Story and Photos By Ann Hattes
The Yakima Valley is one of the Northwest’s best kept secrets. Year-round recreational activities, wine tasting, 300 days of sun, farm fresh produce, plus proximity to Puget Sound and Portland make this an irresistible destination.
In Zillah, about 15 miles southeast of Yakima on Interstate 82, look for the Teapot Dome gas station, one of the oldest functioning gas stations in the U.S. and listed on the National Register of Historical Places.
Toppenish, 20 miles south of the city of Yakima, is the ‘City of Murals’ where the West still lives. The more than 60 murals show scenes from the Old West, railroading, rodeos, farming, and Yakama Indian Nation scenes. Take a walking or auto tour, or better still, view the murals while riding in a Conestoga wagon pulled by mules.
While in Toppenish, visit the American Hop Museum here in the heart of the nation’s largest hop producing area. The museum chronicles the history of the American hop industry from its early days in the New England colonies to the rapid expansion into California and ultimately the Pacific Northwest.
Also here is the Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center Museum on ancestral grounds of the reservation. Learn about Spilyay, the trickster who appeared most often in the guise of a coyote in Yakama legends. With daring and humor, Spilyay taught the Yakama people to survive and live harmoniously with nature and the cycle of life.
See examples of the Yakama people’s homes like earthlodges and tule tepees. Hear how tules are gathered from the marsh to make mats and utility items. Listen as the guide explains the Yakama time ball, a personal calendar kept by a young woman after marriage, a recording of events and memories by knots and beads on hemp string that could only be interpreted by her.
Yakima Valley provides a glimpse into one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world. Harvest season begins in April and ends in October. Look for freshly picked produce at the many locally owned fruit stands. Use the back roads as you wander the myriad of orchards, vineyards, fields of mints, onion and other row crops.
Winery hopping here is an unforgettable journey with its magnificent vineyards that lie in the same latitude as the great wine producing regions of France. Local winemakers are happy to discuss the fine distinctions between each grape, each harvest and each bottling.
Anchoring the 30 plus labels are Chateau Ste. Michelle, whose Grandview, Washington winery is the oldest operating facility in the state and dates back to the 1930s; Hogue Cellars, whose first vinifera grapes were planted in 1974; and Washington Hills, an historic landmark where special events take place year-round.
For a truly delectable indulgence, attend the Red Wine and Chocolate festival every President’s Day Weekend for sumptuous chocolate confections coupled with a wonderful red wine. Spring barrel tasting is the last full weekend of April. A fine way to celebrate Thanksgiving is sampling newly released wines in the grand tradition hosted by every winery in the region during the holiday weekend. Call ahead for dates and details.
Country leisure is at the heart of a visit to the Yakima Valley, an oasis of small farms yielding asparagus, eggplant, apricots, winter pear, mint, all kinds of berries, pumpkins and 30 other types of fruits and vegetables.
Here visitors explore the richness of nature cultivated into a cornucopia of the earth’s best bounty.
Yakima Valley Visitors & Convention Bureau