Detroit, Oregon

Today’s post is something a little different. Almost all of my post revolve around hiking as the name implies but the tagline is hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest. Today falls under the explore category where I visited a series of towns either heavily damaged by the Santiam Fire or virtually destroyed as is the case in the small town of Detroit.

Opal Creek was the destination I had in mind when I had set out that morning but having read about trail and road closures the night before I had it in mind that there was a good chance I’d be locked out. That turned out to be true when I rolled up to the gate in the midst of a sheriff locking it. There were other trails in the area but they were all heavily damaged and closed as well.

It gets dark around 4:30 this time of year and even sooner if you’re walking in the woods and I had spent an hour at In-N-Out burger that took an hour of daylight away from hiking, that coupled with a late start rendered me a windshield warrior. I also realized on my way into Detroit that I had forgotten to get gas and had to double back to Mill City to fill up before I could explore comfortably.

A small town 20 miles west that was now the last gas station for miles. The man who filled up my tank had lost his home in the fires and you could see the overwhelming sadness in his eyes. Friendly by nature, he didn’t let the fires ruin his enthusiasm for strangers needing a fill up. It’s hard not to let someone’s penchant for rising up during adversity affect you in a meaningful way.

A chopper sits destroyed in front of Steel Wheels Lounge

This is what is left of the gas station. It’s the very first sight as you cross the bridge and drive into what remains of Detroit. Beyond the gas station in the background is the site of the RV park and to the left down the road was Detroit Lake Marina and the All Seasons motel which are completely gone. The streets are lined with burned up vehicles.

I could smell the remnants of the fire before I could see the results. Shortly afterwards I saw the first of many houses burned to the ground along Route 22 leading into Detroit. I wanted to stop and document the aftermath but it’s still private land and No Trespassing signs were everywhere. A few of the properties had American flags flapping in the wind triumphantly. No doubt put there after the fire raged through and left the house smoldering.

I’d been to Detroit once 15 years prior when I was exploring on my motorcycle. I remember stopping at the gas station to get a snack and stretch my legs. It was a hot summer day and had all the cabin-in-the-woods-down-by-the-lake feel you’d expect in rural Oregon. And the place was packed and lively. Now it feels empty and lost. Most of the structures are gone. But a few buildings do remain standing such as the general store and post office but they’re shuttered.

The whole area had an eerie loneliness to it. It felt like a town without representation and now susceptible to people who wanted to pilfer through the remains. I watched as people went beyond the caution tape and blew past the signs put there to keep them away. I watched as they trampled on charred remains of peoples dreams in sheer defiance of the those who lost everything. I didn’t want to add fuel to the fire and invade anyone’s space even if the only thing left was the chimney.

Detroit Lake Flats

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