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Big and Beautiful Yakima Valley
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Big and Beautiful Yakima Valley
  Yakima Valley Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

yakima_butterfly.jpg Located in the south-central part of Washington State, on the eastern side of the Cascades Range, Yakima Valley's rich volcanic soil harvests an abundant variety of fruits, grains and vegetables. Sunnyside, for example, produces the largest crop of asparagus in the northwest, and, according to Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau's statistics, the valley is first in the nation in the production of hops, apples, mint and winter pears.

Historically, Yakima Valley has been inhabited by the Yakima Indian Tribe for thousands of years. In fact, the Yakima Indian Nation, with headquarters in Toppenish, is one of the largest federally-recognized sovereign treaty tribes in the United States. Europeans -- mainly, trappers, prospectors and traders -- arrived after 1805, after hearing the enticing reports generated from the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

yakima_nation_park.jpg In 1865 Yakima County was officially established and by 1880 nearly 3,000 people resided in the valley. At the turn of the century, population grew to nearly 15,000.

Before long farmers transformed the vast acreage (it's the second largest land mass in Washington -- over 4,000 square miles) into prosperous farms. Today Yakima Valley is one of the most important agricultural producing regions in the world.

yakima_valley_field_museum.jpg It's only natural, then, that the main attraction in the valley is agriculture, with wine tours and farm tours on top of the list. (The tours are free; products are sold on site.) A brochure available at the visitor center in Yakima lists all the farms and dates of harvest.

Big and beautiful Yakima Valley. Its gently rolling fields are a sea scape of golds, reds, greens, browns and oranges, depending on the season. On the western horizon, the Cascades Range casts a shadowy figure in the sky. Down on the valley floor the Naches and the Yakima Rivers flow and trickle through personable communities where hardworking farmers greet visitors with old-fashioned courtesy.

The Thompson's Farm in Naches has been in production since 1895. Now in its fourth generation, it's still operated by the family. We explored the orchards heavy laden with red and yellow apples and picked a few. Crisp, juicy and delicious! (No matter how plump and juicy the fruits appear at the food stores, they never taste the same as those picked right off a tree.)

Each farm is different. For example, the Granger Berry Patch in Granger has a petting zoo, picnic tables, a hiking trail through the berry fields and, on weekends in October, exhibits, games, scarecrow contests, hay rides, pony rides, music, entertainment and 30,000 pumpkins. (If the season is a poor one, they bring the pumpkins in.) There's an entrance fee during the October Pumpkin Festival.

I never dreamed there were so many kinds of peppers until we visited the Krueger Pepper Gardens in Wapato. The bins were over flowing with peppers and squash in a myriad of shapes and colors. It looked like a very lucrative business, indeed. The staff is so friendly, however, it's obviously a labor of love. Actually, if I were to look for a common thread in the valley, I would say all the farmers are dedicated and proud of what they are doing.

Most of the communities scattered along the valley's corridor (the distance between Naches at one end of the valley and Prosser on the other, is about 70 miles), are accessible via highway 97 or Interstate 82. Yakima City, ranked as the 25th most livable cities in the United States, is the biggest. It stretches 13 miles across the northern part of the valley and has a population of roughly 54,000. North Front Street was once a part of the city's original townsite. Now it's a trendy street of boutiques and eateries. We toured the Yakima Brewing and Malting Company housed in Yakima's old opera house (call ahead if you want a tour) and then we had lunch at the old train depot, now Grants Brewery Pub, and sampled some local beer. I can't remember what I had for lunch, but I do remember the beer was exceptional -- all three brands: light, medium and dark.

Union Gap, just south of Yakima City, has a wonderful agricultural museum: The Central Washington Agricultural Museum. This museum -- run almost exclusively by knowledgeable volunteers -- traces the history of farming. Over 1000 pieces of equipment are on display including pea pickers, plows and the 1910 corn crib.

There are a few attractions in the valley that have nothing to do with produce or farming: Grandview and Prosser offer self-guided tours of historic buildings. The Natural Resources Task Force, with the support of the Yakima Valley Visitor & Convention Bureau, has prepared several bike and motoring circle tours through the canyons and the hills. (These are excellent thorough itineraries with detailed descriptions.)

Then there's Fort Simcoe, where you can see what it was like in 1856 for the officers of the 9th Regiment; there's also the Great Prosser Balloon Rally and there's Toppenish.

toppenish_mural_muddyroad.jpg Toppenish is delightful. So many murals cover the storefronts, the town looks like an open air art gallery. The scenes depict a piece of the valley's past -- a wagon train, an old street scene; it's a fantastic idea that has caught on in other towns as well.

The Yakima Indian Nation has a fine cultural museum in Toppenish. Using dioramas and exhibits in place of storytellers, the history of the Yakima Valley is presented through the eyes of the Yakima Nation. Located on ancestral grounds, the museum has a well-stocked library, a theater, a gift shop with quality native arts and crafts, and an ethnic restaurant.

There are several campgrounds in Yakima Valley including the tried and true KOA; however, the most interesting one is next to the cultural center on the 1.4 million acre Yakima Indian Nation Reservation. Besides being a full service campground, with a swimming pool, hot tub, volleyball court, a meeting room and a game room, the Yakima Nation Resort R.V. Park offers something special: you can spend the night in one of fourteen colorfully decorated authentic tepees that surround the resort. No doubt, it would be a unique experience.

In conclusion, I say Yakima Valley is an ideal motoring destination, especially for us RV'er's who move at a snail's pace and don't mind zigzagging back and forth.

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