Ghosts & Ghost Towns of Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth (used with permission)

Washington state may be as far west as you can go in the continental United States, but as far as I can tell, most people don’t associate it with the Far West, also known as the Wild West. Probably because when many people think of Washington, they think of urban Seattle. In fact, may people think that Seattle is all there is to Washington. Not true, there is much more to our state than the mostly urbanized west side. However, the Old West can still be encountered in Eastern Washington.

This isn’t a blog dedicated to tourism, but there are some places in my state that I’m particularly fond of and want to write about. It’s been a long time since I visited Okanogan County, but I still have fond memories of it and immediately recognize much of its landscape and many of its buildings in photographs, even though it’s been years since I last saw them.

All these photos were taken in Okanogan County, which is Washington’s largest county and is located in the north central regions of the state. It adjoins the Canadian border.

You can no longer stay at the Nighthawk Hotel, unless you’re a ghost. Nighthawk is supposedly the quintessential ghost town. I love the name. I was there for a Ghost Towns of Washington photography workshop. We were warned that we wouldn’t be welcomed by whatever human presence remained. Nevertheless, I did a bit of wandering around and photographing. Nobody drove me off with a shotgun. I also love this old hotel. It’s just the sort of thing you’d see in a Western movie or TV series.

Before European settlers arrived this area was home to various indigenous peoples. The name of the county derives from the name of an indigenous nation.

Mining, forestry, and fur trade fueled the county’s economy in its early days. Agriculture and tourism dominate the local economy now. Mining towns that have not become ghost towns have become agricultural communities.

There are still plenty of Wild West tourist attractions in Okanogan County. The most famous one is probably the Omak Stampede, also known as the Famous Suicide Race, held in August. During the race horse and riders charge down a steep hill, across the Okanogan River to the rodeo grounds on the other side.

The town of Chesaw had a brief Gold Rush boom. It hosts a Fourth of July rodeo every year. And in the town of Tonasket there is a steam threshing bee in September, where you can see the equipment that was used before the invention of the internal combustion engine.’

You might see a steam engine like this one at the Tonasket Threshing Bee, but probably not the ghost of the old farmer. Robert is good at being a ghost.
This time Robert is the ghostly denizen of the town of Molson. It isn’t just a ghost town. The entire town and several of its buildings, including this one, is a museum. The population, at last count, was only about two dozen, but the place draws several thousand visitors a year to photograph its charming attractions. I loved Molson, too.
When the people moved out, the plants moved in. Is any place where humans once lived ever actually empty, albeit abandoned? Plants live there. Mice and other small animals occupy its nooks and crannies, while bats and birds live under the roof. Hopes, dreams, and memories might also still hover within the walls.
This is a haunting photo of ghostly Joanne Perry Ruth. Her body may be gone, but her spirit lingers. Who is she waiting for? Is she looking into the past? Has she given up hope? They say hope springs eternal, so perhaps she hasn’t given up quite yet.

If I look at these photos often enough and long enough, maybe I’ll come up with a story to go with them. Or maybe the photos and what I’ve already written are story enough. Or visitors to my blog might come up with their own stories.

A Few Good Words: Prig

its synonyms and an illustrative painting

Yes, it rhymes with “pig.”

This is what I imagine prigs look like, as if they drank vinegar for breakfast.

Prigs, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary are self-righteously moralistic.


Synonyms are: fuddy-duddy, old maid, spoilsport, stuffed shirt, prude, puritan, bluenose, Mrs. Grundy, moralizer, Goody Two-shoes. These synonyms are more fun than those whom the word prig defines.

Also, a conceited, narrow-minded, dull person. Someone who criticizes the behavior of others. The word dates back to the 16th Century in the form of prigger or prigman. Over the centuries the meaning of the word has changed.

The paining is titled, “American Gothic,” painted by Grant Wood in 1930 and is now at the Art Institute of Chicago. I got the image from the stock agency, Pixabay.

I always thought the painting was of a farmer and his wife, but according to the Art Institute, the woman is the farmer’s daughter. Her priggish expression makes her look as old as he. The painting derives its title from the house, which is in a style called, Carpenter Gothic. Wood deliberately elongated the faces of the models to make the harmonize with the house. The models were Wood’s sister and his dentist. Yikes! I’d never go to a dentist with a face like that.

To learn more about the painting:

The Last Day of Winter

A Photo Essay

I have not adjusted these photos.

Five-forty p.m.

The Cascades don’t hide as often as Rainier. The Mountain creates its own weather. It and the Pacific Ocean both have a major effect on our climate here in Western Washington.

Seconds later than the first photo.

I love big, billowy clouds like these. Clouds make the sky more interesting, even when they’re gray. As long as they’re not a flat gray, like dirty sheets.

Fifteen minutes later as darkness falls
Same time as the above photo. I love these two trees, they seem like stalwart friends.
About seven minutes later, just after six. I’m so fortunate to have this grand view of trees and sky from my balcony.
Just after six. The clouds look even more threatening.

As I write this, it’s four hours later and no storm has materialized. I can see that the sky is still cloudy, but it looks much tamer now. There’s a broad dark band across the horizon. The sky looks grayer to the north, more blue to the south, toward Rainier, which has been hiding in the clouds all day.

The clouds were nearly as interesting during the middle of the day, not tumultuous at all.

Crack of Dawn

Early morning is not my time of day. I’m a night owl. The crack of dawn makes me cranky. It used to be that I’d see dawn only in winter when I had to go to work and dawn arrived around eight, or on weekends when I stayed up very late or even all night. I come from a people of party animals. 

I’d have slept through this sunrise if it hadn’t been for neighbors waking me at half-past six by playing their music so loudly I could hear it in my bedroom, even while wearing earplugs. I called in a noise complaint and then went to sleep on the sofa, which is just a tad too short and a tad too narrow. Attempting to sleep on one shoulder was a literal pain. Tension was no doubt a large factor. I’ve slept comfortably on the couch before. When I gave up and got up to go to bed, the sun was rising later than yesterday, because it was the first morning of daylight savings time. Dawn light seeped through the blinds, tinting the opposite wall pale orange. I grabbed my camera and took this photo. Got a blurry one of Rainier, too. Sleepy eyes aren’t good for focusing.

This glorious dawn turned into an overcast day, with a sky as bland and white as paper. I should probably be glad that the neighbors woke me.

Flaming Sky

Views from Tacoma, Washington, US

Some of these photos were taken in the fall. One was taken in the summer. Except for the leaves in the second photo, it’s hard to tell the difference. The autumn ones were taken around half past six in the morning. The summer one was taken around four.

The tall fir on the right points at Mt. Rainier. On this day, the Monarch of Washington was hiding in the clouds.
Even without the mountains to enhance the photo the view is better to the east. Too many trees in the way when I look west. Sometimes the entire sky flames. I see these views more often because my living room faces east. This photo was taken the morning of the summer Solstice, two minutes after four.
Fog in the valley. Cascade Mountains in the background. I love fog. The spots of light are where building are. It’s nice to have them hidden sometimes.
Sometimes the Cascades are visible even when Rainier is not.
There’s that tree, pointing at Rainier.

Rainier was named by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy, who in the late 18th Century explored the Pacific Northwest Coast. The person who was honored by having a magnificent mountain named after him was Peter Rainier, another captain in the British navy.

The native Salishan speakers called the mountain Talol, Tacoma, or Tahoma. The meaning of the name is unclear. Some linguists think it means snow-covered mountain. That seems the most logical meaning to me since Rainier is covered in snow, and glaciers, year-round.

The city of Tacoma is named after the mountain and would like to see that name restored. Seattlites seem to think the mountain belongs to them, even though it’s closer to Tacoma, so they prefer the name, Rainier.

What is it?

A little mystery. Some of you may have noticed that I like to photograph weird things. I’ve always been a bit weird and seem to be getting more so as I get older. Or maybe it’s that now that I’m older I’m not as concerned about letting the weirdness show.

Ages ago, when we went to Leavenworth, a pretty little tourist trap in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, I didn’t just photograph the faux Bavarian buildings on the main street, I went down an alley and took pictures of their far less showy backs. I’m not sure what happened to those photos, lost when I moved several times since then.

I also take photos of rocks, dead leaves, knotholes in wooden planks, bark, whatever catches my eye and strikes me as interesting.

I’ll leave these as a mystery. One might be less obvious than the other.