Today’s author has made a guest appearance in a few photos in past posts, but this is his TravelingthePNW debut as far as writing is concerned. Thomas Kyle-Milward works at the Tacoma News Tribune with Craig and is an avid hiker, and blogger at OntheGlass.
There’s something fascinating about train tracks stretching into the distance. Maybe it’s the promise of the unknown just around the next bend. Maybe it’s the old familiar yearning of Americana, stemming from back when the West was won with locomotives. Either way, the irresistible allure of those twin ribbons of steel disappearing into the horizon always makes me want to follow them. So when I had a chance to hike an abandoned stretch of what used to be a logging railroad in Oregon’s Salmonberry Canyon, I jumped at the opportunity.
First, a quick history lesson. In the winter of 2007, a storm washed out and damaged large swaths of the Port of Tillamook Bay Railroad, an 88-mile line the Port used six days a week to haul timber and grain between Tillamook and Portland. Deeming the damage too expensive to repair, the Port abandoned operations through the mountains. The tracks now serve as curiosities to inquisitive hikers, featuring decaying equipment and 17 lost lumber cars rearing out of the tall grass, brambles and low-hanging trees now suffocating the once-proud railroad.
Frequent hiking companion Erica and I took on the tracks one overcast Sunday in late June. Approximately 10 miles round trip and with minimal elevation gain, it won’t be the hardest adventure you go on this summer. Getting to the Salmonberry trailhead is a bit of a trek, however, out on Highway 26 and down along the Nehalem River. Prepare yourself and your vehicle for some dirt and gravel roads. The trailhead itself is deceptive; the hike begins as soon as you find the tracks.The first few miles felt like a jaunt in someone’s backyard. Private property dots the edge of the river, which you’re close to but not near enough to really add to the experience. Throw in the ominous-looking clouds on a day that was supposed to be 90 degrees and the trip was beginning to feel decidedly anticlimactic.
Then we discovered our first steel truss bridge – erected in 1925 – and the excitement returned. Farther along, the tracks become more and more overgrown and unusable, at some points floating chest-high in midair after the ground beneath them had been washed away. Another truss bridge and a graffiti-smeared, deteriorating tie-inserting machine were more fun discoveries as the track wound through a rock pit.
At this point, the going slowed to a crawl. Low-hanging foliage had me bent double for long stretches, and the tracks had faded to merely a suggestion of past glory. The third truss bridge showed significant storm damage, a dodgy pair of steel panels the only thing separating adventurers from a long fall into the river below.
A leaning water tower stood guard in the trees before we finally emerged from the undergrowth and found the lonesome line of railroad cars and two private cabins that make up the tiny “town” known as Enright. End of the line – or at least, as far as the hike goes.
A picnic lunch on one of the log cars later and we were headed back down the tracks to our vehicle. My takeaway from the trip was the smothering, all-encompassing green; a jungle-like atmosphere that simultaneously shut out the traditional sights and sounds commonly associated with outdoor trails and reinforced the feeling of rediscovery. The hike left me filled with an appreciation for Mother Nature’s steady battle to dismantle mankind’s best efforts to subdue her and reclaim sullied territory. Earth is definitely her world — we’re just living here.
– Thomas Kyle-Milward