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Keep the Show on the Road!

Abandoned Twin Tunnels On The Yellowstone Trail Discovered!

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Far above the modern road in the deep canyon of the Yakima River on volcanic cliffs that form the canyon walls, are two hard rock highway tunnels on an unknown alignment of the Yellowstone Trail. Built in 1924 at enormous cost and human effort, they served for only a few months before they were abandoned by the Trail! Unbelievable but True. And now you know! (sound of gasps and applause).

 

So what is the rest of the story?

 

ARTunnel.jpg

 

When the Yellowstone Trail was forged westward to the Puget Sound in 1915, it followed the familiar “southern route” from Spokane, via Colfax, Walla Walla, North Yakima, and Ellensburg before going over Snoqualmie Pass westward to Seattle. In Washington this road was called the Inland Empire Highway (IEH).

 

In 1925 the Yellowstone Trail route along the IEH was abruptly and without fanfare or explanation rerouted by the Association to a northern and more direct route via Waterville and Blewett Pass, then via Cle Elum over Snoqualmie Pass, abandoning the southern loop along the IEH. This new route followed what was called the Sunset Highway by the State of Washington.

 

The early IEH along with the Yellowstone Trail followed Wenas Road for most of the way between Yakima and Ellensburg. The Wenas as it came to be called, was a part of the 19th century Walla Walla Wagon Road, sometimes called the Snoqualmie or Walla Walla - Seattle Wagon Road. It was steep in places, rising 1500 feet, and had the shape of your left arm and elbow with your finger in your ear, adding several miles to the trip between Yakima (North Yakima in those days) and Ellensburg.

 

The Yakima River over millions of years had graciously cut a deep canyon through the massive ridge that The Wenas so arduously climbed and crossed. But the railroad had claimed the canyon, and volcanic cliffs blocked the way for a highway, so The Wenas prevailed for over 50 years, first as a wagon road and later as a highway.

 

But in the early 1920's the people of Washington dug deep into their pockets and funded the construction of a nearly water level road through the canyon, between Yakima and Ellensburg. At the south end of the canyon, twin tunnels (46.716425, -120.459280) were driven through solid basalt. The Ellensburg Daily Record of Friday, September 12th 1924 reported that the new road had opened that week and hundreds of cars followed it to visit the Ellensburg Rodeo. Oh the Joy!!

 

But two roads had died. The Wenas no longer carried the Yellowstone Trail, and the Inland Empire Highway had been renamed by the state Road # 3...Oh the ignominy! But the twin tunnels, standing high above the rushing Yakima, welcomed the 1924 late summer traffic along the Yellowstone Trail, and basked in their new glory as the only tunnels on that great transcontinental route!

 

But the fame was short lived. Within a few months, and without warning or counsel, the famous Trail left for the Sunset Highway and the twin tunnels were no longer on that storied transcontinental route. I know roads and tunnels don't have feelings or pride, but if they did, I know they would be saddened.

 

So now you know the rest of the story...or most of it.

 

Before I leave the topic, a few words about the modern Canyon Road are in order because it is a beautiful drive, even though it was abandoned so rudely by the Trail those many years ago! Last Sunday Sheila and I took a day trip that included the Canyon Road and we “discovered” the only tunnels on the Trail!

 

I think I may well be the first to associate them, at least in print, with the Yellowstone Trail, but definitely not the first to observe or photograph them. Frankly, I didn't know their significance until I got home and did some research in 1924 original materials and consulted with Yellowstone Trail expert, John Ridge, who provided maps and counsel that helped confirm my suspicions.

 

The route today is identified as the Yakima River Canyon Scenic Byway, and it provides terrific access to the river, some first class scenery, and some great rafting on inflated tubes, and even an old service station, which from the color of the green window frames, makes me think it may have been an Associated Flying A site, long after the Yellowstone Trail days.

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

 

ARRaft.jpg

 

ARTrain.jpg

 

ARStation.jpg

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Mike,

 

Thanks for the reply!!

 

Obviously I have “pitched” the tunnels with just a bit :lol: of hype, but in truth they are worth some attention. My only contribution is to assert the link between them and the Yellowstone Trail. The rerouting to the Canyon alignment which occurred in September 1924, never got published recognition because when the 1925 publications and announcements were made, the Trail had shifted to the distant Waterville/Blewett route.

 

The fact that they were certainly the “Yellowstone Trail Twin Tunnels” for at least several months in 1924 and 1925 seemed significant to me, and because they were the only tunnels on the Yellowstone, they took on greater significance.

 

As a small aside, I found it sad that in the same biennium (October 1, 1922 – September 30, 1924), the State apparently shifted their naming protocol, and stripped the state established Inland Empire Highway of its title, renaming it State Road #3. The other named highways in Washington suffered the same fate. Then to add insult to injury, after communities recognized the value of named highways and reinstated the use of Inland Empire Highway, sign makers have abbreviated the name on street signs to IEH! Sounds like what I'd say if I stepped in something in a barnyard!

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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USRoadman,

 

My pleasure! Without replies like yours I would never know if it is worth the trouble to research, compile, and prepare a post. Of course I learned a lot I didn't know in the process and enjoyed communication with several great folks.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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As a small aside, I found it sad that in the same biennium (October 1, 1922 – September 30, 1924), the State apparently shifted their naming protocol, and stripped the state established Inland Empire Highway of its title, renaming it State Road #3. The other named highways in Washington suffered the same fate. Then to add insult to injury, after communities recognized the value of named highways and reinstated the use of Inland Empire Highway, sign makers have abbreviated the name on street signs to IEH! Sounds like what I'd say if I stepped in something in a barnyard!

 

There is definitely something lost with the replacement of names with numbers or letters. It reminds me of a previous conversation with Cort on this forum regarding the movement away from car names to exciting monikers like MX-6 and G35. With respect to the highways I understand the reasons for the change, but I'll always prefer the Dixie Overland Highway to US-80.

 

Mike

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Once again a great story! I have travelled this route for many years on my motorcycle long before I knew anything about the Yellowstone Trail. I always enjoyed this road for the scenery and the curves. Even back then I admired and have been intriged by those tunnels and the old alignment. It is nice to see it documented.

 

Thanks Dave as you certainly keep the show on the road.

 

Curt

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Curt,

 

Thanks for the comment! Sheila and I were just talking and wondering how things are going with you folks....your ears must have been burning!

 

When you get settled, maybe we can make a trip over and climb up to the tunnels. It looks like an easy walk, even for an old guy, but I think I would watch for rattlesnakes.

 

Maybe Ray would like to join us.

 

Dave

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

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