On December 26, 1980, a devastating flood cuts off Monte Cristo, an isolated former mining town in eastern Snohomish County, and ends an attempt to operate a resort business on the site. Monte Cristo is located 34 miles east of Granite Falls on the present-day Mountain Loop Highway. Following the day-after-Christmas flood in 1980, the resort business will be replaced by an organized volunteer effort to preserve the historic town and its spectacular natural setting.
Mining, Floods, and Tourism
Floods have played a key role in the fate of Monte Cristo, a hard-rock mining town founded in 1889 and 1890, which for more than a decade produced millions of dollars worth of gold and silver ore. In 1896 two floods washed out roads, railroads, and bridges, and the major washout of 1897 contributed to mining firm bankruptcies. Floods in the early 1930s and again in 1975 also caused extensive damage. Each of these events cut off access to Monte Cristo for time periods ranging from weeks to two-and-a-half years. By the 1930s Monte Cristo had become a ghost town.
Tourism replaced mining at the spectacular mountain location with its historic townsite located at the head of the South Fork Sauk River. After World War II, tourism flourished with various owners turning Monte Cristo into a resort destination. The storm that began the day after Christmas in 1980 ended all that. Attempts to operate a resort business were replaced by an organized volunteer effort to preserve the historic town and its spectacular natural setting.
The 1980 Storm
At first the county expected another major warm rain and snow-melt event to cause late season destruction throughout the river valleys. Local and Department of Emergency Management crews prepared their sandbags, called in volunteers, and awaited another major disaster. Instead, the massive storm moved quickly, hitting the county’s eastern Cascade Mountain region with drenching amounts of rain and then moving on. Farms and downstream communities unexpectedly were spared the usual levee toppings and breaks caused by a slow storm and its water surge.
But upstream the damage was on a scale beyond memory.
East of Granite Falls, the Mountain Loop Highway suffered numerous large washouts. Below Barlow Pass, the section down the South Fork Sauk River to Darrington was gone below Monte Cristo Lake, as was the bridge connecting the residents of Reece’s Hideaway near Bedal. Above Barlow, the county road to Monte Cristo was a disheartening mess, largely unreachable due to missing approaches at the Twin Bridges river-crossing and a sloughing, previously unknown clay slide.
Where it had let go, the remains of the road grade lay 80 feet below, in the river. Hiking out along the old miners’ route up to Poodle Dog Pass and down Silver Creek to Mineral City, then driving to Index, also was unfeasible. A quarter-mile section of ridge just above Galena City had collapsed, sweeping across the road and creating a steep, crumbling slope down into the Silver Creek canyon. To this day it is impassable by vehicles.
The End of the Resort Business
Trapped at Monte Cristo during the storm were resort concessionaire Jerod (Jerry) Rosman, his wife Eileen, and their three children, Liza, David, and young Jeremy. In addition, Jim and Del Thompson and their three children, Michelle, Mike, and Chris, were also staying there while they built a log home on their neighboring Sauk Lode mining claim. Walking out carefully through the wreckage was the only way to leave and return with supplies.
As winter continued, these families began to construct a makeshift trail and utilize snowmobiles. This time Snohomish County government decided not to rebuild the isolated roadway. After analysis of the costs involved, County Executive Willis Tucker remarked, "It may be that road is closed forever. We just don’t have the money" (May, Herald, 1981).
With the road difficult at best for hikers and climbers, the Monte Cristo Resorts, Inc. owners and Rosman had no source of visitor income. After a helicopter rescue of the family following threatening avalanches, the Rosmans left in January 1982. A temporary caretaker, Robert Orfield, later came to take their place. He was on a trip out to Granite Falls for groceries when the lodge burned in March 1983.
A New Era
The non-profit Monte Cristo Preservation Association (MCPA) was formed in 1983 and reopened the road to foot, bicycle, and limited motor-vehicle traffic. Later one of the corporation members, John Trimble, returned seasonally to live in a remodeled cabin next to 76 Creek. He exchanged cabin rights for labor, allowing a few people to stay until his relationships with them frayed.
In 1994, frustrated by the lack of cooperation from the resort owners and their disinterest in keeping up their portion of the townsite with its cabins and railroad turntable, the Monte Cristo Preservation Association and its supporting organizations eventually succeeded in purchasing the corporation’s town lots and mining claims. With the U.S. Forest Service accepting title to those properties and working in partnership with the preservation association, Monte Cristo continues to be a popular destination for summer visitors.