70. Ghost Roads

Published on 21 June 2024 at 08:06

© 2024 Robert Sickles

Beacon Hill, Seattle. View is from my favorite wild blackberry patch, looking NW over I-5 toward downtown.

 

Not every abandoned road is necessarily haunted. But looking at the way it becomes overgrown with moss and cracked with tree roots, it just seems spooky to me. When I consider the optimism of its planning, the feats of engineering and the celebration at its ribbon-cutting, it’s surprising how temporary a modern road can be—not built to last for millennia like the Romans did it. The very concept of “road” is loaded with symbolisms of the cycle of life, of our direction and purpose. But the vestiges of roads that no longer lead anywhere? Those give me something to think and write about.

I used to pick wild blackberries on the side of a wooded hill of Seattle. At first, the earthen trail was narrow and steep as it descended from my hilltop neighborhood. Then it became wider and more level, oddly feeling to my feet like there was pavement underneath. Reaching over for ripe berries, I tripped on a rock… no not a rock, a curbed sidewalk! Poking around I found more curious things: storm grates, heaps of chimney bricks and foundations of houses covered over by berry vines and saplings. Later, I learned that the construction of Interstate 5 had cut access to this entire area from the valley below, so the buildings on several streets were condemned and demolished.

Each time I went back to explore the hillside, I got a strong feeling of sorrow, such as when I found a rusted child’s tricycle hidden below tree limbs and clumps of ferns. On the street surface, there was evidence of everyday life: old oil spots from parked cars on the pavement, pieces of red glass from somebody’s broken taillight. Dips in the curbs meant there used to be driveways, now leading to nothing. I pushed aside branches to reveal the still-standing street sign on what was once the corner of 10th Avenue and Atlantic Street, an address that hadn’t existed for decades. Ruins of a forgotten community, my own little Pompeii discovery! From that moment, I was drawn toward abandoned and bypassed roads. It’s not just archeological curiosity, there’s an emotional-spiritual part to it, something I can’t quite describe. 

Redmond's Old Brick Road. Photo by Joe Mabel

 

Years ago, I used to visit a friend out in Redmond, Washington way back when the near side of the town was the far edge of the suburbs, and the outskirts were truly rural. I haven’t been out there for a while. The affluent communities created by Microsoft and others have led to some big changes in the scenery.

Anyway, the eastbound road out to Fall City was the widened version of a very old route, once known as the Yellowstone Trail. It was actually America’s earliest transcontinental highway, connecting Boston to Seattle. They called it the Yellowstone Trail because the nation’s first National Park was the main attraction along the way.

Near that highway one day, I turned onto a curiously narrow side road, a very peaceful mile of old red paving bricks. The peaceful lane was lined with pastures and a few old homes. When I drove my friend and her daughter over to see it, I read the historical marker describing The Old Brick Road as a preserved segment of the Yellowstone Trail. The little girl thought I was taking her to see the Wizard of Oz, asking why the bricks weren’t yellow. Then she said out loud what I was thinking—that the road was pretty, but it made her kind of sad because it was not connected anymore, like an orphan.

 

Photo courtesy of Darin Volpe. Please see note below.

 

Washington has a large number of forest and mountain pass highways which are periodically rerouted to suit modern safety standards. When I’m a passenger, I can watch the scenery and hunt for forgotten pieces of the older highway hidden behind the woods. Narrow bridges and hairpin curves gradually crumble, all alone in the forest. Or sometimes they become part of a foot trail like the one I hiked in the Cascade Mountains. Picture yourself walking up to a rusty YIELD sign in the middle of the forest. Hmm, that’s deep.

I can’t say what there is about these places that captivates me. For some of us it’s ghost towns, lost mines or old railroad tracks. They’re fun too, but I go for ghost roads. As my little friend said, they’re pretty and kind of sad.

I imagine stories of the travelers that passed by here while coming or going to their destinations. And I feel for the ones whose days may have ended at that very spot. 

 

Afterword

Browsing for a photo that best illustrates my story, I came upon the one above and contacted the photographer, Darin Volpe, for usage permission. Please visit his website dvtwist.com. Darin is an inciteful story teller in words and pictures.

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Comments

Dave
22 days ago

Old Roads! I love 'em also. In my current neighborhood most of the old roads are logging roads, or logging railroad beds. Fascinating.

Lynn Leggett McFarlane
22 days ago

I love it when the past leaps out at you. The first time I went to Rome I sat in an old rock In the forum and marveled at the history that had come before me. Roman tales from our Latin classes passed through my memory ( and Mr B of course). It makes you feel so small but in awe of the world.

Dee Rincon
17 days ago

I'm happy to see other people have a heart for old roads and places. You brought back my childhood memories when I would trek up the long road to where we kids would tobaggen or sleigh ride down the long snowy road. Or just to sit on railroad ties high above between two pine trees and look down at the railroad tracks and cars hearing the engineers's majestic horn. My grandfather was an engineer and would throw quarters or Hershey Chocolate bars from his cabin. It was joyous. I often walked the dirt road along side the railroad tracks for comfort, My dad also worked as a conductor and sometimes worked nights. I would hear the box cars from behind our house clanging from coupling other box cars. My joys from my childhood still remain especially when I hear train whistles near by my home. TY Bob for letting me reminisce.