mounds as seen from edge of forest. Photo: KGilb.

Mima Mounds as seen from edge of forest. Photo: KGilb.

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Mima Mounds

Origin of the Mima Mounds is shrouded in mystery. Photo: KGilb.

Origin of the Mima Mounds is shrouded in mystery. Photo: KGilb.

For an overall perspective of the Mima Mounds prairie, most folks head straight for the top of the observation tower located at the edge of the preserve. But to get a real sense of the otherworldly landscape, it’s best to hike the two mile Prairie Loop Trail that winds through (and sometimes over) the grassy mounds. Some are covered with huckleberry bushes or lichen and white moss. Others are crowned with a single Garry oak tree. But it’s the uniformity of the mounds that is most striking. Roughly 6 feet tall and 30 feet in diameter, they’re all the same–like rows of bubbles in a sheet of bubble wrap. No wonder Charles Wilkes thought he had stumbled upon an ancient Indian burial ground. They’re such an “unnatural” natural phenomenon.

Who was Captain Charles Wilkes? He was an American naval officer who came across the Mima Mounds while exploring parts of the Pacific NW in 1841. Can you imagine his excitement when he first caught sight of this unique forest-locked prairie? The swath of grassland spread out before him was dotted with hundreds of earthen mounds. Mounds so uniform in size and shape, what else could they be but tombs? Burial mounds built by the natives! He ordered his men to tunnel into one, no doubt hoping for funerary treasure, but all they found was  . . . gravel.

Though no priceless Native American artifacts were ever found here, the Mima (pronounced MY-ma) Mounds are a treasure in themselves. No other natural site is shrouded in such mystery.

Why are they here? How were they made?

Since Captain Wilkes’ discovery, a number of theories have surfaced concerning the origin of the Mima Mounds. Some believe they were created by the freezing and thawing of glaciers during the last Ice Age. Others think they are the results of earthquakes, volcanic explosions, or maybe just simple erosion. One theorist even suggests that the mounds were made by pocket gophers who pushed the earth up and out as they burrowed underground. (like the moles in your front yard)

I think native tribes had the best explanation. The people of the Upper Chehalis tribe believed that the Mima Mounds were left behind after a great flood subsided.

Regardless of how they were created, this 637-acre natural preserve is truly one of nature’s oddities. A short path leads through a thick stand of Douglas Fir trees to the edge of the prairie. A half mile paved trail loops around some of the Mima Mounds and back to the parking lot. The two mile, soft surface, Prairie Loop Trail that we followed branches off from the paved path shortly after passing the observation tower. The longer route was well worth the extra time we spent at the preserve.

The Mima Mounds Natural Preserve is located about 17 miles southwest of Olympia, WA. From I-5, take Exit 95 and turn west on Highway 121 toward Littlerock. In Littlerock, continue west onto 128th Avenue. Travel 0.8 mile to where 128th Avenue ends in a “T” at the top of the hill. Turn right onto Waddell Creek Road and travel about a mile. Entrance to the preserve is on the left.

A Washington State Discover Pass is required to park at this site. And because the ecosystem is so fragile, no dogs are allowed inside the Mima Mounds Preserve.

Special Note: When we came late in August, the Mima Mounds Natural Preserve was a sun-baked prairie. But in spring and early summer, that same prairie explodes with color as the grassy mounds are covered with wildflowers!

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The House That Eliza Jane Built

The Meeker Mansion in Puyallup WA. Photo: KGilb

The Meeker Mansion in Puyallup WA. Photo: KGilb

Eliza Jane left the Pacific NW and traveled to Europe in the mid-1880s. It was an exciting trip for the middle-aged wife of pioneer and one time “Hop King” Ezra Meeker. The Victorian Era was in full swing and she fell in love with its distinctive architecture and ornate interior design.

Returning home to Puyallup, Washington, she decided it was time for a change. Instead of the rustic, ivy-covered, two room cabin she had shared with her husband and children for 26 years, she wanted a mansion. A Victorian mansion. And Ezra agreed that she should have one . . . as long as she was the one who paid for it!

So Eliza Jane Meeker commissioned the Tacoma architectural firm of Ferrell and Darmer to draw up plans for her dream house. Construction of the 17 room Italianate mansion continued for three years. It was finally completed in 1890 with title to the property registered in her name.

The Meekers moved in and lived there for almost twenty years, until Eliza Jane died in 1909. Shortly after her death, Ezra left the mansion and never returned. The house was then sold to the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Over 100 years later, stained glass windows still greet visitors to the Meeker Mansion. The interior features a wealth of burnished hardwood floors, moldings, and wainscoting. Light filters in through big bay windows. Chandeliers hang from rosettes in the hand-painted and stenciled ceilings. The walls reflect the rich, warm colors of the Victorian Age. And all the rooms are furnished with antique rugs and furniture of the period, including some items that belonged to the Meeker family.

Of special interest are the six uniquely designed fireplaces with their carved wooden mantles, pressed metal inserts, and English or Italian tile surrounds.

Considering the amount of damage done by subsequent owners of the property, restoration of the Meeker Mansion borders on the miraculous. Until 1970 when the house was acquired by the Ezra Meeker Historical Society, it was used as a hospital, a retirement home, and a critical care nursing home. The beautiful woodwork and stenciled ceilings were painted over, drop ceilings installed, interior walls removed, partitions thrown up, and some of the interior doors sealed off permanently. Fire escapes were anchored to the exterior walls and, at some point, the house was sheathed in ugly asbestos siding. Fortunately, much of the damage has been repaired.

Restoration of the old mansion continues as funds become available. Recent finds include the discovery of a missing room! See article posted in The Olympian newspaper.

The Meeker Mansion is a “Must See” for anyone who loves beautiful Victorian-era houses. It’s located at 312 Spring Street in downtown Puyallup, Washington, just 35 miles south of Seattle. Cost of admission is only $4.


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Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad III


OCSR's Engine #25 was built in 1925. Photo: KGilb.

OCSR’s Engine #25 was built in 1925. Photo: KGilb.


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Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad II

OCSR's fully restored Pullman Coach. Photo: KGilb.

OCSR’s fully restored Pullman Coach. Photo: KGilb.

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Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is ready to board. Photo: KGilb

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is ready to board. Photo: KGilb

The shrill of a train whistle pierces the air. All aboard! Huge white clouds of steam billow out from the coal black engine as it sits, hissing, on the tracks. The whistle sounds again; the engine starts moving. Clanking noisily as it picks up speed, the train rolls through the middle of Rockaway Beach. Tourists and shopkeepers wave to the passengers as they pass by. And the passengers? More than a few are grinning and waving back like little kids on a carnival ride.

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad makes regular runs between the small coastal towns of Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach. The two towns are as different as night and day. Rockaway Beach is crowded with tourist shops and has a nice stretch of beach while Garibaldi boasts a cozy little marina, a fisherman’s wharf, and a logging/antique railroad equipment museum. Passengers can board at either end of the line for a round trip excursion that lasts about 1-1/2 hours.

The vintage train chugs along the Oregon Coast at 10-12 mph, offering incredible views that you just don’t see when whizzing along a two lane highway (US-101) in a car, truck, or SUV. Lily ponds and steep forested slopes give way to sea stacks and the glint of sunshine off the waters of Tillamook Bay. Seagulls cry and a line of pelicans skims over the waves. (look a little closer and you might even spot an eagle or a blue heron) And in the distance, a wispy bank of fog rolls over the spit.

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad's covered gondola car. Photo: KGilb

Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad’s covered gondola car. Photo: KGilb

The big black engine with the number 25 painted proudly on its side was built in 1925. Instead of wood or coal, it runs on recycled motor oil which is used to heat water inside the engine. The boiling water turns to steam and the steam moves down into the cylinders that power the train. Engine #25 currently pulls a fully restored Pullman Coach, a covered gondola car, and an open air passenger car with a classic caboose bringing up the rear.

There is a half hour layover, give or take a few minutes, at each end of the run. Not enough time for any serious sightseeing, but certainly long enough to get out, take a stroll, do some window shopping, or grab an ice cream cone.

The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is reminiscent of a time when “riding the rails” was the only really cool way to travel. It’s a fun ride for history buffs, as well as kids of all ages. In addition to their regular coastal excursions, the OCSR offers Sunset Dinner Trains, a Moonlight Special, a Fall Splendor run, and a couple of holiday trains later in the year. Prices vary depending on the event. For more information or to purchase tickets, please call 855-842-7972 or visit www.ocsr.net.

Special Note: There are no assigned seats, so it’s best to board early. Especially if you’re part of a group that really wants to sit together. And bring a jacket! The breeze off the water can be chilly, even on a bright summer day.

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Starvation Creek Falls

Starvation Creek Falls in Columbia River Gorge. Photo: KGilb.

Starvation Creek Falls in Columbia River Gorge. Photo: KGilb.

Hard to believe the pretty little horsetail waterfall that tumbles off the top of the steep basaltic cliff has such a dire name: Starvation Creek Falls. When we visited in mid-summer, the vegetation was a vibrant green. But the near tragedy that gave the creek its name didn’t happen in the summer. It took place in the dead of winter just one week before Christmas.

On December 18, 1884, the wind was howling as a blizzard swept through the Columbia Gorge. The Pacific Express, bound for Portland, rounded a curve near the creek and plowed right into a 25-foot-high snowdrift. The train stopped dead in its tracks, stranding 148 holiday passengers and the crew.

As the men started digging out, Conductor Edward Lyons rummaged through the baggage car. He came up with three cases of oysters, two quarters of beef, some mutton, and 75 jackrabbits. Not a lot considering how many mouths they had to feed. The women cooked over coal from the train until it ran out, then over wood gathered from under the snow. A relief party–made up of Gorge residents who either fought their way through the snow on foot or skied in–reached the stranded travelers on Christmas Day. Surely a welcome sight!

What happened to the train and its cargo of weary holiday travelers? It finally steamed into Portland on January 7, 1885 . . . three weeks late. (historical account taken from sign on site)

Though no one actually perished during the storm or in the days that followed, the site became known as Starveout Creek or Starvation Creek as it’s called today.

Starvation Creek Falls is actually a two tier waterfall, though the bottom tier is hidden by a huge boulder when viewed from trail’s end. From the top of the cliff, water plummets down about 140 feet into a pool. The stream then spills over into a smaller waterfall and finally becomes a shallow creek that rushes past a little picnic area on its way down to join the Columbia River.

Starvation Creek Falls is located about 55 miles east of Portland, Oregon, on I-84. (between Cascade Locks and Hood River) From the parking lot of the rest area, a paved walkway runs about a quarter mile to a viewpoint near the base of the falls. The trail follows the creek as it winds through a stand of shade trees, especially nice on a hot summer day.

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