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Asotin to Pasco

  • Distance: 151 miles
  • Routes: SR 129, SR 12
  • Estimated Driving Time: 3 hours

This tour follows the route of an old Indian trail from the confluence of the turbulent Clearwater River and the silt-laden Snake to the junction of the Snake with the Columbia, about 100 miles west of the Idaho Line. Captain Meriwether Lewis and Captain William Clark followed this trail on their return journey in 1806, and Captain Benjamin Bonneville approximated it in 1834–35.

Most of the region is sparsely populated. Strung along the highway at widely spaced intervals are several small cities and numerous towns, often little more than a cluster of dwellings around a service station, a grain elevator or two, and a general store and post office combined. Some of these are ghosts of settlements that 60 years ago echoed with the crack of stagecoach whips and the creak of wheels, as heavily loaded wagon trains moved at a turtle’s pace toward the mines. From these towns, too, rattled the Conestoga wagons of settlers headed for the lands north of the Snake River. The settlements that survived now serve as distributing points or railroad junctions and supply the tourist with hamburgers, beer, and cigarettes, or with car gasoline and oil.

On this rolling plateau between the Snake River and the Blue Mountains, the colonizing efforts of two Nations met: the one old and experienced in the art of conquest and settlement; the other aggressive in its youth, convinced of its manifest destiny. Down the Snake to the Columbia River, fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies guided their canoes to old Fort Walla Walla, at Wallula, whose site is today marked by a few foundation stones. Following the traders came missionaries, whose first attempt to establish a permanent settlement ended in the tragedy of Waiilatpu. Still traceable along stream beds and mountain slopes are old trails, first trod by Indians and later worn deep by the feet of thousands of prospectors who rushed from one area to another, as rumors spread of Eldorados on lonesome creeks and rivers.

Geologic formations here are unusually interesting. Violent upheavals of the earth’s crust spread successive layers of lava over this region, and when these movements ceased, water began to sculpt deep canyons, and wind to shape the rough terrain into rolling hills and narrow valleys. The tour skirts the south bank of the Snake River, with its precipitous walls, for a short distance and then climbs steadily around the steep hillsides, whose rocky slopes, exposed along the narrow shelf of the roadbed, change from bright vermillion to brownish-black as the highway winds upward. Cattle and sheep forage on the hillsides, parched brown except for a brief interlude in early spring, when the warm winds sweep up the Columbia River and, almost simultaneously with the melting of the snow, bring forth a carpet of grass and flowers.

Beyond the summit of the grade, the route zigzags through arable benchlands, where small farms and orchard tracts alternate with extensive wheat acreages and fields of peas, beans, tomatoes, corn, and asparagus. To the south rise the Blue Mountains, shrouded in smoky haze in summer or sharply outlined on clear midwinter days.

West of Walla Walla fertile fields give way to nearly level sagebrush barrens. Bordering the highway are shifting hummocks of sand, corrugated by the brisk, steady wind that whips dry tumbleweeds across the waste and piles them in gullies and abandoned irrigation ditches or against deserted farmhouses. In midsummer the heat waves shimmer over the sand dunes and the oily surface of the road. Little wild life is seen: now and then a hawk soars far overhead, or a raven—black scavenger of the wastelands—sits red-eyed on a rocky promontory. Occasionally a coyote, a gray shadow, slips over the horizon, or a jackrabbit springs from beneath the brush like a coil released, and races across the hills. For 15 miles the highway runs northwest, parallel to the Columbia, and then at the confluence of this river and the Snake swings over a long steel bridge into Pasco.

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At the confluence of the Snake River, which bends sharply west at this point, and Asotin (Ind. “eel”) Creek, a bold mountain stream walled in by bluffs several hundred feet in height. The protected triangular flats were for generations a favorite camping ground of Native American bands. Few settlers came to the fertile land along Asotin Creek until the close of the Nez Perce war in the late 1870s stimulated...

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Full Gospel Church

Sidetrip: Anatone

This is a somewhat lengthier side trip, at 62 miles—you’ll climb up the steep grade to level out on the high plateau, driving through through Anaton to Field Springs State Park and ending at Grande Ronde River Bridge.

Take the Anatone side trip

A rocky cowl shoots at a sharp angle from the road. Years ago, thousands of swallows nested on this cliff, but blasting for an irrigation tunnel killed many and frightened the rest away. Beyond the cliff is the river; a jetty serves to deepen the channel for navigation by diverting the main stream from behind an island. The route runs through an almost continuous succession of orchards and vineyards, down...

Learn more about Swallows Nest Rock

Mile: 39

The city spreads north-south over the sandy flats of the Snake River. Hemming it in on both the east and the west are steep, treeless bluffs, beyond which stretches a rolling plateau. Early in the spring, the bare branches of the trees and vines glow red-brown with the renewed flow of the sap. In April, the orchards are a riot of delicately pink and white blossoms, and gardens and vineyards...

Learn more about Clarkston
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Lewiston-Clarkston Bridge

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Clarkston Carnegie Library

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U.S. Post Office

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C. C. Van Arsdol House

This was once a bustling pioneer river village; here Lewis and Clark camped in 1805 and made peace with the Nez Perce bands, and here along the banks of the creek Chief Red Wolf, who had been given some seeds by the Reverend H. H. Spalding, planted, in 1837, the first orchard in the Snake River Valley. In 1861 Sam Smith established a trading post in this part of the...

Learn more about Silcott
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Chief Timothy State Park

Mile: 426

The bridge stands parallel to Highway 12 and is an arched concrete span over Alpowa Creek, built in 1923, that commemorates Chief Timothy, who led Colonel E. J. Steptoe to safety by guiding him safely across the river at night after defeat near Rosalia in 1858. The newer bridge is one of five concrete tied arches in the state. The first bridge erected at this site was in 1892. Basaltic...

Learn more about Indian Timothy Memorial Bridge

Mile: 425

The tour follows Alpowa Creek along the canyon, with orchards along the canyon bottom. High hills, barren and eroded by wind and rain, rise to either side. Alpowa Creek rises in Umatilla National Forest in south Garfield County. It flows northeast for through Garfield and Asotin counties to the Snake River west of Clarkston. The stream is intermittent in its upper course, and sinks before reaching Snake River.

Learn more about Alpowa Creek

Mile: 424

West of the Summit of the Grade the tour winds through a rocky gorge (Sweeney Gulch), above which scraggly brush and timber stagger up the slope. Emerging from the draw the highway runs across a rough, semiarid plateau dotted with willows and scrub trees. This is cattle country, fenced with barbed wire, affording practically year-around grazing. To the east the tour drops down through Megginson Gulch.

Learn more about Summit of the Grade

Mile: 413

A small one-quarter mile segment of an ancient Native American trail used by Lewis and Clark in 1806 is still visible from Highway 12. This Native American trail, was a travois road, which is parallel ruts created by the repeated travel of dogs and horses dragging two long poles attached to either side along the ground. This road originally extended from the confluence of the Walla Walla and Columbia Rivers...

Learn more about Lewis and Clark Trail

Mile: 410

Native American for “brush,” the town formed as a scattering of buildings far removed from the town’s flour mill, which rose, tower-like, from a clump of trees. Today it’s a National Register-listed building and worth a visit. The first settler of the site was James Bowers, who arrived in 1861. In 1867, the land was acquired by “Vine” Favor, who for years had driven a stage on the Lewiston route....

Learn more about Patah
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Pataha Flour Mill

Mile: 406

The seat of Garfield County and terminus of a branch line of the Union Pacific, this was the center of the surrounding wheat, barley, and cattle country and for the irrigated acreage to the north, where quantities of beans, alfalfa, fruits, and vegetables were produced. In 1864 Joseph M. Pomeroy came to this region from Ashtabula, Ohio, and started a blooded-stock farm on Pataha Creek, to supply the demand of...

Learn more about Pomeroy
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Garfield County Courthouse

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Downtown Pomeroy Historic District

Mile: 403

Tour follows Pataha Creek Canyon. To the south the terrain mounts gradually toward the Blue Mountains. The highway traverses mile after mile of rolling hills, which were once covered by thick bunchgrass, giving way to a checkerboard of wheat and barley fields. Pataha Creek rises at Clearwater, in southwest Garfield County. It flows north to the community of Pataha, then west through Houser, Dodge, and Jackson to the Tucannon River...

Learn more about Patah Creek Canyon

Mile: 399

The tour runs between hills which, except for the most precipitous slopes, were planted to wheat and barley. Furrows at right angles to the slope, strip farming, and gully-control measures were evidence of the growing interest in soil conservation. A few of the steeper slopes were used for cattle range. For several miles, the railroad tracks parallelled the highway and during harvest season, freight trains labor by in a succession...

Learn more about Patah Valley

Mile: 397

The tour swings across the Tucannon River through hilly country. As a conservation measure most farmers in this district used to seed only half of their land each year. Frequently as an additional safeguard against erosion, the farm was cultivated in strips, following the contours of slope and gully. Here the route follows the old Walla Walla-Colville wagon trail, over which thousands of settlers and miners traveled when land north...

Learn more about Tucannon River

Mile: 380

A pleasant, bustling city spread over the V-shaped valley formed by the conjunction of Patit Creek, which courses through the northern section of town, and the Touchet River, which cuts through the southern section. Early history of Dayton centered around the point where Pioneer Bridge now crosses the Touchet River. Here a Native American trail crossed the stream, and the grassy flats were a favorite camping ground for Native American...

Learn more about Dayton
Points of Interest
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Dayton Depot

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Blue Mountain Cannery

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Washington Street Historic District

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Downtown Dayton Historic District

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South Side Historic District

Mile: 367

Once the hilly terrain south of Dayton was covered with bunchgrass, but with the discovery that heavy yields of wheat and barley could be grown on these benchlands, all but the steepest hillsides were put under cultivation. Soon both wind and water erosion began to take their toll. Deep gullies began to appear, and during the spring freshets every little rivulet carried away part of the fine top soil. Most...

Learn more about Touchet Valley
Points of Interest
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Robert Angell Barn

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Old Starr Barn

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Phillip Heinen Barn

Mile: 364

Founded by the United Brethren Society in 1878–79, once had dreams of becoming an important center of industry and education. An ephemeral boom, marked by considerable expansion and the opening of a college, the Washington Institute, collapsed before the close of the century. Later, Huntsville became a wheat-shipping point. The name was for B. J. Hunt, who, with John Fudge, donated 90 acres for the town site.

Learn more about Huntsville

Mile: 360

Waitsburg is on the delta of the Touchet River and Coppei Creek, northeast of Walla Walla. A pleasant old town with shaded streets, in 1859, a man named Robert Kennedy became the first settler. Sylvester M. Wait, recognizing the power possibilities of the Touchet River, and noting that flour was selling for $44 a barrel, decided to build a flour mill. Farmers donated land for the mill and agreed to...

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Points of Interest
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Waitsburg Historic District

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William Perry Bruce House

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Waitsburg High School

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Preston Hall

The town began in the 1860s when the three Kershaw brothers, who danced and played and sang their way across the Plains to the tune of Dixie, settled here at the confluence of Mud and Dry Creeks. The crossing at this point soon came to be known as Dixie Crossing. Today it is an attractive little town. Southwest of Dixie, the slopes become less steep; and wide, far-flung valleys hemmed...

Learn more about Dixie
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Dixie High School

Mile: 348

A community on Dry Creek, in 1889, it was named Aldrich when a railroad line was built. In June 1908, it was changed to the present name in honor of the Buroker family pioneers of 1864. The father, David Buroker, was born in Virginia in 1818, came west to Ohio in 1834, and after some time in Missouri and Nebraska, came to the Walla Walla country where he farmed and...

Learn more about Buroker

Mile: 344

The seat of Walla Walla County, lies in the center of the rich farm lands of the Walla Walla Valley. To the southeast rise the hazy peaks of the Blue Mountains; northward, gently rolling hills fade into the distance. Many streams water the valley, Mill Creek meandering through the very heart of the city. The pioneers retained the Native American name for the site, Walla Walla, which means the “place...

Learn more about Walla Walla
Points of Interest
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Fort Walla Walla Historic District

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Marcus Whitman Hotel

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US Post Office

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Liberty Theater

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Electric Light Works Building

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Saint Patrick Church and Rectory

One of the first farm sites in the valley of the Walla Walla. A general store and a large grain warehouse once stood by the highway. To the south the Umatilla Highlands loom in the distance. The tour traverses a broad flat crisscrossed by the Walla Walla River and its tributaries. This area was a veritable garden producing many crops; asparagus, peas, onions, potatoes, and other vegetables; apples, peaches, pears,...

Learn more about Lowden

A lively little town at the confluence of the Touchet River and the Walla Walla. Lewis and Clark named the main Touchet River “White Stallion,” but by the time the town was platted April 12, 1884, the name Touchet was generally accepted. In the period of prairie schooners, road agents, and Native Americans, numerous stage lines carrying mail followed this route. One line operated between The Dalles and Walla Walla;...

Learn more about Touchet

Mile: 320

Native American for “abundance of or many waters,” it is a hamlet surrounded by sagebrush and sand, about one-half mile from the confluence of the Columbia and the Walla Walla Rivers. Little remains to suggest the importance of this spot in the early days. As a junction point for Dr. D. S. Baker’s railroad, numerous stage lines, and river boats operating up and down the Columbia and the Snake Rivers,...

Learn more about Wallula
Points of Interest
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Fort Walla Walla Heritage Marker

Mile: 306

The town lies amid sand dunes partially overgrown with sagebrush and bunch grass.  As a railroad point, it had a boom period in the 1920s, and this area was once dotted with orchards and gardens, irrigated by water pumped from the Snake River through ditches. The expense proved too-great, farmers could not pay their water bills, and the company went bankrupt.  The name was chosen by railway company officials in...

Learn more about Two Rivers

Mile: 301

Formerly a center of the irrigated area, and crosses the Snake River Bridge. The confluence of the Snake and the Columbia Rivers, a half-mile away, can be seen from the bridge. It formerly was the center of an irrigation district, which failed in the early 1930s. In 1907, it was named by the Northern Pacific Railway for Burbank Power & Water Company, which had a power-house there. The company name...

Learn more about Burbank

The seat of Franklin County, spreads its attractive public buildings, landscaped grounds, and business blocks over a level desert plain at the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers. The city is an important division point on the Northern Pacific Railway, and the majority of its skilled workers were employed in the roundhouse and machine shops. Pasco remains the hub of the social, political, and commercial activity of the large...

Learn more about Pasco
Points of Interest
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Franklin County Courthouse

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Pasco Carnegie Library

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