The Elwha Dams and the Snoqualmie Tunnel: Checking Off My List

I don’t like to call it a “bucket list”–I don’t want to think about “kicking the bucket.” My list, which grows almost faster than I can check off accomplishments, is just a list of things to do, places to go, some day soon. Recently I checked off two places close to Seattle that have been there a very long time, but that I had never seen. Aren’t there places like that near where you live? What are you waiting for?

I wrote about removing the Elwha dams on the Olympic peninsula in a post last April (scroll down to read it if you’ve forgotten). Two dams on the Elwha River, the Elwha Dam (1913) and the Glines Canyon Dam (1927), produced a lot of electricity but destroyed a fantastic fishery,  even though state law at the time required dams to be built with some provision for a by-pass for fish. Now there are other, bigger, less destructive producers of electricity for the area, and the river can be returned to its original state. I wanted to see the dams before the destruction begins, in September 2011. Two weeks ago we drove to Port Angeles, WA, on our quest, but we had a disappointment. The road to the Elwha Dam, which is the lower of the two, was closed on the very day we arrived! A pleasant but firm young man in a hard hat told us that we were not allowed to either walk or drive the one mile to the dam. Nuts!  We drove on to Olympic National Park where the Glines Canyon Dam is located; on the way, we stopped at an overlook to see Lake Aldwell, behind the Elwha Dam. Then on into the park and the dam. Chain link fences kept us from walking onto the Glines Canyon Dam, but I put my camera right up against the fence and photographed through it. Then we drove a little higher to stand on the banks of Lake  Mills, behind that dam. Maybe I’ll go back in a few months when the destruction of the Elwha Dam has begun; the contractors have promised that there will be a safe viewing site. Meanwhile, don’t wait. What’s on your list?

The Snoqualmie Tunnel is on the Iron Horse Trail alongside I-90 which crosses Washington state east to west. The trail, on the roadbed of the old Milwaukie Road electric railroad, is now a state park also called John Wayne State Park—I don’t know why. The two-and-a-half mile long tunnel is open only in the summer, and had been closed for several years, so when I learned that it would be open this summer, I put it on my list. Not many members of my hiking group shared my enthusiasm, but one friend, Sandy, wanted to go and my husband volunteered too, I think because he didn’t want us to do it alone. A week after the Elwha trip, we were dropped off by a friend at a trailhead for Annette Lake (Exit 47 on I-90), and took that trail up about a mile to the intersection with Iron Horse. It was a long, steep, woodsy, narrow trail up, but the Iron Horse was wide, gentle, gravel, designed for bicycles as well as hikers. (Horses, too, we saw the evidence.) We walked the Iron Horse about a mile to the western portal. The tunnel is so straight that we could see the lights at either end all the way through, but it was totally dark. Don took our picture with a flash, but not much shows up. The walking surface inside the tunnel was very smooth and hard, wet in places from dripping water, but no holes or barriers to trip us. Sandy and I each had a headlamp and a handheld flashlight. Don didn’t turn on his light at all. We walked through, from west to east, and then about a mile further to meet up with friends and our car. Been there now, done that. Check!

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