Ruin’d: The Olympic Peninsula—Hunting for Abandoned Military Bunkers

May 26, 2016 View Comments by

More than 300 vertical feet separated us from the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We were standing on a small tuft of grass five feet from the backside of an abandoned World War II bunker set high above one of Washington’s most important waterways. We’d been riding all day, searching spur roads for the ruins of America’s mighty military effort. And this was the gem we’d been looking for.

The Olympic Peninsula
The final of four we’d find that week, this bunker can only be accessed by tight, lightly-tread single track that took roughly 45 minutes to navigate by motorcycle. It was dumb luck, though. Having encountered yet another gate, our friend Andy decided to take a hard right-hand turn, sending all four of us off the wide gravel road we’d been riding on and into the woods instead. The trail bobbed and weaved its way through dense foliage, over roots, stumps, and rocks, until finally, after rounding yet another hairpin, the cement entrance to a rather small but otherwise ominous bunker appeared in front of us.

The Olympic PeninsulaThis whole idea came from a conversation last summer, when Andy, Kyra, and I sat camp-fireside discussing a variety of sights and such you could see along the Strait. Andy and his brother had found nearly a dozen of these abandoned bunkers over the years, some of which were so unadulterated that wooden shutters, sleeping cots, and crank telephones remained intact. Inspired, Kyra and I signed off on a plan to explore the Peninsula when we returned from a forthcoming motorcycle trip to Mexico. Fast forward a few months and we’re pulling our matching pair of adventure-ready XT225s onto Andy’s property, preparing for our weeklong bunker-hunting expedition.

The off-road riding options on the Olympic Peninsula are abundant, to say the least. No more than five minutes after leaving Andy’s house, we found ourselves blasting down a gravel road headed west. Between Highways 101 and 114—which run parallel to the Strait—is a network of both fresh and forgotten Forest Service roads. Pick one and you could disappear into the wilderness for weeks. In addition to the timber industry, these roads can be used to connect one side of Lake Crescent to the other, saving time if you’ve got the gusto to ride (or drive) mile after mile of unkempt dirt and gravel. These would be shortcuts we used all week.

The first bunker we found was hidden in plain sight. We nearly rode right past it, what might otherwise appear to be a tall pile of dirt with steep trails leading to the top. A goat trail on the backside took you to a small opening that overlooked the Strait, while just around the corner was a large cement entryway. This was the biggest bunker (internally) we would come across. A network of hallways connected room after room, with cement mounting structures in some, sound-deadening material on the ceiling of others, and a plethora of rather inappropriate graffiti in almost all. Headlamps and cell phone flashlight apps guided the way. We spent quite some time exploring, perhaps a little disappointed at how many people had been there before us, and the damage they’d done.

The Olympic Peninsula

The next morning saw more of the same; dirt bikes doing dirt bike things. Our hunting party was plus one, as my father had arrived late the night before with his Suzuki DR650 securely fastened to the back of his 4×4 Ford Econoline. Little did we know this day would be a bit different, though. After visiting yet another “two-bedroom” bunker, as Andy affectionately called them, we turned off the road we’d been riding on, directly into a ditch. Carved by running water, the rock-riddled trench led us through overgrowth and, eventually, to a rather steep creek crossing. Andy went first, expertly navigating his XR650L across the creek and up the other side. Chris came next, only his luck, er, skill, wasn’t quite what Andy’s was. After negotiating three more bikes across, we rode through tall grass and past big green trees to a clearing where before us lie sat largest (externally) bunker we’d find all week.

“This is like ‘LOST’!”

The Olympic PeninsulaStretched out in front of us was a military installation that looked like an Imperial fortress on Star Wars’ forest moon of Endor. Covered in thick moss and ferns, the bunker was maybe 100 feet across on the front side and a few hundred feet deep. We climbed around the outside, looking for any available entrance. Alas, all had been sealed shut! The backside, unlike all of the others, was situated maybe a quarter-mile from a cliff that overlooked the Strait. A since-overgrown road wrapped around the outside, coming to a halt at a massive entrance behind it.

We all speculated what the bunker must have been like during the war: More than two stories tall with a network of tunnels leading to other bunkers, with two 16-inch guns sitting outside the entrance, powered by a massive machine resting somewhere beneath our feet. At least, that’s what we imagined. And after a bit of research, it turns out we weren’t too far off!

The last bunker wouldn’t be found for a few more days. Andy had been there years ago but couldn’t remember which road we needed to take. Luckily for us, Andy isn’t a quitter, and after a few fruitless attempts down overgrown and unused logging roads, he took that aforementioned turn that sent us into the woods and, eventually, to our trophy.

Now, I can’t tell you how to get to any of these bunkers, because honestly, that wouldn’t be fair. What I can tell you is that Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is rich with history, dirt roads, scenic coastline, and dense woods. It’s what makes Washington so wonderful, if for only a few months out of the year. And our hunt, albeit successful, was just the start. With nearly a dozen discovered bunkers strewn along the Strait, one can only imagine what else might be out there!

The Olympic Peninsula
Text and Photography: Justin W. Coffey

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Tags: Categories: Chronicles