I find that it’s often the greatest explorations that happen on the spur of the moment, without preplanning or research. Simply getting into the car or stepping out onto the trail without knowing what you’re going to find can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Often, I forget the simple joy of these unplanned wanderings, the emotional high that I can get just from setting out and driving through the woods, looking for something interesting.
Recently, the dreary rain in Western Washington gave way to a couple of beautiful sunny days and unusually high temperatures for early February, and I found myself itching to get out and do take advantage. My life recently has become all consumed with finding a job and chasing stability, and I’ve found myself chafing at this self imposed repose from wandering and exploring, in spite of its necessity. So when I saw the sun out in full force and heard the birds singing in the crisp late-winter air, I knew I had to take a day and reconnect with the things I love in life.
I satisfied my urge for hiking with a snow shoe in Snoqualmie Pass the day before, and my knees hadn’t fully forgiven me yet, so I opted to take a drive locally around the Olympia, Washington area, where I’ve been staying during my job search. I’d spent a lot of time in the Olympia area, but never really explored the woods and rural areas surrounding it. I’d heard of the Mima Mounds to the southwest for years, mysterious rolling hillocks of mounded earth piled up over centuries by industrious gophers, but never seen them, so I set off toward them early in the morning, hoping to at least get a few good pictures of the odd formations.
I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed with the sight, the mounds were far from impressive, and not at all conducive to photography in my mind, so I bypassed them and set out into the woods of the Capitol Forest, a large stretch of protected wilderness area nearby. I drove along Bordeaux road, watching mist rise off of Mima Creek in the morning sun, when I noticed several odd posts in the water, and in a nearby field. There was nothing natural about these posts, set evenly through the water, and I parked in a nearby pullout looking to explore further.
Posts in the Creek
Misty Morning Sunlight
I got out and wandered through the misty field, the once high grass matted down by winter frost, unidentified rodents (possibly voles) scurrying beneath my feet, and took photos of the eerie mist rising off the warming waters of the creek. The wooden posts were placed at even intervals, their ruined tops poking above the gently swirling waters, broken boards littering the banks and lying strewn across the bottom of the creek. Clearly there had been something here before.
I had noticed, upon parking, an unusual concrete structure just off the road near where I’d left my car, and returned to find a small vault, covered in moss and ferns and layers of graffiti, left behind to be reclaimed by the forest. Being a fan of abandoned places and forgotten buildings, I took a few pictures and kept wandering, back across the road and up a small muddy track that meandered toward a wooden foot bridge across the creek.
Graffiti on the Vault
Again I found the same wooden posts positioned through out the creek bed, evenly dispersed, their broken tops parting the water as it drifted past. I followed the creek to a bend just downstream from the bridge, and found several concrete blocks jutting out into the water, apparently the foundations of what I assumed were old bridges. I noticed the remains of buildings, concrete structures mostly obscured by the dense fern and leaf cover, and shattered bricks strewn amongst the mud.
Tree Stumps and Broken Posts
Bordeaux Bridge Foundations
Bend in Mima Creek
Last Wall Standing
It was clear that I’d stumbled onto something special, and a few hundred yards into the woods confirmed my suspicions. A massive cement tower, almost entirely obscured by heavy vine cover, loomed out of the forest ahead of me. It looked to be the remains of an old smoke-stack, and it seemed as if created for a post-apocalyptic film set, as if dressed there as production design. I’ve been to a lot of abandoned places, but nowhere has seemed so lost to time, so heavily reclaimed by the wilderness. It was so eerily unnatural, so out of place amongst the trees. It was amazing.
The Dark Tower Looms
Bordeaux Tower Remnants
In the Tower
Window to the Sky
Hidden in the Undergrowth
Nearby a massive brick and concrete structure, its walls shattered and overgrown with vines and ferns, stood as the last reminder of the town that had once stood here. The remains of an old powerhouse, again it almost looked as if it had been dressed from some master production designer. The green of the ivy and ferns stood out in sharp contrast to the red and orange bricks, the light from the sun filtered through trees and cast heavy shadows across the moss strewn cement. It was astoundingly beautiful, and distinctly isolating, despite the road not a hundred yards to the other side of the creek from where it stood.
Remains of the Powerhouse
Hole in the Wall
Barrier to Nature
Doorway in the Powerhouse
Light Breaking Through
I would find out later that I had stumbled upon the remains of Bordeaux, a former logging town in the Capitol Forest, shut down in the 1940’s when forest had become so heavily logged that there wasn’t sufficient wood left to be harvested. The town was eventually dismantled, its buildings destroyed and left to be reclaimed by the forest it had once thrived on clearing. The town stood for nearly 50 years, housing upwards of 700 men in its hey-day, and notable for its deplorable working and living conditions at the time. Now it is barely a shadow of its former self, hidden from sight even from the road that now runs directly alongside it.
Ladder to Nowhere
Swallowed by Nature
Only the Forest Remains
The forest has taken its toll on the structures and equipment left behind. Trees and undergrowth have enveloped everything, and in another 50 years, it’s possible the only thing left will be the remaining bridge fittings in the lazily churning waters of Mima Creek, the last marker of a little slice of history.