Wanderings: Gold Creek Pond

Snowshoeing was a much noisier endeavor than I'd expected. A snow-covered landscape is usually associated with soft silence and muffled noises, the sound of spoken words extinguished as the vapor of your breath dissipates in the chilly air. Instead, as our group tromped along the path toward Gold Creek Pond last Sunday, we were accompanied by the sounds of swishing snow pants, excited voices chattering and laughing, and of course, the loud scrape-crunch of boots and snowshoes themselves, rasping against the icy crust of snow.

By happy coincidence, my birthday fell on the same day as our January book club outing. I had looked forward to this day for awhile, and was eager to finally try my hand (foot?) at snowshoeing. Heavy mountain snow prevented me from attending this same outing last year, and this year I'd been keeping an eye on the weather, warily reviewing the expected snowfall totals as the day approached. However, with the blessing of a favorable forecast, it was amid the joyful chorus of our group, surrounded by white-dusted peaks, and breathing mountain air infused with the freshness of snow, that I officially turned 33.

After arriving at the quickly-filling parking area with our carpool, we piled out of the car, geared up, and headed for the trailhead. Most of us decided to forego the snowshoes, given that the snow covering the popular trail at Snoqualmie Pass had been well packed down by all the feet traveling along it, which, coupled with lack of recent snowfall, made it fairly easy to traverse in hiking boots alone. Squelching a momentary disappointment that I wouldn't be snowshoeing today, I decided that any snowy ramblings would be delightful, regardless of what was on my feet.

Temperatures were above-freezing in the pass, even at 8:30am, and the trees had that sad half-melted look to them as lone clumps of snow clung to their branches, waiting to fall to the earth with a muffled wet whump. We crossed a bridge over the channelized current of Gold Creek, and shortly thereafter arrived at the shore of Gold Creek Pond. The first thing I noticed were the snowy mountains rising before us, peaks alternately hidden and revealed as thin clouds billowed over them. The second thing I noticed was a set of footprints trailing from the shoreline, across the pond's thin layer of ice, toward an island a few hundred yards away. There didn't appear to be a hole in the ice where someone had fallen through, so the not-so-smart owner of those footprints must have made it back to solid ground unscathed.

Footprints on thin ice...
Our group stood on the shoreline and marveled at the snowy mountains, the ever-changing clouds, the patterns of light and color on the pond ice. It was hard to imagine that a place of such beauty was once a scene of devastation. The land where Gold Creek Pond now lies was once the floodplain for Gold Creek, but became a large hole in the ground in the 1970's when the Washington State DOT mined it for gravel during construction to expand Interstate 90. The pit left behind eventually filled with water and became Gold Creek Pond. The surrounding landscape was carefully planted with native tree species, and as you follow the path around the pond, beneath the branches of those very trees, you could easily assume that this place had always existed as it is now.

In fact, this place as it exists now is not much older than me. I stood and gazed at a floodplain that had never expected to become a pond and reflected that, although wonderful, I'd never expected my own life to look the way it does now, at 33. Growing up, we have such expectations for how our lives will one day look, and if I've learned anything in my 33 years, it's that life NEVER goes according to plan. Our own plans always leave out the missteps, the heartbreaks, the loss, and the bad decisions that undoubtedly will come as a course of life, and, while painful and difficult, are often necessary to push us onto a path that is much different than what we'd planned, and so much better - so much more - than we could have imagined.

Now, I'm not saying that Gold Creek Pond is better off now than when it was in its natural state as a floodplain. In fact, the pond is causing trouble for its namesake stream, and for the population of endangered bull trout that inhabit its waters. (Read more about the issue, and the Kittitas Conservation Trust's restoration project, HERE). However, some good has arisen from the destruction. Gold Creek Pond, and its paved ADA-accessible trail (in snow-free seasons) offers bountiful opportunities for its many visitors to engage with nature and enjoy the outdoors. How could one not fall in love with nature after seeing these views?

I was glad to be one of the many people enjoying nature on the trail that day. Our group followed the loop trail, arriving at the opposite side of the pond to find it completely unfrozen; the deep blue-green water offering mesmerizing reflections of the surrounding forests and mountain peaks.

We continued on the loop trail a bit further, then our group took a detour onto the forest service road, following it to a cabin belonging to the family of one of our book club leaders. We warmed up with tea, a hot fire, book discussions, and a host of delicious snacks, culminating in everyone singing happy birthday to this very embarrassed nature nerd around a magnificent and oh-so-delicious honey cake.

With hugs and goodbyes to those who stayed behind, our carpool group left the cabin in the early afternoon and set back out on the forest service road, which would lead us directly back to the winter trailhead and parking area. The already-mild day had warmed further, melting the path from a hard crust to slippery slush, which my tired ankles struggled with.

Back in the car for the long drive home, I leaned my head against the seat and reflected that there was one very specific course of events in life that would have led me to this moment, in this vehicle, with these friends, smelling the fresh mountain hair still clinging to my damp hair as I headed home to my beloved husband and son. The path I had planned for myself - although at the time I fought for it bitterly - would have taken me in a different direction, and who knows where I would have been at this moment in time, on my 33rd birthday. I don't know if I'll ever truly get my bearings as I try to navigate through life, but experience has taught me that I can have faith and trust the unexpected course changes. At 33, at least, they've led me somewhere wonderful.


I stumbled across a report with fascinating historical aerial photos of the Gold Creek area, which show the dramatic change over time from floodplain to gravel pit to pond. Visit the Kittitas County land use web page, and click on the "DOT 2011 Gold Creek History Restoration" report HERE. Photos are in Appendix A.


  1. Thanks for sharing the fascinating history of the area! It was interesting to see the aerial photos in that pdf on the Kittitas County website!


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