The weather is deteriorating and there is a chance of snow overnight. We had planned to go home tonight or tomorrow, so the weather made the choice an easy one for us.
When we set out we thought we would only spend a couple of nights in the Yakima Valley, but we ended up staying 4 nights. Our planning was a little off this trip as we ended up winging our days, and probably drove a couple of hundred random miles because of our poor planning. But we do enjoy seeing things in the back country so except for the extra cost of gas it did not particularly bother us.
The nice part about the trip is each day we ended up finding a place that we really enjoyed and was memorable for good food, drink, and fun people. None of these places were on the agenda at the beginning of the day when we set out. So while it may not have been an efficient week, spontaneity led to positive experiences. This seems to happen to us very often and rarely do we have the opposite experience where things go badly. I think these kind of finds are what we enjoy about traveling.
Driving down the Columbia River Gorge Ton proposed we make one more stop before home so we pulled into one of our favorite Gorge Wineries, Idiots Grace. They had just reopened with a tented and heated tasting area. We had a quick lunch from Scout pared with a tasting of wine. The weather was crisp at about 50 degrees but it was a good end to a very nice trip.
We decided to extend our stay in our current campground, so we took a little extra time this morning. After looking around for options to do today we decided to head over to Saddle Mountain Wildlife Refuge to start the day and once we were done there decide what was next. We know that this is a very vague plan. The other decision for the day was whether this was going to be a wine tasting day or a beer tasting day. The final decision was for beer, so now that we had an agenda for the day.
We set Greta to no freeways as we wanted to get where we were going by driving thru the verdant farm country in the Yakima and Columbia Valleys. We both really enjoy driving down country roads trying to identify crops, and looking at the different ways farmers manage crops. This area is known for three major crops now. Apples have been the major crop for generations, but about 40 years ago they began planting warm weather varietals of wine grapes and it now a major wine region. The third major crop now is Hops. Hops have been grown here for decades, but since we last visited about 10 years ago hop production has exploded in the area, and today we drove thru thousands of acres of hop farms.
We were enjoying our drive and looking forward to the Wildlife Refuge. As we left the Yakima River Valley we entered the high desert grassland this area is naturally without irrigation. For about 20 miles we were skirting the edge of the Hanford Nuclear Site. During WWII this area was very remote and sparsely populated, so a top secret facility was built out here with some of the earliest nuclear reactors. At the peak the Hanford Nuclear site had 9 reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The nuclear matter for the Manhattan Project was produced here. The production sites are now deactivated though it is one of the largest storage areas for used nuclear material in the US. At one point we came to one of the guarded entrances to the site. It did not seem like a good idea to stop and take pictures so we have nothing to show.
After leaving Hanford we had crossed over into the Columbia River Valley and the apples, and grapes reappeared, but more corn than hops. We were following Greta Garmins directions as we drove along and she finally had us turn down a gravel road into a large apple orchard, Greta finally announced we had arrived at the wildlife refuge when we were surrounded by apples with a large expanse of desert in front of us. The desert was probably part of the wildlife refuge but it did not appeal to us, so we turned around.
As we were heading back to the main road we saw a small field of a plant we have never seen. We slowed down to take a look and I began to suspect it was marijuana. We stopped and I saw some signs in Spanish that I think confirmed that it was cannabis. Now that the stuff is legal it has to be grown somewhere, and a remote apple orchard in the Columbia River Valley is as good a place as any. The smell from the plant is very strong and distinctive.
We finalized the day by visiting two local breweries in town. The first one was Bombing Range Brewery. We really enjoyed their beer, and they have one of the coolest logos we have seen. We ended up buying a couple of the glasses to add to our collection. The second brewery was Horse Heaven Hills Brewery where we ended the day.
Tonight we are hunkered down watching the local Soccer Derby between Seattle and Portland. The good guys let three points get away by conceding a goal in stoppage time. Soccer is such a cruel sport.
Continuing our tour of Eastern Washington Wine Country today we headed to center of the region. Walla Walla beside having a great name, is the town that really put Washington wines on the map. We last visited this wine town 15 years ago and were curious how success had changed things. Ton favors small producers and she picked two of the places that had good friendly reviews for our visit.
The day started out sunny, but cooler than the last couple of days, but the weather report showed that things are going to go down hill. The drive over was uneventful so we decided to take a stroll thru town before heading over to our first winery. Walla Walla is a really cute, regional farm town, probably the most picturesque and upscale looking of all of the towns on the east side of the mountains. It has a very well respected liberal arts college that adds a youthful energy to the farmers, ranchers and winemakers. There are several nice restaurants and coffee shops. The biggest change since our last visit is that about every other store front is now a tasting room for a winery.
Many of the towns and cities in the Northwest as a response to Covid have begun to convert streets and other public spaces to outdoor dining. This development put in place as an emergency measure has been well received. The streets that have been closed do not seem to have had a big impact on traffic, and like we noticed in Europe it makes walking a much more enjoyable experience. The temperature today is only in the mid-50’s and as you can see from the picture above it was too cold for most people to sit outside. It will be interesting to see what happens in the bad weather, both with the disease and if restaurant owners and customers will be able and willing to adapt.
Our first stop was Reinenger Winery. It has been producing wines since 1997. The wine tasting experience is a little different in these times. Instead of bringing over a sample one at a time and poring the wine while explaining the characteristics, they brought over the entire tasting flight in small carafes with a written explanation. This allows for proper social distancing for us and the tasting room workers.
We were enjoying our tasting when one of the workers and asked if wanted to take a tour of the winery. We were surprised as it is harvest time and usually the wineries are closed to visitors as they bring in the grapes. We masked up and headed out to have a walk around with one other group, and the tasting room manager. It was a nice treat to watch the workers deal with the grapes, and to see the vats of newly picked grapes going thru their initial fermentation.
The view from the winery was different, usually you are looking at vineyards. In this case we were looking at wheat fields for miles. The vineyards for the winery are a few miles away. So we were enjoying the great wine with a view that reminded us of North Dakota.
We finished the day by visiting another tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. Kontos winery was interesting because the family had been farming and ranching in Walla Walla since the 1850’s, but had only recently taken up winemaking in the 1990’s. They have a strong connection to the town and are proud of this recent development in farming there.
Ton and I have always enjoyed the Yakima Valley. It is usually sunny and bright. Ton really likes the “light” in the valley. It is the biggest producer of hops, fruit, and wine grapes in the Pacific Northwest, so it is a source of some of our favorite beverages. We decided that today was going to be a beer day sandwiched between two wine days.
But before starting with the breweries we headed to the local Costco for a quick run thru. We also had a luxurious lunch of the $1.50 hotdog for me, and a chicken wrap for Ton from the snack bar there.
As we have passed thru Yakima in the past we noticed a very beautiful botanical garden just off of the freeway so we decided to visit today. The garden was very well tended and had an interesting section highlighting the trees of the Northwest. There were several families exploring the gardens as well as us. They also had a nice formal Japanese garden tucked in one corner that we spent some time in. Some of the trees were at peak fall colors, as were the plants along the bank of the river, so we achieved our fall colors goal for the day.
As we drove down the freeway, Ton hit me with the bad news that due to Covid-19 the two breweries on our list were on restricted hours and closed today. I was really disappointed as my beer day looked busted. A little further down the freeway Ton told me that there was another brewery open that looked promising, so after a little reprogramming of Greta we were on our way to Cowiche Creek Brewing and a fantastic afternoon.
The Brewery bills itself as a country brewery, and it is certainly out in the country. Ton looked around, and asked where did I think they drew their customers from. Even though it is hard to tell from the beautiful rural setting it is only a short drive into Yakima. The hilltop the pub is on has expansive views toward the Cascades in the west, and overlooks hop fields and apple orchards in all directions. Ton declared it the prettiest brewery in Washington, and ran off with her camera as soon as we arrived.
We were the first customers of the day and had the place to ourselves when we arrived. I corralled Ton long enough from photographer duties to get her to pick a beer so I could grab a spot on the patio and take in the view with a cold brew.
Ton would stop in periodically between photos to grab a sip of her beer, while I played with one of the best pub dogs I have ever met. She was part Labrador and wandered over to check us out when we arrived. After I scratched her ears she settled in, and decided we were good company. Eventually she conned me into throwing her ball for her for about 30 minutes. As I played with the dog quitting time for the people working arrived and the pub began to fill up, so they do have a good customer base despite the remote location.
If you are ever in Yakima, make sure you swing by Cowiche Creek Brewing. The beers are delicious, and the food is prepared using fresh ingredients from the garden on site.
We are doing another short trip this time to the east for wine country and a bit of fall colors in Eastern Washington. We woke up a bit early and packed Scout up for about a one week trip, though our plans are not finalized yet. On our way out of town we headed over to our friends house to drop off some packages she had shipped to our home in Oregon to avoid the sales tax in Washington.
After that chore was done a quick stop to top off the fuel tank and we were headed east through the Columbia River Gorge. The weather was a bit unsettled and we hit a few patches of rain, before entering the rain shadow of the Cascade Mountains and the desert of Eastern Oregon and Washington. The drive was pretty simple and we arrived at the campground in the Yakima Valley town of Prosser a little earlier than we planned. We have stayed at this campground once before and picked it because it is a nice central location in the Washington wine country.
As Covid has taken hold a lot of people have taken to RV’ing to have a good way to travel and maintain social distancing. This trend is unfortunately being reflected in the cost of camping. The campground tonight is $45 per night, and for that price you do not even get free showers, but have to pay an additional 25 cents. Campground prices in the US have been rising steeply over the last few years, and are much more expensive than what we typically pay in Europe.
Once we settled in and I quit complaining to Ton about the cost, we headed over to a couple of wineries that are walking distance from the campground. I was really looking forward to the first one, and was profoundly disappointed. The wine was old, and not very good, and the server was pretty disinterested. I had been looking forward to the winery as I had read good things about it and had hyped it up as we walked over, so I apologized to Ton.
As we were walking into my disappointing winery Ton pointed out a winery next door that she had read about and wanted to try, so we quickly exited my winery and walked into a great experience.
Coyote Canyon Winery has a 1300 acre vineyard in the Horse Heaven Hills Viticultural Area where they grow 29 varietals of grapes that they mostly sell. They take a small percentage of the grapes and produce their own wine. We were lucky when we arrived as the nice lady in the tasting room said the wine maker was giving a talk in the back if we wanted to join. Justin Michaud was showing a group of ladies the latest grapes they were fermenting and explaining the process when we joined up. His pride in his work was obvious and the pride showed thru in the final product. Ton told him that she really enjoyed Primitivo in Italy, and was excited because they were one of the few producers who made it in the Northwest US. So even though Primitivo was not included in the taster tray we purchased, a sample showed up. In fact several other samples showed up that were not in the sample tray that we really enjoyed. The surprise for us was a wine called Graciano made from a grape that originates in Northern Spain. Justin talked us thru this one and it really knocked our socks off. We want to thank Justin and the lady in the tasting room whose name we did not get. They were gracious hosts and we really enjoyed ourselves.
Ton really remembered that she liked the sunsets around here on our last visit and sure enough we were treated to another great sunset as we walked back to Scout. It was a good start to our trip.
Today was our last nights camping on this trip to Alaska. We took care of some business at the Navy Base getting Ton’s military ID card updated, we also did some shopping at the base. We picked up a collapsible wash bin for plates, and a new mini-rice cooker.
We both really enjoy Whidbey Island and spent the rest of the day visiting some of our favorite places and a new brewery. We ended the day by going to one of Ton’s favorite restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. It is Christophers in Coupeville and it has the best mussels we have ever had. We had our biggest meal of the trip, and we will probably get two more meals out of the leftovers.
We made it back to the campsite just in time to enjoy another spectacular sunset over the Puget sound. Another great day on the trip, hopefully we will have many more in the future.
Today was our 36th anniversary so we decided to take it easy and celebrate in a town we had been intending to visit for a while. We had visited Wenatchee in the past with our sons as part of a hockey trip and remembered it as a small farm town. We had heard that it had boomed since we last visited.
After a lazy start to the day we started the visit by trying to get a spot at Confluence State Park in Wenatchee. They did not have anything available but overflow in the day use parking lot, but the location was good even if the price was not ($25)for what was nothing more than a parking lot. We decided to stay there anyway.
Next stop was Costco to stock up on some final things before we headed up to Canada. We were looking for some good local beer, and some fruit. We found them though it was a little pricier than we expected. So far Wenatchee is not cheap.
The next stop was Pybus Public Market it was billed as the newest attraction in Wenatchee and was indeed nice. The best thing for Ron is that he got to see the last twenty minutes of the Timbers game, and even better, they won.
While at Pybus we were looking for a nice place for dinner when Ton realized that most of the restaurants in town were closed on Sunday. This caught us off guard as we are used to the restaurants in Portland all being open on Sunday. Since we were now committed to the area we had to look at our alternatives.
Leavenworth was about 20 minutes away and had a lot of open restaurants so we headed there for a German dinner. We also visited a couple of breweries. So thank you for saving the day Leavenworth.
It is still extremely hot and smoky. The high was 96 degrees, and visibility was only a couple of miles. Hopefully we get a break soon.
The plan for the first day was to head from Portland taking Forest Service Road 25 and US-12. FS-25 is a summer only road that goes between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. We were looking for a new way to head east and this was new to us. FS-25 was a very rough road built just for Tigers. While paved there were areas of very high disrepair that required paying attention to what was going on. The drive was pretty but the views were spoiled by the intense smoke we are currently getting in the Pacific Northwest. A combination of a severe heat wave and very large wild fires in British Columbia made for very poor air quality and visibility.
In typical Corbin fashion we blew threw Yakima, Ron missed the campground and ended up driving an extra hour until we spotted Wanapum State Park. A little pricey compared to the Forest Service Campground we planned to stay in but having full services is nice as it was in the mid 90’s when we pulled in, so the AC is getting a test run tonight.
From the beginning we intended to visit Grand Coulee Dam. Ton had it on her mini-bucket list. When we woke up in the morning it was raining quite hard and continued the entire time we drove to Grand Coulee. The dam is impressive and is the largest on the Columbia River system. We watched a movie on the construction of the dam and poked around the visitors center for a while before moving on.
The drive out on the Grand Coulee Scenic Highway was very beautiful. Unfortunately with the bad weather there are no pictures. We will definitely be heading that way again in the future when the weather is better.
Looking for a place for the night we decided we needed a full service campground to clean up before heading home the next day. We settled on Wine Country RV park in Prosser Washington. It turned out to be a good choice. As we checked in they told us there were 10 tasting rooms a quarter mile away, and the RV park was having an evening wine tasting.
We headed down to the tasting rooms and sampled some wine, and ended up having a nice dinner. As we were setting up for the night the clouds lifted and we were treated to this sunset.
Today was an easy day. Woke up late, drove over to the Navy Exchange to see if they had any good deals for Christmas, and then headed up the island to our favorite coffee shop in the PNW.
Useless Bay Coffee is located in Langley and features good coffee and excellent baristas. In a nice old building. In addition we tried the Pizza in a waterfront restaurant with a pretty view towards the Cascade Mountains and Seattle. The whole country has been going thru a cold snap and even here it was frosty as you can see from the picture below.
By the time we finished lunch and our coffee we realized that by the time we drove back to the campsite it would be dark. Sunset today was at 4:30 pm and it was totally dark by 5pm. Ton did get a couple of decent pictures despite the dark.
This will be a very short trip to one of our favorite places. This is our fifth trip to Whidbey Island. We really enjoy the island and one of Ton’s favorite foods is caught fresh off the island. Penn Cove Mussels are awesome and there is one restaurant that we think prepares them better than others. We returned to Christophers for a four course dinner that started off with Penn Cove Mussels and finished with a wonderful desert, and the price is incredibly reasonable. If you get a chance and you are on Whidbey Island make sure you check it out.
We are camping at one of the very best military campgrounds at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. The sites are right on the sound and fantastic. They recently remodeled it and really got it right except they moved the spots back a bit from the water. In the old days you were within feet of the beach. But it is still outstanding.