From Mountains..To Fruit and Wine!

Trip Start Jul 11, 2007
Trip End Jul 30, 2007

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Wednesday, July 18, 2007

 Joe here, well the previous night we had enjoyed the sounds of a rumbling thunderstorm and the light gentle taps of a brief rainfall.  This night the rain came, but not gentle and not brief.  It was more like a steady pelting of rocks hitting the rainfly over our tent.  After waking several times during the night, enough was enough and no matter what time it was I'd had enough.  Sitting straight up in the tent, Frannie knew she was in for a quick, strategic exit from our campsite and like a good girl scout was ready for the task at hand.  The tent was down and packed away in the trunk of the car, any remaining hot coals extinguished and we were quietly rolling out of the Cougar Campground at 5:45 AM.  This was our last morning in Mt. Rainier and we had a couple of stops before making our way to the Yakima wine growing region of Washington.  
 Falls in Rainier
First stop was Narada Falls, this was the falls we hadn't not reached our first day after spending so much time at Comet Falls.  After a brief walk we encountered an absolutely pristine glacial mountain fed waterfall.  Narada Falls at RainierBeing the only ones up within the park system we were able to peacefully stand at the bottom and enjoy the mist from the falls all to ourselves.
 Earth moving mountains
FC Again =;)
We headed From Narada Falls to the Grove of the Patriarchs. I didn't understand the name of this trail until I met the Patriarchs. Old growth trees, reaching the sky, these majestic old growth trees were overwhelmingly beautiful. These old growth trees went on foreverOur journey through this grove was cut short though thanks again to the floods of 2006. The small expansion walking bridge linking the trail had been washed out from the flood, and was off limits. We disappointedly, had to turn around and accept this journey was not ours to take. The Patriarchs of the Forest
As we headed out of the park, we headed toward the Yakima Valley. In search of drier and warmer weather I was sad to leave Mt Rainier but anxious to dry out a bit. The prospects of wine touring didn't hurt either! The Yakima Valley is filled with small farming towns and tourist spots. Fruit stands are everywhere and no matter what you want, if it grows on a vine, in the ground, or in a tree, you can find it in the Yakima Valley. Signs ran the gamut of every vegetable or fruit and Joe swears he saw a sign advertising asparagus tamales.
Our first stop along the way was to check into our tee-pee. The Yakima Nation RV campground was geographically first in order so we decided to check in first. Thank goodness for small favors. As we drove along we saw the Yakima Nation Casino in the distance sitting right on the Rt 82 highway. Our apprehension began right away knowing that our campground was close to the casino and with the casino so close to the highway, well you get the rest. The worst case scenario quickly approached as we got closer to what would be our lodging that night. With concrete slabs and wooden cots, these stuffy, smelly, hovels would not be acceptable. We imagined something overlooking beautiful scenery with maybe a campfire; instead we would have to hear the sounds of tractor trailers filled with Rainier Cherries and Plumcots moving up and down the highway all night. The fact that we had not had hot water or showers in two days, only confirmed for us our decision to not stay at the Yakima Nation RV and Campground.
With that decided we decided to seek out Sam Small for help and guidance. I would hate to write Sam's job description and get it wrong but what I do know is that Sam was instrumental in helping us prepare for the Yakima Valley and it turns out is instrumental in the area of public relations, tourism, small businesses, and the news in Toppenish, a small town in the valley. Sam and I began corresponding prior to this trip. I obtained his email from the Yakima Valley Visitor's Guide and reached out to him as an expert in the area for where to eat, drink wine, and other incidentals that only a local could really know. Sam and Robert at the Yakima News Sam and I had spoken via e-mail a few times and he had extended an open invitation for us to stop in at the paper when we got into town.  We had made this a point when we got to town and thought it would be great to meet, and thank, the guy who had helped us out so much. Now it took on a whole new meaning... we needed a place to stay!  Arriving in Toppenish, it took all of about fifteen minutes to locate him and walking through the door of the paper I think he was a little surprised we actually showed up. Driving through Toppenish we were instantly aware of all the murals painted on the sides of the buildings throughout town. Toppenish is known for its murals depicting the history of the region and the battles and successes that are linked to it. Built with a western theme, many of the building store fronts resemble an old western town. Despite the efforts to keep the town vibrant and alive, the streets were very empty for a workday afternoon. The gentleman who gives covered wagon rides throughout Toppenish to give personal tours of the murals sat waiting for someone to come and seek out his services. While the covered wagon was originally something we had entertained, time would not permit us to get the personalized tour.  
 Fruit Anyone? It's Here!
With a full day ahead of us, we really needed to resolve the lodging issue before we could move forward with much more. Walking into the Yakima Valley Newspaper, we were met by a group of lovely and friendly people. Sam was delighted to meet us and was as eager to meet with us as we were with him. Sam proceeded to introduce us to Richard Burger, a freelance reporter for the paper and 45 minutes later we were finishing a newspaper article that was being written about the adventures of Joe and Frannie and our journey to Washington, Oregon and especially Toppenish. The paper is using us to promote tourism in the area. Without showers for 2 days, we were escorted to one of the murals for a photo op and were promised issues upon the publication.
We insisted on taking Sam to lunch for all he had done for us and he happily agreed. Walking across the street we feasted on fresh, local Mexican food. Sam and Joe and I talked for quite some time about the commerce, politics, and state of the Yakima Valley, Toppenish primarily.Murals in Toppenish 4 It turns out this lovely little town has some kinks it needs to work out. The progress of Toppenish has been plagued with gang problems, Indian reservation battles, and town red tape.  This promising community battles to be a destination spot, lacks in night time safety and acceptable family lodging. The police department in Toppenish, despite the town's small numbers in population, consists of a large number of patrol cars as well as a gang task unit. Murals in Toppenish 3
The bonus of the lunch was when Sam shared with us his new favorite purchase, his "i phone". It was funny to see the elusive phone in front of me only a few days on the shelves. Of course, I had to play with it and yes, it is as easy as it looks, I know what I want for Christmas! Regardless of the revitalization that Toppenish is going through, Sam and others like him are making the little western town a great place to visit for a day.
After battling between staying in Toppenish at the Day's Inn, on the Mayor's wife's recommendation whom we met in the newspaper office, and staying in Zillah the next town over, at a Comfort Inn located near the wine trails, we decided on Zillah.
After an effortless check-in and quick, refreshing shower at the Comfort Inn, we were off to drink our way through the first section of the Rattlesnake Trail wine country. Vineyards and orchards blanket the surrounding valley and while each little town seems to run into the next, the residents of each have very particular pride and opinions about their own community. Zillah appeared to be the much more affluent section of the Yakima Valley. In contrast to Toppenish's Indian Reservation, Western appeal, and central location of downtown, Zillah is all about the fruit. Vines and Blue SkiesDowntown Zillah has very little draw and really no tourism, yet people visit the Yakima Valley primarily for what Zillah has to offer... Wine!!!!  One of many small communities in the Valley, Zillah is a community made up primarily of wine makers, fruit growers, and one beautiful vineyard after the next. There is no short supply of great views in this region. From any of the dozens of wineries there is nothing to see for miles but rolling hills, sunny skies, and green orchards. Vines in the valleyThis part of the state only receives about 6 inches of rain per year so farmers have flocked here for grape growing. It's not that grapes don't need lots of water, but that with such low levels of rain, farmers can control the amount of water the crops get through irrigation. Irrigation is key to the success of a vineyard and each vintner has their own processes, sometimes secret, that they subscribe to. Barrels of fun
We visited four of the wineries in the Zillah region and enjoyed each of the tasting rooms, the attendants, and the local flair that each brought to the experience. The competition between wineries is almost nonexistent. It was nice to see that each winery understood that without the others, they would not be successful. The region is afterall, a destination spot because of the number of wineries that are so close to each other and the vineyard owners realize that, and in turn, all of them encourage the success of the surrounding wineries.
From Zillah we headed down to the downtown district of Yakima. Full of life, neon signs, and people, this spot was yet another face we had not seen of the valley. We were on our way to the minor league baseball game to watch the Yakima Bears face off the Eugene Emeralds. batter up6 rows behind home plate, we had a great view of all the action happening on and off the diamond.  Baseball in small town America is very much alive and at $8.00 a ticket you can't go wrong; this place was packed with faithful fans young and old.  It was nice to see so many people out supporting the local team. Despite the hot days, this desert area cools off a lot at night, so it was perfect for watching a game. Despite the 7-4 loss, we still had a great time and I even got Buddy, the team mascot to pose for a picture with me.  Don't believe that folks... Frannie ran over a herd of small, innocent children and hurdled herself into the arms of this furry mascot for yet another photo-op!
 Frannie and Buddy!
We headed to downtown Yakima for a bite to eat after the game. Only blocks away, we quickly decided on the Sportsman's Restaurant. On Main Street, this location was an old 50's looking establishment with the original neon sign that had been converted into a trendy hang out for the 20 something's. We sat outside and enjoyed the most delicious gilled ahi tuna sandwich ever. It doesn't take much for Joe to find food worthy of taking a picture of but when you have to make a trip out to the car to get the camera to take the picture of the sandwich, you know it must be good!The Sportsman Resturant in Yakima
After another long day we headed home for that hot shower, cool sheets, and a restful night's sleep.
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Where I stayed
Navajoland Day's Inn
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