My adventures and mis-adventures as I travel here and there

Lester, WA: the Ghost Town’s Latest

Now just a glimpse of its former self, the ghost town of Lester, Washington was once a thriving community located in a picturesque spot in the Cascade Mountains near Stampede Pass.

Lester, WA

Lester, Washington was born and prospered at the hand of the Northern Pacific Railroad which began traveling over Stampede Pass in the 1880’s-1890’s. The town was named after the first telegrapher at the station. In the 1950’s when railroad activity began to decline, Lester’s population also embarked on a downward spiral. Finally, in the 1980’s, all railroad activity across Stampede Pass ceased. That along with legislation by the City of Tacoma (the town was located in Tacoma’s watershed) forced the eventual death of Lester.  The road was closed, the residents were asked to leave, and Lester, WA became a ghost town

Gertrude Murphy, last living resident of Lester, WA

There was one woman, however, who refused to sell her land to the watershed. Gertrude Murphy, a former school teacher of Lester, lived out the hundred year lease on her house, unwilling to leave her home. Gertrude fought in vain to save some of Lester’s buildings as historical relics and, when her own house burned down, relocated to a cabin outside the center of Lester, spending summers there until her health prevented it. She died on October 2, 2002 at the age of 99. She was the last living resident of Lester, and was celebrated as such, receiving former students, reporters, and welcoming visitors who came to see Lester. Some feel that the last remaining bit of Lester died with Gertrude, but the children and grandchildren of its late residents still remember the stories of a school, library, train depot, tavern, ranger station, and houses that were at one time occupied by over 1,000 residents! Indeed, many people remember their grandfathers working for the railroad to Lester, their grandmothers living in cabins among the trees, their parents attending dances on Saturday nights, and the town lives on on their memories.

In recent years, rails through Lester are being used again by the Burlington Northern.  Tacoma watershed authorities have reluctantly agreed to allow foot traffic into Lester, and the children and grandchildren of former residents can hike into this memory-filled ghost town to remember the people whose lives began and ended there.  I, too, was interested in this mysterious little spot in the forest along the Upper Green River.  My first and second attempts to visit it were ill-timed and wholly unsuccessful, but I persevered. Lester, WA was my ghost town obsession.

The lonely clearing

In August of 2009, I was at a turning point in my existence, about to make a decision that would change the trajectory of my life forever, and I needed time alone to think, to just be.  A pause before a leap.  I knew that the solitude of Lester would be the perfect place for such a thing, and the way it called to me with a voice of adventure made it impossible to resist.  I jumped into my less-than-trustworthy car on a Saturday night and drove the 4 hours to Lester, arriving after dark.  I turned left at the fork in the forest service road before reaching the Lester gate and then turned left again and bumped down a barely used set of tracks between trees into the forest, inadvertently subjecting my car to a couple of large rocks hidden between the ruts by long grass.  I drove until I reached a dead end at a small stream.  I crossed the stream and pitched my small, borrowed tent in a clearing that almost appeared to be meant for such a thing.  I cooked dinner in my lonely campsite using the crudest of utensils and crawled into my sleeping bag.  It was my first time camping alone (and in a ghost town, no less) and I felt small in the empty forest.  At least I hoped it was empty.  I drifted off into an uneasy sleep before hearing a sound, a loud disturbing sound that grew louder and louder every second and shook the ground underneath my prone body until I felt  that I must ask myself a question that I SHOULD already know the answer to: DID I pitch my tent on the railroad tracks?!?

Build small fire, sit close.

The stream I camped by

I guess this USED to be a road....

I don’t know how late I slept in the morning, but after my frightening experience with the too-close-for-comfort trains during the night, I felt I might have needed the extra rest…  Reloading my car and retracing (more carefully this time) my tracks from the previous night, I made my way to the Lester gate, feeling incredibly satisfied that at last I was going to give Lester my undivided attention and the time I knew it deserved.  Armed with my camera and a backpack of snacks and water, I slipped through the gate and hiked down the dusty dirt road…

This road must have once led to this.... remnants of civilization right here at my campsite.

The first two times I made it to the Lester gate, there was a trailer parked here on the right-hand side.

You're on foot from here

Lester is at the end of this road.

car I found alongside the road

stove inside the white house

I think that drying rack used to be green...

Notice the soap and towel dispensers. I thought that odd for a house.

back porch of the house by the tracks

I spent the rest of the day exploring every nook and cranny of Lester- imagining what the town must have once looked like, searching for clues as to what the residents may have left behind.  The only remaining buildings (besides the new warehouse, which I didn’t try to enter) are a couple houses close to the south side of the tracks, the nearly tumbled outbuildings of those houses, and a house, trailer, and shed which are obviously more recently occupied though now given over to mice and decay.  I spent hours tromping through the woods searching for anything the might be missed from the road, but all I really found were a few masses of twisted metal.  The ground in the trees undulates in a curiously rippled sort of way and I believe it is due to the way the town was bulldozed to the ground.  I wonder what one would find if they dug down.  I did find an interesting old car along the road on the way to Lester in a spot that appeared to be an old dump of sorts.

Upstairs in one of the houses- notice all the mouse droppings. The smell of mouse urine up here was overpowering! Gross!

view of yellow house from back porch of white house

cheerful red

posted inside barn

Most of the barn is gone.

Some of it is still standing...

...but not for long!!! :O






foot traffic is forbidden from this point

It used to be a slide. Was there a playground here once?

I think we all know what this was.

tart but delicious


my edible souvenir

When my curiosity was finally sated, my skin sun burnt, and my clothing filthy, I walked back the way I came, triumphantly bearing a few stalks of persistent rhubarb harvested from a long-abandoned garden (I cooked and ate them with strawberries and they were delicious!)

I hope you enjoy this sampling of the pictures I took.  I feel that Lester is definitely worth the trip.  I found the area beautiful, peaceful, and a wonderful place for the imagination. Oh, and I returned home relaxed, renewed, and ready to make my decision. Thank you, Lester!

© Travelnole and Travelchick-girl unstoppable, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Travelnole and Travelchick-girl unstoppable with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | Attractions, Ghost Towns, Lester, Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 110 Comments

Lester: Washington’s Best Ghost Town

Ok, so my title is a liiiitle presumptuous, especially since I have yet to actually SEE Lester. But I do know where it is now and I’ve laid plans to be there just two weeks from today. I can’t wait and I’m now a little obsessed with this shell of a town.

I meant to leave at 9am on Tuesday from Walla Walla so I’d have two hours to find and explore Lester and still have my rental back to Oak Harbor by 5PM. Unfortunately, picking squash from my garden and loading all my freshly cleaned laundry into the truck took longer than I had anticipated- and also I was a little sad to leave- so by the time I actually pulled out of town it was more like 10am. As luck would have it, I entered the highway behind a long line of cars and trucks. Frustrating. But by taking advantage of my truck’s height I was able to do some grand passing maneuvers. I made it to the turnoff to Lester in good time, but I knew I only had one hour to tool around. I took exit 62 off of I-90 and proceeded to follow my carefully scribbled directions. My truck bumped and slid down narrow gravel roads along sharp drops and breathtaking vistas. Countless chipmunks nearly met their end beneath my skidding tires. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way the entire time, though, because the forest service roads weren’t all marked well. I kept basically following the main gravel road, however, and eventually ended up at the gate where a sign declared that only foot traffic was allowed to pass (and that doesn’t include bikes). I thought this was probably the place I’d have to get out and start walking down the long dusty road to find Lester, but I had no idea how far it was and by then I’d been off the highway 45 minutes- way too long!

I reluctantly headed back, vowing to return another time. I am DETERMINED to find Lester! When I got back to Rosario I looked on Google maps again and saw that, yes, I had been within walking distance of Lester. One source says it’s a half mile walk and another source says it’s two miles so… we will see! Two weeks from today I will be done here at Rosario and plan to give it another try, this time with plenty of time to spare. I may even camp somewhere up there a night or two if I’m feeling extra adventurous.

Anyway, as soon as I have found my precious Lester, I will fill you in with details and pictures!

*NOTE: I have now seen Lester! Read the story here

Lester, WA

July 30, 2009 Posted by | Attractions, Ghost Towns, Travel, United States | , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments


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