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Yakima River

Tour runs along the north base of the Horse Heaven Hills (see Tour 7b), where sheep and cattle find good grazing grounds. At night will-o-the-wisps are frequent along this bleak and lonely road. Flame-colored, and about three feet above the ground, they are often mistaken by motorists for a single vehicular light. Sternly realistic farmers, their hands still smarting from the handle of a plow, have reported “balls of fire” coming down the road at the speed of an automobile. During dust storms, which are frequent in this area, tumbleweeds roll over rounded hills and dance across the highway.

Along the bank of the Yakima River in this area of sagebrush and coulee, geese and ducks remain all winter, offering excellent sport for hunters. Cottontails, jack rabbits, Chinese pheasants, and the sage hen were elusive targets. The young sage hen was delicious when cooked, but a venerable member of the species tasted like the sagebrush on which it fed.

The Yakima River rises in Keechelus Lake, near the crest of the Cascades in northwest Kittitas County. It flows southeast through Ellensburg and south through Yakima and continues east through Benton County, with a northern loop before entering the Columbia River, between Richland and Kennewick. Its waters are used extensively for irrigation.


Ca. 1925 lantern slide image of cattle along the Yakima River.

Photo by Asahel Curtis. Source: Washington State Digital Archives

Ca. 1950 view south on the Yakima River, at start of Yakima River Canyon.

Source: Washington State Historical Society