Secret Worlds of Tacoma, Washington

Tacoma isN’T what you think it is
Mysterious orange stone in the stone eye of Tacoma.
The Eyes of Tacoma are everywhere, yet no one sees.

I don’t expect to live for very long after posting this blog.

That’s fine. A man has only one Earthly life to live. Best to live it with courage. Cowards have no love or gratitude in their hearts. I refuse to be one. Even in the face of insurmountable evil, I will laugh, love, and dance—and speak.

Two years ago I wrote a piece for Grit City Magazine. It was about the Shanghai Tunnels reputed to run beneath Tacoma, Washington. It was supposed to be just a fun bit of local history, and it was—at first.

See, I published that story with a magazine titled Grit City. I like to think it’s a well-written piece, though perhaps unextraordinary, and certainly not anything that would shake anyone’s sense of reality.

The truth, though, is that I never shared what I actually found during my research for that piece. Nor have I shared what I continue to find, as this seemingly endless horror story continues to unroll before me.

It’s my life now, the real, secret history of Tacoma. I’m as tied up in it as is the Maury Island Incident, the Servants of Awareness, or Fred Crisman.

The biggest myth about Tacoma isn’t that the Shanghai Tunnels were or are real. They exist—in a way few can comprehend, in fact.

The biggest myth about Tacoma is, instead, that the Shanghai Tunnels are abandoned.

The tunnels are very much active and very much active. They’re much bigger than they used to be, in fact.

They are home now to alien-made baboon-mutant species I can “unhumans,” because I don’t know what else to call them. Some dark occultists, too, whose connection to the unhumans is unclear to me even now.

Then there’s the Cabal, the Eyes, the Pythians, and the Chatter. Others. Too many. More than even I know.

It’s a goddamn rat’s nest of monsters and lunacy down there.

Yes—I said it, and I meant it, and I don’t give a damn who believes me, anymore.

The unhumans live mostly off of barnacles scraped from the bottoms of ships in Thea’s Inlet, though they aren’t opposed to snatching some of that delicious human meat when the opportunity arises. That’s only one of their secrets, though, and the least terrifying of all.

They aren’t the end of Tacoma’s madness. Not even close. They were the way I entered into this nightmare, however.

That’s the thing I never told the blissfully ignorant publishers of Grit City magazine. I didn’t just read history about the tunnels when I wrote that piece. I went inside them.

One starless, fateful night, when I unwittingly stepped out of the fake Tacoma and into the real one.

That was where this all began. Twenty feet below the surface of Tacoma. Two years ago. Ten lifetimes ago. I was a different man, then.

But, ah, I’m rambling.

If I’m going to tell the true story of the secrets of Tacoma, Washington, then I’d best start with that night I went down into the tunnels.

So be it. I’ll tell as much as I can before this blog is shut down—or I am.

I am the Northwest Nomad. I hide from no man and no monster.

If these are to be my final days, then let me spend them finally telling my story.



Where the Heck is Melmont Ghost Town, Anyway?

The Hike to Melmont is Great but May not Be What You’re Expecting

Where the heck is Melmont, anyway?

Every single group I came across on my hike asked me some variation of that question. I was never able to answer. I just asked the question in return.

Looking back after having returned and done some research, I realize that we were all in the midst of Melmont as we asked where it was. We just didn’t realize it.

I say none of this to deter anyone from going there. I plan on going back. It’s a great trail. Beautiful. Quiet. Humming with history and nature.

Just know this beforehand: there is no grand, dramatic destination. No distinct town waiting there in the woods to be discovered. You aren’t going to turn a corner and find yourself looking at the clearly defined perimeter of an old mining town busy with ghosts.

It’s still pretty cool, though.

The Foothills Trail to Melmont

This sign is at the trail head.

The trail to and through Melmont is named the Foothills Trail. It’s maintained by the Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition.

There are at least three entry points onto the Foothills Trail. All three are clustered fairly close together along the side of Washington State Route 165 south of the town of Carbonado, Washington.

The spot I used was exactly 1 mile south of Carbonado. From 165, you can clearly see the sign I have in a picture up above.

If you’re traveling south through Carbonado, the sign will be on your right. If you’re going north, it will be on your left.

Remnants of Melmont are Scattered Along the Trail

This is a retaining wall at Melmont.

The first clearly defined Melmont artifact I found was a retaining wall. The view I show up above is the view you get after you walk down the slope off the trail.

From the trail itself you’ll see some of the stonework wall, but if you want to get a really good look at it you have to walk down the hill. The slope is very steep, and the footing can be slick. This is especially true during rainy season.

Beyond the wall is another old building that you’ll see just off the trail. Another blog claims this was a dynamite storage shack. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Visit Rainier is a good site so I assume it is.

Supposed dynamite storage shack.

There is also an old schoolhouse up the trail, but keep in mind that it looks basically like the dynamite shack above. It’s not so nicely maintained that it immediately resembles any kind of building in particular.

Great Trail, Know What You’re Getting Into Before Making the Drive to Melmont

I love this trail. I can’t wait to go back again. However, I do wish that the other blogs and sites were clearer about the fact that Melmont is not a big centralized ghost town. It’s a (very) few buildings nestled in the woods off the side of the Foothills Trail.

So, in my opinion, this is a great trail for hiking and a great trail for running. It my also be a great trail for camping (though I don’t know the legality of it). But, it’s not a great trail for seeing a ghost town or a mining town.

In terms of humanmade artifacts, I actually enjoyed the Fairfax Bridge most of all. It’s a historic site that looks really interesting from the trail trail that runs underneath it. I tried to capture the “really interestingness” in the photo below.

I’m a writer, not a photographer, so forgive the poor lighting. I’ll be adding this skill of photography to my repertoire soon.

The Fairfax Bridge as seen from the Foothills Trail.

By all Means, Go to Melmont

Hike the Foothills Trail. Enjoy the pieces of Melmont mining town. Absorb that beautiful walk and the countryside surrounding it.

Just know before you go that the town may not be what you’re envisioning or expecting when you hear “ghost town.” You may find yourself on the trail asking, “Where the heck is the town of Melmont?”

Chances are, when you ask that question, you’ll be standing right in the middle of it.

Happy Nomadding, friends!

Four Great Day Hikes around Lake Quinault, Washington

Quinault is a launch-point to adventure for people of all fitness levels.

You don’t need to be an athletic super-freak to experience the place’s magic. You also don’t need to have endless amounts of time. Just a pair of comfy shoes and a couple hours will do.

I’ve made no secret about the fact that the Quinault area is my favorite place in the Pacific Northwest. I can write a whole book about all that you can see there (and I intend to). But, in this piece, I keep things simple.

I list five of my favorite Lake Quinault day hikes below. Each entry notes the trail’s level of difficulty as determined by my completely unscientific classification system.

Try one. Try them all. Whatever works for you. Enjoy. Tell me about the experience (or not)!

Happy nomadding, friends.

Kestner Homestead and Maple Glade Nature Loop Trails (both easy)

I’ve listed these trails together they each start within feet of each other in the parking lot of the Quinault Rain Forest Station. You can hike one or the other or do both.

I’m going to cheat a little bit here because I’m lazy. At least, I’m feeling lazy at the moment. I’ve going to link to the pieces I’ve already written for these two locations.

I’ve written about the Kestner Homstead Trail here:

I’ve written about the Maple Glade Nature Loop here:

Irely Lake (easy once you get over the initial elevation gain)

Irely Lake is my favorite Quinault day hike. I don’t know why. I don’t try particularly hard to figure it out, either. Something about trail’s energy just speaks to me.

Getting to the trail can take a little while, but it’s a beautiful drive. You have to go all the way to where the South Shore Loop Road turns into the North Shore Loop Road (or vice versa).

Once you reach the trail-head, it’s 1.2 miles to the lake. Right off the road you’ll climb a little ways. It’s rather steep, but it doesn’t last long. Past that point, it’s mostly smooth, level sailing all the way to Irely.

Irely is a dark little lake tucked away in the center of gigantic fir, cedar, spruce, and hemlock trees. If you go down the short side trail to its shore, you can see all kinds of life out there.

I’ve seen elk hitting the lake for a drink. I’ve seen countless birds. I once saw a Biblical plague of baby frogs there. They were fascinating, adorable little guys that I wrote about here.

The trail gets sloppy in the winter. Oftentimes wind will blow branches or whole trees over the trail in the stormy season.

The mountain-lion warning signs there are no joke. I’ve had a couple encounters with the animals in the area around Irely Lake (one on Irely Lake Trail specifically). So, factor that into your preparations and estimations of risk tolerance.

I’ve pinned the location to a Google map you can see below.

Colonel Bob (hard)

Ah, Colonel Bob. My ancient nemesis.

I frequently see this trail rated as “medium” difficulty on other sites. Then again, I’ve also seen Mount Storm rated as “medium,” and that is just preposterous.

Bob isn’t as difficult as Storm King, but it’s given me a hard workout even when I was in peak fitness. Still, its 13.6 miles can be done in one day (which of course is why I included it here as a day hike). Unless you’re in very strong hiking shape, you will be tested to complete the Colonel Bob out-and-back without camping for a night, so be warned.

My misadventures with Bob have been the result of circumstances (snow and an injury) rather than the difficulty of the trail itself, but I’ve always thought of Colonel Bob as a person I held a friendly grudge against. I try to get up there once a year.

The view atop bob is one of the best but, I’m ashamed to say (considering i run a travel site), I don’t have a picture of it at the moment. I plan on remedying this soon. For now, I’ve pinned the location to a map.

You’ll just have to trust me: it’s a nice view. Or else just check out the folks at Outdoor Society for pictures.

A Trip to Ocean Shores during Phase Two of the COVID-19 Washington State Lockdown

Sun setting on the beach at Ocean Shores
Sun setting on Ocean Shores at the end of my first trip since COVID-19 broke.

On May 24th, Washington State Secretary of Health Jonn Wiesman placed Grays Harbor in Phase Two of the COVID-19 lockdown. That placement means that Ocean Shores’ hotels, restaurants, and even beaches were open (with stipulations).

Last Thursday, very first chance I got to go out that way, I made a murder-hornet-line (sort of like a beeline) for the coast.

Today, I’m grateful that I did.

Ocean Shores Beaches in the Midst of COVID-19

I’m actually not a big beach person. I greatly prefer the mountains and the forest. Still, Ocean Shores has always held a place in my heart. I’ve even written about it once before but, this time, my motivations were different than the usual.

I’ve been able (thank God) to get outdoors since the state parks opened back up a couple of weeks ago, so what I really wanted with my trip to the coast was to enjoy the simple fruits of civilization again. I wasn’t disappointed.

The beach didn’t have nearly as many people as usual for a day with beautiful weather. This was a positive for introvert me, but also good to see that people were being responsible in their enjoyment of the beach and not simply bucking all of the COVID-19 health guidelines out here.

It was very peaceful (though windy as all hell) out there in the sand and sun. After more than three months of the COVID-19 lockdown, that simple peace and open air felt downright profound.

Breaking my Fast at the Galway Bay Irish Pub

For the first time in four months I sat down in a restaurant and enjoyed a meal. This would have been thrilling enough on its own, but it also just happened to be at my favorite restaurant in Ocean Shores: Galway Bay Irish Pub.

To make it even better than THAT, I was at the tail end of a twenty-four fast, which means I was voraciously hungry. The sum of all these variables was one of the most unforgettable, delicious eating experiences of my life.

The Galway Bay menu calls what I ordered the Tipperary Steak, but I consider to be “colcannon with Tipperary steak on the side.” Then again, I consider ALL Galway entrees to revolve around the colcannon.

That stuff is just mindbogglingly delicious.

I thought it would feel strange to eat in a restaurant with people spaced several feet apart and servers wearing face masks and the shadow of COVID-19 looming over everything, but it ended up feeling nothing but “great.”

The food was delicious. It was a pleasure to crack jokes with strangers again and to chat with a server. Such simple little things seem so precious after being penned up with End-of-the-World fears for so long.

It’s funny, as I think about it. Before COVID-19, my idea of getting away was always getting to the most secluded natural areas I could find and finagling ways to avoid people.

Now, after months of COVID-19 lockdown, I appreciate most of all the simple pleasure of human contact, a seat in a good restaurant, and the sound of laughter.

And colcannon. Definitely colcannon.

Nomad Poem for Aberdeen, Washington (An Ode to a Rough Diamond)

A One Way sign and a pipe on an alleyway wall in Aberdeen, Washington.
Image from an Aberdeen alleyway.

I love Aberdeen, Washington. The place just has a gritty character that speaks to my soul and imagination. For most people it’s a gateway to the Olympic coast or the peninsula, but the city itself has a peculiar magic all its own.

I wrote a poem about Aberdeen titled “Not the Lying Down Kind.” I originally published it on Medium, but I want to include it here, as well.

Not the Lying Down Kind (for Aberdeen, Washington)

The city’s bridges sag over rivers 
like hunchbacked men carrying too-heavy loads 
for too long.

On the streets, tired, 
dim-eyed cars float into mist 
as a foreign country’s nighttime 
overtakes the city’s sleep.

Orange lights glow in pub windows, 
buildings thus resembling cooling embers from a scattered fire. 
They’re the secret hearts of this world carved out of fog, those pubs. 
Their walls thump with rock, pop, and hip hop.

A tortured, mewling voice echoes faintly through the alleyways. 
“Come as you are,” it says, 
“and then be gone with you.”

The whole of Aberdeen sleeps on the threshold of yesterday, 
dreaming of beds.

In the warm thump of the secret hearts the people laugh. 
Nothing said ever lasts. 
Every word fades into fog rolling down mountains.

Yet, for all their subtracted voices, 
the people stay, 
and in staying they honor a history of hard work and tough family. 
Their’s is not a surrendering sadness.

No, it’s not that kind.

Triumphant and proud, 
it laughs. 
It harvests life out of the hollow, 
it doesn’t give a damn for lying-down things.

Aberdeen is a mother nursing her baby 
after a double shift.

Aberdeen is a grim lumberjack, 
hands numb with callouses, 
laughing with abandon as his son tickles his stomach.

Sometimes hobbled, 
but never cowed, 
Aberdeen is the people
of Aberdeen.

Copyright 2018 Jeff Suwak