March 22nd 2014 I was on my way up Highway 530 to view a property we had just placed an offer on outside of Darrington. It was late morning on a Saturday when traffic was being diverted just past Oso. I rolled my window down as I came up on a fireman and asked him what the problem was. He wasn’t quite sure what happened, but mud was over the roadway.
After getting home I realized that my husband was frantically trying to reach me because he had seen on the news that a landslide had occurred around the same time I was to be in the area. I was running late that morning and that is why I am still here to tell the story, but 43 souls were lost that day in an instant. Steelhead Drive was taken off of the map. A tragedy to a community I love and admire for their strength and resilience.
For months after the tragedy the highway was closed at Oso and the residents of Darrington had to detour more than an hour to their already longer than average commutes. Meanwhile, members of the community volunteered day and night to dig through the mud and rubble. Trying desperately to recover the lost and give closure to this horrific wound. Locals knew that when you heard a helicopter overhead that meant somebody had been found. A sound that to this day can resurface an unsettling feeling.
Eventually the road was detoured by what we called “the ferry,” which was just a pilot car that lead a group of cars up and over a nearby power line road before connecting back at the highway. You weren’t allowed to stop, but you could see the slide in the distance and all the destruction. It was certainly a vision I and many others will never forget.
Photo taken from the power line road by Charlie Duncan Photography
This is a site that needs to be visited with the utmost respect, as it is a graveyard. Mother Nature buried loved ones here whose remains were never fully recovered. Friends and family of the victims have to drive by the scene daily so you can imagine how it feels to see tourists climbing the burms below, leaving trash or peeling out of the parking area.
If you do come there is a parking area right off the highway that holds a few vehicles. You won’t miss the slide because it covers a vast one square mile and all the trees that once were are gone. To the right is a memorial tree garden to represent the lives taken far too soon. Every one is decorated to honor each individual slide victim. The slide is really quite beautiful to see and from here you will notice one of the best views you can get of Mount Higgins.
Since the slide occurred the highway has been rebuilt and they are just finishing up reconstruction of the Whitehorse Trail that follows right alongside the highway. Be sure on your travels that you stop by the local shops of Darrington and Oso to show your support of these communities that are still recovering. It is one of the most beautiful areas in the PNW and a place that I am proud to call home.
From Highway 9 in Arlington turn East onto Highway 530 for 16 miles. The memorial is on your left.