Yakima to Everett via desert river canyons and tree-lined mountain passes

The prospect of being a certified Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) RiderCoach has brought me and the V-Strom to Yakima Washington for a 60-hour course. The city of Yakima and surrounding Yakima Valley is known to be one of the best apple-producing areas in the world. The area also produces three-quarters of all hops grown in the United States. This is also the heart of Washington wine-country.

Bikes parked on the range for the MSF Instructor Preparation course in Yakima, WADespite all of the economic strengths of the area it is apparent that the area that struggles. As you pass through the city of Yakima there are pockets of successful businesses with large gaps of empty storefronts. The locals constantly talk about the good and bad parts of town. This is truly an area of opportunity for the few that can find it.

Situated southeast of Mount Rainier National Park and along two valleys, the area is ripe with scenery. The naturally arid area has been largely irrigated. This provides 360-degree unobstructed by trees and other vegetation. On average the area receives just over eight inches of rain per year and temperatures range from just under 40 degrees to the low 90s. The lack of rain with very few frozen days equals a beautiful area with great riding weather most of the year. Of course that is strictly my opinion as a former resident of the brittle cold region of Northern Minnesota. Compared to Bemidji, Minnesota the Yakima region is downright warm and toasty year-round.

After a long, yet enjoyable weekend of taking the MSF Instructor Preparation course it is time to head home to Everett. The scenic route that I ride is approximately 200 miles along river canyons and mountain passes punctuated with apple orchards and a Bavarian-styled village.

I head north out of Yakima along Interstate 84. It is a short four miles on the super slab to the Canyon Road exit. Canyon Road stretches nearly 30 miles from Yakima to Ellensburg. It is one of those few dream motorcycle roads and is a great alternative to I-84. The road cuts through cliffs carved out of basalt by centuries of movement of the Yakima River. The road moves in tandem with the river as if the two were dancing a tango. It is an especially sexy dance when you’re a part of it astride a motorcycle. The constant beat of sweeping corners are accentuated with curvaceous views of tall cliffs.

The Red Horse Diner in Ellensburg makes great burgers. The former Mobil station now makes a perfect roadtrip food stop.The road is superb and easy to lose track of speed. I was lucky enough to be slowed by traffic as I passed the shiny state patrol squad car. As good motorcycle roads go, this is typical. Pick your lines and watch your speed. The “man” knows the road and will ticket you.

I continue north from Canyon Road on U.S. Highway 97 where just north of Ellensburg I find the Red Horse Diner. Okay, I must admit that I didn’t “find” the Red Horse Diner. A fellow RiderCoach in training, Jeff Gross, showed this great spot to me and another rider. The diner occupies a former Mobil gas station. It is a throwback to a bygone era of hot rods and Elvis. The fare is good. There are all types of burgers and even a salad or two for the more health conscious. I throw all health aside and order a “409,” a bacon cheddar cheese burger with onion rings.

The Red Horse Diner is located just off of I-90 on US 97. I highly recommend it for a pit stop.

With a full belly I mount my motorcycle and point the wheels north to Ellensburg. US 97 makes a couple turns. Make sure to pay attention to the signs. A I climb higher into the hills the views of the valleys below are beautiful. I pass many other riders. Tossing a hand in the air and even standing up on the pegs to provide a salute to their choice of transportation. You’re never alone on the road when you’re on a motorcycle.

As I chase the sun into the night I pass many Fire Service roads and campgrounds that deserve a weekend of exploration. The FS roads call to me on the V-Strom, but it is Sunday night and I have another couple hours of road to reach home. I continue a speedy pace over Blewett Pass toward Leavenworth. On the north side of the pass the road cuts through picturesque apple orchards. I pull over for a water break in hopes to find a short road to explore and only find signs warning of “private road.” Oh well.

I reach the Bavarian-styled town of Leavenworth. This is a fun little tourist town. My wife and I have spent a day browsing the many shops. The town has had two incarnations; first as a railroad town in the late 1800s to early 1900s. The Great Northern Railroad rerouted its tracks up the Chumstick Valley in the 1920s. Then the 1930’s brought the Great Depression mostly shut the town down. The solution was found in a themed rehabilitation project that made Leavenworth the Bavarian village that it is today.

Bavarian facade of LeavenworthThere are a couple gems in town, but for the most part the fake facades fade quickly with the poor customer service. Sorry folks, it is just my honest opinion. There is a fantastic sausage and meat shop in town. Otherwise, we have yet to find good German fare in the fake village. Are any German restaurateurs out there reading this? The town needs a good restaurant.

Now on U.S. Highway 2 I head west over Stevens Pass. The rugged terrain of the northern Cascades make this a much more scenic route than I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass. Around each bend the tall peaks block the sun. Western facing hills are still strongly illuminated, but the heavily tree-lined road is getting dark. I stop for photo opportunities, but they are quick stops with the bike left running to save time.

A good part of US 2 uses the old railroad grade over Stevens Pass. The trains now pass through an 8-mile long tunnel through the highest part of the pass. This is the longest such tunnel in the western Hemisphere according to the book Exploring Washington’s Past, A Road Guide to History by Ruth Kirk and Carmela Alexander. There is a rich history in this area as the lumber and other natural resources brought development to the west. A New York newspaper once called a construction camp in this area the “wickedest place in the world” when the railroad was built in the early part of the 1900s. Today is a popular skiing destination and summer hiking and camping destination.

The setting sun illuminates the rugged mountains on Stevens PassThere are very few routes connecting the east side of the cascades to the population centers on the west side. Long traffic backups are common as families with their RVs head home from weekend camping trips on Sunday nights. I’m making great time as I starting heading down the west side of the pass. That is until I take a blind right-hand corner and find traffic at a complete standstill. The emergency stop procedure that I had practiced the two previous weekends at the MSF Instructor Preparation course was put to good use. The outside-inside-outside cornering technique provided me enough of a sightline to straighten up the bike and apply full brakes. I completed the stop on the right rear corner of the car ahead of me. The whole time I was watching my mirrors for the next vehicle to be surprised by the sudden blockage of the road. I placed myself to the shoulder side of the car ahead of me in case I needed to make a quick escape from a skidding SUV piloted by a cell-phone toting driver more concerned with Monday’s tasks at work than the pavement they were pounding. That vehicle didn’t come and the drivers that stacked in behind me must have seen my brake lights with enough time to come to a safe stop behind me.

Traffic often backs up Sunday night on westbound US 2 over Stevens PassThe traffic back up lasts for more than an hour. The V-Strom’s off road abilities came in handy as I was able to pass a few hundred cars using the four-wheeler trail along the side of the road. It brought back memories from my childhood riding these trails for miles and miles to friends’ homes. Quickly goosing the throttle popped the front wheel up on the driveway approaches. This bike can even make traffic backups fun!

Traffic clears up near Monroe and I finally reach the speed limit to finish out the ride down US 2 to Everett. Soon after turning the bike off and putting it to sleep on it’s centerstand, my head hits my pillow and I’m out cold. There’s nothing like a long, yet enjoyable weekend of riding motorcycles through the desert and heavily treed mountains to knock a rider out cold, sawing logs through the night.


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