Friday, September 16, 2005
It doesn't take much research of The Milwaukee to come across the interesting electrical "gap" that existed between Avery, ID (the western terminus of the Rocky Mountain Division) and Othello, WA on the Coast Division. The gap in The Milwaukee's western electrification existed for various reasons and was the stomping ground for many of the Milwaukee's large S3 4-8-4 Northerns that hauled tonnage between the electrified portions of the line.
The line between Othello and Avery was and is still a very isolated section of the Western Extension that proves just as difficult to track today as it was thirty years ago when orange and black locomotives still roamed the line. In the center of this isolation lies Rock Lake. A deep and beautiful lake that remains undisturbed and much as it was before a young America's push for the west started in the 1800s. To walk the abandoned rail line along the lake puts you in the company of only a few deer and large hawks that inhabit the steep and rocky cliffs along the shore.
Rock Lake sits at an interesting geographic division point itself. To the west of the north-south lake lies Washington Scab-land country, to the east; fertile fields of the Palouse. When the sun sets over Rock Lake and bathes high-desert country in golden light I have found few places to be more beautiful. Old railroad mileposts still dot telegraphy poles and wide spots in the gravel roadbed are remnants of passing sidings and a few towns that never really got started. At the north end of the lake lies the land plots for Rock Lake City. Of course one would never know that now. At the south end, an old passing siding named La Vista sits beside milepost 1900 with a view of the huge grain elevators at Ewan just a mile away.
In the middle of The Milwaukee's run down the ragged cliffs along the lake the roadbed again widens and fields of wheat run up to the right of way. An old electric meter stands on an old telephone pole and nearby is milepost 1894, still affixed to an old telegraphy pole. This is Palisades, WA. A non-existent town on a non-existent railroad in one of the most isolated stretches of the railroad anywhere on the Western Extension. It's beauty is matched only by its solitude. Just to the west, the deep and silent Rock Lake watches the years pass and marvels at how the things that were supposed to last forever proved just as transient as everything else.