Maybe you’re driving to White Pass Ski Area because the snow report says piles of fresh powder dumped last night. Or maybe you’re driving the White Pass Scenic Byway to buy tulips at DeGoede Bulb Farm and Gardens in Mossyrock. Either way, you’re dicing it out on the freeway between big rigs jockeying for position and you’re staying collected when that psychopath swings in behind you tailgating, weaving and flashing his lights like you’ve done something wrong. When you’ve had enough of this freeway madness, think about taking the Oregon Trail route to White Pass Scenic Byway instead.
Yes, the Oregon Trail – the one you learned about in high school. You can do that. The Oregon Trail is east, only four miIes away, at least the Washington State part of it. If you’re south of Chehalis, anywhere near those big crazy sculpture towers you can see from the freeway, take Exit 60. You’ll pick up the Oregon Trail in Toledo. It’s a guaranteed happier way to go.
After leaving the freeway, you’ll turn east onto SR 506, the Toledo-Vader Road. Instantly it’s quieter. You left the white line nightmare behind. Pretty soon the Cowlitz River valley opens to the right. The ridges beyond lead eventually to Mount Saint Helens, which may appear on a clear day.
If you’re moved to see those crazy sculptures up close, they’re at Gospodor Monument Park. Turn left onto Fluckinger Road. With names like Fluckinger and Gospodor, it’s got to be good. Turn left on Drew Prairie Road, right on Camus Road and you’ll shortly see four bizarre towering outlines. The public is allowed to access these, at last report. A simple loop of polypropylene holds the gate.
Whether you do Gospodor or not, the Oregon Trail monument marker lies in Toledo, only a couple miles further east. When you join SR 505 and Kellogg Way, turn right, going south, toward Toledo’s downtown.
In two blocks, you’ll see a colorfully lettered “Welcome to Toledo” sign. In front of the sign is the Oregon Trail Monument, erected in 1916. In 2016, the community celebrated the monument’s 100 year anniversary. Park carefully nearby to read the inscription and touch the monument rock. It’s one of 12 from Vancouver to Tumwater which mark the Washington section of the Oregon Trail pioneers forged, back when they found all the Oregon homesteads taken. The Jackson Prairie monument, to the right of the Matilda Jackson State Park entrance, marks where the Oregon Trail intersects the White Pass Scenic Byway.
If it’s near lunch, you’ll find great restaurants in Toledo, and unexpected variety. Continue on Kellogg Way until it changes to Cowlitz Street and you’ll see the downtown. You’ll want to park here. Looking around, you might be thinking Mexican food at Chimis. But if your passengers are thinking something different, Donna’s Place is ideal for sit-down or Bette’s Place is the place for burgers and ice cream, take-out or dine-in. Both are famous and always perfect. Donna’s Place still shows up as Harry’s Place on some maps, but Donna Wallace took over in June 2017.
Big Chief Deli and Filipino Food serves Filipino lumpia and pancit, as well as excellent subs and sandwiches. If pioneers on the Oregon Trail only had it so good! Rosaline Caywod and Janet Hill, the operators, opened on January 4, 2018. I talked local sites with them while they prepared a combination plate which I thoroughly enjoyed. Janet’s husband grew up in Toledo. Rosalina chuckled when I mentioned skydiving near the airport and how one daring individual who landed in a tree was fortunately not hurt.
Toledo’s community library hosts the Toledo Historical Society history room. Cases display quirky artifacts. A long row of drawers holds microfilm records of Toledo and Lewis County. There’s a reader for the microfilm. Gifts for sale support the historical society.
I visited the library for help finding the old Toledo Jail which I knew was still standing. Library patron Jennifer Johnson, of the Lummi tribe, said I shouldn’t have any trouble finding it – it’s across the street. I looked out the window and, sure enough, there it was.
Across Cowlitz Street from the library, Toledo’s historic old city jail remains standing under the trees between Bonanza BBQ and Gateway Pizza. The jail contains two cells which look like thoroughly miserable places to spend a night.
Saying goodbye to Toledo, turn back heading north onto Kellogg Way and continue to SR 505 North. In a little less than a mile past Bette’s Place, turn right onto Jackson Highway. You’ll follow Jackson Highway the rest of the route. Pass the airport and continue to the junction with Spencer Road. An historical plaque here commemorates the Cowlitz Mission.
Cowlitz Mission became St. Xavier Church and St. Mary’s Academy, the buildings and church you see today. The academy belongs now to the Cowlitz Tribe. St. Xavier Mission church, with its gorgeous stained glass windows, features an adjacent churchyard cemetery with nineteenth century tombstones. A tradition for churches in Europe and Britain, churchyard cemeteries are uncommon in the United States. A plaque between the church and the cemetery records a long history of the churches here burning down.
Lewis and Clark State Park exhibits one of the last remaining old growth forests in Washington. The Oregon Trail route in Washington passes directly through this park.
Jackson House, an 1850 homestead cabin built by John R. Jackson, later became a post office, store, hotel, tavern and a court house, as the area population grew and John R. Jackson became an increasingly important political figure.
The journey ends at Mary’s Corner, where the Jackson Highway intersects with US 12. Turn right and you’re on White Pass Scenic Byway heading for the villages of Salkum, Silvercreek, Mossyrock, Morton, Glenoma, Randle, Packwood and White Pass. Congratulate yourself – you avoided the freeway crazies. Oh thank you pioneers!