This trip out west of Portland was the first photoshoot I did after deciding on the Exploring All Of Oregon project. I marked up the map over where I had and hadn’t been and realized I could neaten up my lines if I did more of State Route 47. I’d only been down that road a little bit, to get to L.L. Stub Stewart State Park for camping. The path would also take me through Vernonia, which I’d heard of but didn’t know anything about. I was amazed by what I found within two hours of my home.

Rarely do photoshoots go as well as I hope. However, this trip turned out to be far more interesting and rewarding than I expected. I plan to go again soon and explore more of this area.

Broken Railroad Trestle
Railroad trestles always get my attention.

The first thing I found heading further down State Route 47 was a hiking trail that follows a defunct railroad line. It’s a long trail and I wasn’t kitted out for hiking. I stopped long enough to look around a bit and photograph this broken trestle. That trail will be useful because I have an article on photographing railroad tracks coming up. I enjoy photographing trains and hope to do a series of articles following up on my one on rail travel.

Exploring Vernonia on Route 47

I went north with a plan to walk around Vernonia Lake City Park. I’d scoped the place out on Google and there appeared to be an abandoned structure off in a corner. Most of what I saw online were fairly bland photos of the outside of an old mill. I love the lost and timeless feel of abandoned places and hoped to find an interesting way to shoot it. I expected shooting the park’s building to be a challenge, instead it was a photography playground.

Inside the Old Mill
Trees growing inside an abandoned building like this feels like something from a video game. This has been less than two hours from me all these years and I never knew.

The building was amazing. I’ve seen nature retaking buildings in fantasy illustrations, but never anything like this in real life. Other concrete ruins surrounded the building.  I took these pictures in very early spring, which is why there is so much brown vegetation. When I return, I hope to have bright greens to contrast the concrete and metal, and also midday light.

Abandoned View
View from inside one of the structures.

Exploring around the ruin

Trench in ground with abandoned structures in the distance
I spent some time trying to get creative views of the area. This is one of my favorite compositions. I intend to reshoot it later in the year and print this shot for my wall.

I had to be careful walking around since the ground was uneven broken concrete in some areas. In others, there were still trenches in the ground. The signs at the site referred to this place as an old cedar mill, but online I am seeing it referred to as a fuel bunker. I am curious as to how the area used to look and how the remaining ruts and pylons were used.

I used the ruins surrounding the main building to play with composition. The above image uses a feeling of emerging from one type of space to another to create a sense of exploration. The image on the right uses both a strong foreground element and a strong background element. I was surprised to see metal in the ground and concrete ruts still around. It feels like one of those places that will have to give way to safety concerns and we’ll lose all these interesting elements.

Rusted metal among the debis behind the will
The mill had piles of broken concrete and metal. This twisted metal was one of my favorite bits.

This park can be reached from the Banks Vernonia trail that follows the old rail line, which makes sense. Next to a railroad line is a good place for a lumber mill.

After all these years, I found so many things I find fascinating less than two hours from my city.  Abandoned places, railroads and hiking are some of my favorite things. For years, almost every time I’d go adventuring outside the city I headed in the opposite direction.

The project will take me to many places I wouldn’t otherwise go. I am excited to see what other things I might find, but I don’t expect many places to be as impressive as Vernonia. Next time, we will explore the Newberry Caldera.

How much do you explore the cities, towns and parks near you? Have you found interesting things close to home? Are there fantastic sites that you’ve never gotten around to? Let us know!

You can find more of Dawn Hewitt’s photos of exploring Oregon or wandering Portland at her website or on Instagram.

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