Check it out Distance: 2 miles round trip Difficulty: easy Hiking time: 1 hour Season: March through December Maps: USGS Spokane NW, Spokane NE Info: Spokane City Parks and Recreation, 625-6200
Hiking trip notes
Access: Trailhead is in Spokane at Liberty Park picnic area, corner of Third and Perry. From Interstate 90 westbound, take Second Street exit. From I-90 eastbound, take Altamont exit.
Attractions: Gentle grade of abandoned Ben Burr railway provides easy walk through time, as well as through 40-foot-high granite outcroppings and South Hill slopes covered with pines and hardwoods.
Route, preserved as small cultural and geological oasis in urban Spokane, follows tiny portion of Spokane and Inland Empire Railway completed in 1908 to haul people and freight to Palouse region. Railway one of first in world to experiment with AC electrification. Auto industry led to end of passenger service in 1939; freight service ended in 1941. Rails removed in late ‘70s. City dedicated route as trail in 1988.
Comments: From parking area at west end of park, walk under giant cottonwood, past green Dumpster and up gravel ramp to old rail bed. (Don’t go up rock-wall-lined stairs 50 yards west; they lead up to 5th Street and old railroad electric frequency changing station, now converted to private residences.)
Railway heads uphill, sometimes in channels blasted out of crumbling basalt. Trees and shrubs include pines, Oregon grape, viburnum, mockorange, honeysuckle, mountain maple, snowberry, elderberry. Vegetation succulent in spring, festive and colorful in fall.
Route crosses Altamont on overpass bridge. In late October, walk east of Altamont bridge, cover ears to shut out static of nearby Interstate 90 and imagine yourself in glorious color of some New England countryside.
Route dead-ends far too soon at chain-link fence, which marks first of numerous private property lines that prevent further use of railway.
Short trail continues from below fence east to Hills Court for access to Thor Street. Also, two steep trails lead down to Underhill Park.
Trail and parks open daylight hours. Hiking here wouldn’t be recommended after dark anyway. As in all city trailheads, leave no valuables in car.
Under deep snow, route is skiable.
Trail named for Ben Burr, former chief civil engineer for Great Northern Railroad. Burr instrumental in getting company, which eventually purchased the small railroad, to cede right of way to city.
Geology buffs can easily double or triple walking time on this route. Rocks formed as much as 2 billion years ago metamorphosed into gneisses. Lava flows 15-16 million years ago covered gneisses and formed cliffs along Liberty Park. Catastrophic floods that raced through area 12-16 thousand years ago scoured cliffs.
Cuts construction crews blasted through rock expose numerous geological features, including slickensides (scratches caused by rocks sliding past one another in fault zone), pegmatites (type of granite with very large mineral grains), columnar jointing (regular pattern of polygonal cracks that form when lava cools, hardens and contracts), pillow lava (formed by lava pouring into small streams or ponds and curling into rounded lava masses).
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Map of area
The following fields overflowed: SUPCAT = COLUMN - Routes: Classic Trips in the Inland Northwest