The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

July 15, 2008

Sightseeing at 75 MPH: Wandering Through the Yakima Valley

Filed under: Wanderings, Washington — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:36 am

With the drastic rise in gas prices over the past few months, I have found that I just haven’t been driving as much as I usually do.  Last year I managed to put in more than 4,000 miles behind the wheel on a pair of major roadtrips that included visits to both Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, a cruise down some of the remnants of the old Route 66and a short stay in Las Vegas, as well as several shorter trips within a couple hundred miles of home.  With the increase in gas prices and my work schedule, I don’t believe that I’ve made it more than about 50 miles from home at any point this year.  Although an opportunity to take a trip down to Cancun with my parents and other members of my family may present itself in October (which would probably be in lieu of going to the Laguna Seca ALMS race that I discussed a few weeks ago,) there just comes a point when you just completely forget how much gas costs these days, and hit the road anyway.

After the Singles Ward campout discussed in my previous entry, I figured that I was already most of the way across the pass, so I decided that it might be a good opportunity to go spend a bit of time on the road, and do a bit of exploring on the other side of the mountains in Eastern Washington.  Fortunately, the weather cooperated (sort of) with cloudless skies and temperatures well into the Nineties, making for nice pictures. After the jump, a brief tour of Washington’s Yakima Valley, as seen from the road.


Roughly fifteen miles past the ranch I spent Friday night at (somewhere between Easton and Cle Elum) there is a surprisingly rapid transition between the dense pine forests of the Cascades and the rolling sagebrush-covered hills of Eastern Washington (more on this later on.)   The land is far from the desert you might expect of this climate though.  Thanks to the combination of rich soil and irrigation water provided by the Columbia and Yakima Rivers, much of the land has found productive use for agricultural purposes.  Much of America’s supply of hops comes from this region, as do many of the famous Washington Apples.

One thing you might be less familiar with is this areas increasing popularity for growing grapes, and the wines that are made from them.  A large number of vineyards now dot the landscape of the Yakima Valley, and as you travel through the valley you will note that it seems like every town you pass through, no matter how small, always seems to have at least 2 or 3 wineries.  Given the fact that I do not drink, and the fact that wine-tasting as a roadtrip activity is probably frowned upon by miscellaneous state and local authorities, I decided to just keep on driving.

In spite of all this, perhaps the most impressive scenery to be found on the drive is in one of its most desolate areas.  Between Ellensburg and Yakima, there is a stretch of I-92 that passes through the North and South Umantum Ridge, an area in which the road climbs several large hills, then gradually slopes down into valleys formed by some small streams over the course of several miles.  This makes for some breathtaking views, especially toward the ends of the 35-mile stretch of road where the arid deserts open up dramatically to the green valleys below. 


The approach into Selah and Yakima as you travel south comes with an added bonus:  If the weather is clear, you are treated to the simultaneous view of two of Washington’s major mountains in the distance:  Mount Adams directly ahead, and Mount Rainier off in the distance a bit to the right.

Of course, the drive through the Yakima Valley isn’t all just pretty scenery and crops; there are a number of interesting manmade sights along the way as well.  Since I’m probably already awake way too late writing this as is, I will save those for another post to follow sometime in the next day or two.


  1. I believe the mountains you see in Yakima are actually Rainier and St. Hellens

    Comment by J.B.L — July 15, 2008 @ 6:05 am

  2. You would be correct that Mount St. Helens is in that general direction (it falls somewhere between the two,) but it is also much shorter than either Mount Rainier or Mount Adams, which are the two largest mountains in the state. This means that you aren’t able to see it over the horizon. For illustration, here’s a map showing approximately where the photos were taken from, and where the mountains are:

    Comment by Brian Lutz — July 15, 2008 @ 10:07 am

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