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Celebrating our two-lane highways of yesteryear…And the joys of driving them today!

Fruit Loop


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Struck by a bit of wanderlust and looking to fill a couple hours of free time, I headed out yesterday into the upper Yakima Valley of Central Washington to see what I could see. I'm neither a farmer nor an orchardist, but harvest season frequently lends itself to interesting and relaxing drives through a network of winding country roads where speed limits might reach 50, but where most traffic is content to amble along at about 35.


This is big-time fruit country where lush green orchards constrast sharply with the brown, sun-bleached hillsides defining the upper reaches of the valley. Whereas the Wenatchee Valley, 100 miles to the north, focuses most of its energies on the growing and marketing of apples, the Yakima Valley is a bit more diverse. Yes, there are myriad apples in all sorts of varieties, but there are also peaches, pears, plums, prunes, and lest I become a bit too alliterative, there are cherries, nectarines, apricots, and vinyards as well. I won't even touch on the vegetables.


Technically my route centered on orchards located near the Naches River, a tributary of the Yakima. For all intents and purposes, its all part of the same general geographic area and ecosystem. With that cleared up, I'll talk about the drive I took.


Running southeasterly, US 12 pretty much barrels down the center of this part of the valley until it reaches the stop light at the entrance to tiny Naches (population about 700, give or take). The next ten miles into Yakima are on four-lane, divided highway. I'd call it a freeway, but there are a few potentially nasty crossroads which tend to upset the apple cart on occasion (pun intended). I provide this information merely as background and context, because the route I chose intentionally avoids all the four-lane pavement.


Long before the "freeway" existed, there was a route that cleaved to the northern edge of the valley, and eventually entered Naches along what is now Second Street. It's still there, in all its narrow, twisting and turning magnificence. Now a county road named Old Naches Highway, it skirts the ubiquitous orchards, packing sheds, farm driveways, and irrigation canals so vital to the area. This part of the route is posted at 35 MPH, but don't be surprised to find yourself travelling closer to 25 when following orchard equipment or farm vehicles. That's okay, though, because there are a couple of narrow concrete bridges along the way as well. They can be a tight fit when meeting a growling green monster. Like I hinted earlier, the route traverses some very bucolic countryside.


Coming west from Yakima along Highway 12, turn right at the first light after crossing the Naches River. Just before the light, you will have passed Sun Tides golf course on the right. A small shopping center will be at the intersection. This will put you on Old Naches Highway. It jogs left and right here and there, but is clearly marked along the entire route. Ironically, or maybe sadly is a better term, I found no fruit stands along this route. Fruit stands fair better on the more heavily trafficked tourist roads like US 12. It takes roughly 20-30 minutes to cover this leg. It's relaxing, but not to the point of boredom.


Once Naches is reached on the west end there are several options. After entering the center of town turn left and head toward an old gasoline station that serves as a centerpiece. It will be on your left. At the same point, look right and the renovated Northern Pacific Railway depot and community center comes into view less than a block away. There is a newly paved rail/trail hiking and biking path being developed in conjunction with the depot renovation. The path currently is paved for a mile east from the depot. The backers claim a $50.00 donation will pave a ten-foot-wide, one-foot length of the trail. Obviously, it's a grass-roots effort, but worthwhile, nonetheless. By turning left at the light, US 12 eastbound is joined. There are several fruit stands on this section of US 12. It's a quick way back to Yakima, but not the most scenic, relaxing, or interesting way to go. Instead, continue across US 12 and enter South Naches Road. The routing traverses the south bank of the river and again takes the driver through farm and orchard country. This is one of those roads that, for no apparent reason, will make a right angle turn every now and then. Property lines, section lines, who knows? After passing Eschbach County Park on the left, the orchards are mostly a memory as the road snakes between the river's edge and the base of the hills. There are many homes tucked away on this stretch, so beware of vehicles entering the roadway. Part of this section is posted 50MPH, but I found that pace caused white knuckles on occasion. By turning left onto Powerhouse Road the same intersection where the whole trip started is reached. It's approximately a 20-mile loop.


If you're looking for a short but interesting drive on two-lane pavement, this might work. I took this trip on a lark just to see the orchards up close. Even the few minutes I spent stuck behind a slow-moving farm truck didn't bother me. It seemed to fit right in, and besides, this is harvest season. It's exactly what I wanted to see. All of this loop is on county roads now, but the first half covered a chunk of Old US 410 between Yakima and the Cascade Mountains. White Pass (now US 12) to the south wasn't opened until 1951. Around the same time, highway traffic was taken off the Old Naches Highway and routed past the edge of town, albeit still on two-lane pavement. The four-lane divided highway between Naches and Yakima was finished sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Given the current funding situation and traffic patterns, I doubt it will ever extend much farther west. US 12 and now SR 410 split about four miles west of Naches. Both highways are two-laned and provide passage to various entry points in Mount Rainier National Park.

Edited by Ray
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