Roche Harbor Quarry Trails

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Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The entire hill behind the Roche Harbor Resort was once quarried for its nearly pure limestone deposits. At the height of the lime production, few trees remained; the hillsides from shoreline to summit almost entirely bare rock. Though quarries were located nearly side-by-side, daily production was so intense that a small railroad circled the summit, delivering the limestone to the top of the kilns (see Roche Harbor Lime Kilns article, this website). The Roche Harbor Quarry Trails offer visitors a chance to wander through the labyrinth of quarries, truck roads and rail lines. On the hill’s summit, a platform with benches provides a pleasant location for viewing some of the surrounding area.

The Quarry Trails are paths through, over, and around the 15 quarries that were eventually worked on the Roche Harbor hill. The short main trail traverses quarry floors, limestone debris, truck roads, and rail lines; presenting a wide spectrum in hiking difficulty. The trail tread may be narrow, rough and exposed in some areas; and wide, flat, and easy in others. Use extra caution when hiking in this area. Side trails and boot paths should be avoided. Many lead to nothing of interest or worse, end at the crumbling rims of deep abandoned quarries. There is no gain from following them; all the sights can be viewed from other much safer locations.

The trailhead is located on the level floor of a former quarry providing close-up views of the lush vegetation that has taken over the once bare rock. Though vegetation makes visualizing the quarries as they once were difficult, this is a good location to consider how they were created. Once a limestone deposit was found, a short tunnel, the “glory hole” was driven horizontally straight into the hill at the bottom of the deposit. A smaller hole was opened up in the tunnel roof and connected to the slopes above. On alternating days crews performed their specialized tasks. First, drillers bored holes into the surface of the limestone, packed them with dynamite, and at the end of the day ignited it, blasting an entire wall of the quarry. The next day, the Quarrymen arrived with sledge hammers to manually pound the blasted rock into smaller boulders. The resulting rock had to be not less than six inches in diameter in order to be processed. Everything smaller was discarded. Skill was important but still, there was a great deal of waste. Once hammered into the proper sized pieces the limestone was dropped into the hole above the tunnel and fell into a waiting railcar. When filled, this small railcar was pulled out by hand and rolled slightly downhill to the waiting transportation. In the early days, horses pulled the rail cars around the hill to the top of the kilns; later a steam locomotive collected them. This was the only working railroad ever located in the San Juan Islands. Large quarries may have had several glory holes and multiple rail lines running up to the working faces of the quarries. Pieces of rails and evidence of railroad ties can still be found on the hill.

Beginning on the trail, the most difficult sections are almost immediately encountered. The route goes over limestone debris and along edges of quarries on a narrow rough path that is sometimes exposed. The grey rock rubble beneath your feet is the discarded limestone. Interesting wetlands formed in the bottom of abandoned quarries provide special habitat for plants and animals. Birds and amphibians are commonly observed.

From inside the quarries, the path leads up a short steep and sometimes slippery slope gaining higher ground and much easier trails. The main Quarry Trail turns to the left; junctions may be marked by posts or signs but generally the main path trends left and up. Deer are frequently encountered on the trails in this area, seeming to enjoy the hilltop and wide open pathways. In a short distance and through a couple of turns, a final steep walk brings you to the summit area.

The wooden viewing platform is rustic, and constructed with cutouts allowing large trees to continue to grow through the deck and stairs providing shade and interest. There are limited but pleasant views down into the now vegetated quarries as well as of Roche Harbor, nearby bays, and distant islands. Benches may be somewhat littered with leaves but for visitors who bring something clean to sit on, they provide a welcomed excuse to enjoy this local highpoint.

When ready to descend, enjoy the slightly lower viewpoint before continuing to follow the path. The woodland trail ends at the driveway of what is officially designated Lot No. 60 on the highest level of paved Roche Harbor Road; a short distance up from your starting point at the trailhead. If walking back down the road to the left, notice the remnants of limestone operations above you on the road-cut. Just below the road, overlooking the resort, platforms for housing occupy parts of the old rail line that brought the limestone to the top of the kilns. The last part of the cliff-like hillside was bridged for the train by a huge wooden trestle paralleling the slope.

Hiking the Quarry Trail is interesting in all seasons, but rain can make a few sections even more difficult. If you’d prefer a shorter walk to the viewing platform or to avoid the most difficult sections of trail, reverse the hike and begin at the higher junction with the Roche Harbor Road; returning the same way. The trail offers the best wildlife viewing in the morning but is also appreciated for its warm afternoon light. Though the hill slopes were once the focus of intense industrial development, the maturing forest, rock walls and interesting wetlands now provide exceptionally varied natural areas to visit.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 10/15/2009

Directions

There are several places from which to access the Quarry Trails on the hill behind the Roche Harbor Resort. The most direct approach is to begin by walking south from the resort, along Reuben Memorial Drive. Past the kilns, turn left and walk uphill a short distance on Roche Harbor Road. The trailhead is on the uphill side of the paved road, and marked by an obvious and informative signboard. It’s only a few minutes’ walk from the resort, and there is no parking at this trailhead.

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