Your Essential Guide to a Wilderness Metropolis

At population 12, in the middle of an ancient rainforest, with no police or government, Jawbone Flats is in all other respects a proper city. We have a downtown, an uptown, and one store. Residents go “in town” and “out of town.” With the ebb and flow of cabin renters and school groups, our population booms and declines. We are our own fire department. This guide highlights the town’s vibrant downtown, hidden enclaves, and booming industrial district.

Downtown

We designate the street between the lowest four cabins “downtown.” One boiling June day, I fired up a brand new, bright orange mower to cut the grass downtown, surrounded on all sides by untouched Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars in federally protected wilderness. Backpackers stopped with puzzled looks as civilization sprouted forcefully and noisily from the depths of the woods.

Downtown, spectators lined the street to witness the town’s biggest spectacle in years, the July Fourth parade. Planned in one 24-hour period, the parade was led by a tractor driven by our facilities team Brian and James. Behind them rattled all the town’s residents and all of its wheelbarrows, laden with flag-cloaked staff members banging drums and tooting whistles.

Perhaps the strangest sight downtown in July was our most recent fire drill. One Monday morning, an air horn sliced through the stillness and the radio crackled: “Cabin eight’s on fire! Cabin eight’s on fire!” What happened next contradicted all the instructions I received in every fire drill from elementary school through college. Running was preferred to walking. I was handed a fire hose and told to sprint downtown with it. My coworker pulled up alongside me and with a mighty yell, flung a second hose down the street. With water already spurting out I connected the two ends. We doused cabin eight and saved the town.

Uptown

Uptown, atop Bachelor Hill, where unmarried miners once lived, is the site of staff cabins. We recline after workdays and watch the sun die behind the ranks of Doug Firs. In the dark, James stalks the hill flashing a headlamp, swearing he heard a cougar, this time for real. Somewhere in the vicinity of uptown lies the mysterious vortex, whose true powers remain unknown.

Upwards of uptown, Battle Ax Bridge spans Battle Ax Creek. It is an ideal spot for grand entrances. This was the home stretch for a group of ten, eleven, and twelve-year-olds I led on a four-day backpacking trip. On the last of our fourteen total miles, we met with rain, thunder, and lightning. This prompted a chorus of camp songs and cries of “woooooo, thunder,” and “wooooo, lightning.” As we sloshed through a puddle onto Battle Ax Bridge we belted out “we are the champions,” loud enough for everyone downtown, uptown, and everywhere else in town to hear.

Statues and Monuments

Jawbone’s most prominent monument is a rusty steam boiler. Perched atop a granite slab and once used to heat and separate metals, the boiler marks the edge of town. It’s known simply as “Amalgamated,” after James P. Hewitt’s first mining venture at Opal Creek. Here, I amalgamate my backpacking groups in preparation for marching into town as a team.

Industrial District

The outskirts of town play host to the Pelton Shed and the shop, the industrial backbone of Jawbone. The Pelton Shed grants feelings of great power and might. Most residents can perform a simple mechanical motion that causes a citywide blackout. Brian does it to impress passing hikers. The shop triples as basketball court, shop, and sheriff’s department, from which Brian dons a vest and official-looking shiny badge to patrol the Kopetski trail, enforcing the Forest Service’s fire ban.

Back across the bridge, on the lodge stoop in the evenings, we debate the issues of the day — urban growth (should Jawbone get its own traffic light?), sports and recreation (how can we improve our badminton net from a rope strung across the street?), population demographics (what will happen when cabin renters quintuple our population?), criminal justice (should we build a Jawbone jail for fire ban violators?). We discuss technological advancements, a fancy upcoming water purification plant and a spider (a giant eight-legged mechanical beast?) on its way to town to cleanup mine tailings. These are the pressing concerns of a thriving metropolis in the middle of the forest.