The Yakima River binds a region of great contrasts. Snowcapped volcanic peaks and evergreen-covered hills overlook a natural shrub steppe turned green by irrigation. Famed throughout the world for its apples and cherries, its wine and hops, this fertile landscape is also the ancestral home of the Yakama people from whom it takes its name.The river flows southeasterly from its source in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Pass. Between the college town of Ellensburg, at the heart of the Kittitas Valley, and Yakima, the region's largest city, the river cuts steep canyons through serried, sagebrush-covered ridges before merging with the Naches River. Then it breaks through Union Gap to enter its fecund namesake, the broad Yakima Valley. Some 200 miles from its birthplace, the river makes one final bend around vineyard-rich Red Mountain before joining the mighty Columbia River at the Tri-Cities.Broad-shouldered Mt. Adams is the sacred mountain of the Yakama people. The 12,276-foot-tall mountain marks the western boundary of their reservation, second largest in the Pacific Northwest. As they have for centuries, wild horses run free through the Yakama Nation and can be seen feeding along Highway 97 south of Toppenish. Deer and elk roam the evergreen forests, eagles and ospreys soar overhead.Orchards and vineyards dominate Yakima Valley's agricultural landscape. Cattle and sheep ranching initially drove the economy; apples and other produce came with the engineering of irrigation canals and outlets in the 1890s. The annual asparagus harvest begins in April, followed by cherries in June; apricots and peaches ripen in early to midsummer. Hops are ready by late August and exported throughout the world for the brewing of beer; travelers may see the bushy vines spiraling up fields of twine. The apple harvest runs from late summer through October.The valley's real fame, however, rests on its wine grapes, which have a growing reputation as among the best in the world. Concord grapes were first planted here in the 1960s, and they still take up large tracts of land. But vinifera grapes, the noble grapes of Europe, now dominate the local wine industry. Merlot and white Burgundies boosted the region, and Syrah is often regarded as the grape of the future. There are fine Cabernets, Grenaches, Rieslings, Chardonnays, Gewürztraminers, Sémillons, Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, and Muscats, as well as such lesser-known varietals as Sangioveses, Nebbiolos, and Lembergers.
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Things You Can't Miss
Perfect growing conditions produce intensely flavored wines, including cabernet sauvignon, riesling, syrah and, most popular, chardonnay and merlot.
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The Yakima Valley Museum features a notable wagon collection, Indian artifacts, military items and an old-fashioned soda fountain.
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Exhibits, art and dioramas at the Yakama Nation Cultural Center in Toppenish reveal the rich history of the local Native American people.
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The 18-mile Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway parallels the winding stream (famed for trout fishing) past high cliffs where eagles and falcons nest.
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The Lower Yakima River meanders through sagebrush country, its current gentle enough for beginning rafters to relax and enjoy the riverside scenery.
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