Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Meet Me in Metaline

Welcome to Metaline Falls
Remote Town in the Shadow of an Industrious History
Amazing Views From Metaline Falls
Winding & Wide, the Pend Oreille River
Remnants of Old Ranches
Blooming Lupines
At the Tiger Historical Center  & Museum
Lions Train Ride
Bridge Across Box Canyon
Modern Dan at Box Canyon
The Former Terror of the River Now Tame
A Crooked Road
Eagle's Nest
Amazing Views All Around
Nesting Swallows
Cutter Theater
Abandoned Cement Plant
Settling Ponds for Zinc Mine
City Lights Start Above Metaline Falls
A Long Way to Travel
More Amazing Views
Old Cabin
Golf Course & Shooting Range
Beaver Lodge
Charli-Proof Garbage Can
What a great title to a story or a country song -- Meet Me in Metaline. Maybe one day, it will be a greater part of my own story. Metaline Falls is a place that has all the right body, mind and soul connections.

Why is it that we connect to a place? Familiarity, nostalgia, beauty, people, activities? I imagine it's a complex mixture of many attributes. Some people are born to a place and feel so connected that they never leave. Others, struggle for connection and lead of life of seeking it.

Environmental activist and author, Edward Abbey, wrote a blessing that captures the spirit of a seeker, someone on a journey to find place:
"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view."

I'm a mix of home-body-meets-trail-wanderer. I connect easily to a place when it feels like home. When my daughter Allison visited last week, she walked into the house at Elmira Pond and said, "It feels so cozy." It has an aura of home and she immediately connected. Yet, I also yearn to wander those winding, lonesome trails that lead away from home.

The road to Metaline Falls winds along the Pend Oreille River on the far side of the Selkirk Mountains from Elmira Pond. There's a great Scenic Byway called the Selkirk Loop that circles the mountain range with  from Sandpoint, Idaho up into British Columbia and around through eastern Washington and back.

From Elmira Pond, I can drive north through Canada and loop down to Metaline Falls for a 110 mile trip. Or, I can drive to Newport across the Idaho border and drive north through eastern Washington for a 107 mile trip. Either way, this lonesome town is a midpoint for me on the Selkirk Loop.

Lonesome places beckon to me the way I imagine they beckoned to the old desert rat, Edward Abbey. In an odd way, I feel more connected in such places. In the city, I see so many people who do not see me. In the suburbs I wave to neighbors who keep their heads down to mow the lawn. I'm reminded that my own lawn needs mowing. Not the connection I seek.

Together, Todd, the dogs and me, follow the river to find this place near the Canada border. The further north we go, summer river homes give way to ranches and occasional resorts. We stop amid a field of blooming purple lupines at the Kalispel Tribe rest stop. I read interpretive displays, looking at the faces of men in 1900s baseball uniforms; men in canoes; families drying fish and wearing shell jewelry. A descendant fixes me an almond latte, smiles and we move on up river.

Todd delivers for FedEx along this route, though now the route has gone back to Spokane and we don't know what he'll do next. He's sad, I can tell. Todd connects easily with people and he's pointing out deliveries he regularly makes. I request frequent stops to examine wildlife, the water, rocks or historical signs.

While I read about David Thompson, early British fur-trader and explorer who stood where I now stand 205 years ago, Todd takes my picture and texts to our kids, "Mom keeps stopping."

Amazing views, potential stories, how can I wander a crooked road and not stop?

Even Todd gets excited about the eagle's nest. He leans on the rock wall with binoculars, scoping an eagle sitting in a mass of sticks atop a cottonwood tree. Cliff swallows dart above our heads and the blue-green river eddies with big currents. So much to see. I turn to look at the exposed basalt of the road cut where the cliff swallows are nesting in mud constructs that look like miniature Anasazi cliff dwellings.

We drive on and Todd tells me about the road cuts. They are one of the dangers on the way to Metaline Falls. Last winter he had to swerve the lumbering FedEx truck around falling rocks and trees that slid down to point like spears at drivers daring the road.

Something called the Tiger Store catches my attention, and I say, "Oh..." Todd sighs and turns the car around. We pull into a small parking lot proclaiming pop, bathrooms and a museum. A small blacksmith shed is behind what looks like an old turn-of-the-century store. A beefy man with a white beard and yellow leather apron clangs metal on metal. Todd watches embers spew and chats with the smithy. He tells the man I keep making him stop.

Rolling my eyes, I walk to the store-now-museum and I'm greeted by four eager volunteers with plates of fresh-baked pecan shortbread and gingersnaps. My kind of ladies -- I can connect with cookies and history. A saddle, row of old desks and a collection of glass ink wells for writing draw me in deeper to the store. One woman follows me and I ask to take photos. She mentions Facebook and I post, connecting my friends and family to this remote hamlet.

Todd wanders in and doesn't get past the gingersnaps. I buy a book of local stories and a Coke because I'm already hopped up on coffee and sugar. Common sense would dictate water, but this winding road has me living dangerously. The volunteers tell Todd to take me to the Cutter Theater.

But first I want to see the train. Tracks have wound and crossed our path ever since driving north. The river was the first road, the train came later after blasting rock. Pavement was the last inroad to this remote corner of northeastern Washington. Traders, then gold miners, ranchers, loggers, lead miners and damn builders followed the paths in succession. I'm the story-collector who follows, making the connections to fill pages.

The train is cobbled cars from different eras -- flat cars built into sight-seeing platforms and two early soldier passenger cars when this country's military was transported by rail. The Lion's Club now operates  a 20-mile tour ride. I make a mental note to return. I might like this tour.

Next, Todd shows me the view from above Box Canyon Damn. I see where the train crosses high above the river from one rock outcrop to another, and I'm definitely coming back for a train ride. We find wild strawberry flowers and a garbage can I can't open to toss away my empty Coke. Todd figures it out but won't tell me. I struggle, conceding that this is Charli-proof. I'm sure the bears have solved it in less time.

Next we visit below the damn. Todd has delivered here several times. I read a panel that tells of the miners who once had to navigate this "terror on the river" before the damn. It's too deep to see the rapids that were so huge as to delay settlement of this boundary area.

But they have nothing on what was once Metaline Falls.

Down river is Metaline, where Border Patrol has a large compound and a 50s-style diner flashes an open sign next to an abandoned tavern and dance hall. A sign points east to Gardner Cave at Crawford State Park. One of the volunteers at the Tiger store mentioned that if anyone wanted to cross the border, they could hop across the caves. Looking at the mountainous terrain we are now in, that doesn't seem an easy entry.

We drive on, steadily climbing. I see the huge gorge spanned by a cement bridge. It's the only connection to enter Metaline Falls which consists of several orderly rows of old miner's houses that sit on an outcrop in the shadow of a defunct cement plant. We cross the river and I can only imagine what the falls once sounded like roaring over rocks and falling several hundred feet.

My connection to Metaline Falls is instant. It's like love at first sight.

It's my kind of lonesome place -- remote with impressive views; imbued with history; dedicated to cultural arts; on the fringes of outdoor activities; and rising above river, ranches and a reservation. The one church in town is turquoise, and the Cutter Theater is in the old brick school. An apartment from an earlier era still boasts its colorful art deco. Lilacs bloom everywhere, even where houses no longer stand.

Outside of town, ten miles from Canada, is a brick mill that was converted into a powerhouse. Todd takes me as far as the zinc mine where they are mining it for supplementation. Huh. I hadn't thought about hard-rock mining being a part of the process for our mineral supplementation. But here it is, complete with a settling pond. At one time this mining region yielded gold and silver, then lead for two wars and now vitamins.

We drive past a golf driving range and a gun range. The latter is a connector for Todd. I daydream about living here and mention it to Todd. Ever practical, he mentions jobs. I can write from anywhere. I ask how far it is from Spokane Airport and it's the same distance as from Elmira Pond. Yes, this idea of Metaline Falls is calling to me.

On the other side of the gorge, we find old miners' cabins and beaver lodges. And in the middle of mountain peaks, cedar forest and turbulent waters we find what lights up Seattle -- their "city lights" dam. Boundary Dam. The road is crooked, the river winding. Certainly dangers lurks -- it's proclaimed at the campground bathroom. As we wind back down, I catch a glimpse of Metaline Falls and ask Todd to stop one last time.

From the cedars above, I look down at the lonesome town, population of 238. This winding journey has led me to an amazing view I can connect with.

Thinking of place, where do you find your connections?

Proud to be a blogger spreading compassion with others around the world! This post is part of #1000Speak for Compassion. Find other blog posts exploring the theme of connection. Find me on Twitter @Charli_Mills.


  1. Hi Charli, looks like you had a lovely time at Metaline Falls. :) I also love connecting to nature. :) Great post! :) Shelah

    1. It's so refreshing, isn't it? Thanks for reading!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You live in a beautiful country, Charli. To be able to take a short drive and it be through countryside such as this is amazing. I can understand why you connected with it immediately. There is a place about an hour's drive from here that I love. It is called the Scenic Rim. There are beautiful undulating hills and farms surrounded by mountains. It has all the beauty of the mountains without the scary narrow and windy mountain drives. I love it. We almost moved there about fifteen years ago, but at the last moment changed our minds. The time was not right. It may never be right, but it is a lovely place to visit. There is a restaurant and lavender farm out there that we love to visit for lunch. I'll have to see if I can find a photo to share with you on Twitter. Places such as you have described are very special. Thank you for sharing your experience in words and photos.

    1. It's inspirational if you connect with the beauty of a place. The scenic rim sounds beautiful, too. Oh, a lavender farm! That must be gorgeous in full bloom! I'll look for your photo! Thsnks!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Books containing local stories are my favourite souveniers to purchase. This was a lovely ode to small town that likely does not get enough recognition. You have inspired me to do this type of post for some of the small towns near me. Have you been through British Columbia at all? My husband's family lives in the Okanagan Valley there.
    Brandy from Brandy's Bustlings

    1. Those books help you get the flavor of a place, don't they? Thank you for reading and I hope you do write about your local small towns! I still have to venture up into British Columbia and I've heard that the Okanagan Valley is BC's "Napa Valley."

  4. What spectacular landscape and scenery. And I love the Edward Abbey blessing. You and I seek the same kind of connections Charli, I love nothing better than to be close to nature like this.