This driving tour takes you to the historic Fort Simcoe State Park Heritage Site on the Yakama Nation Reservation, past abundant agriculture area with fruit and produce stands, the museum at the Yakama Cultural Center, and through the City of Toppenish, known for over 70 western themed murals. This is a good trip to take a picnic lunch, there are picnic tables and grills, as well as a covered picnic shelter, and don’t forget your camera. Fort Simcoe was built in 1856 as housing for US Army troops sent to the area to watch over the local Yakama Nation. This weekend, May 3 & 4 2014, Fort Simcoe State Park will be the site of a Civil War Reenactment. For a schedule of events click here. This drive tour is approximately 1 hour to Fort Simcoe, and about 84.5 miles round trip. Enjoy hundreds of acres of orchards, vineyards, and produce farms. During the harvest season, farms and orchards feature fresh produce stands offering wide variety of fresh fruits and produce in season. Map.
Starting point is the Yakima Valley Visitor Information Center, Exit 33A I-82E. Turn Left out of parking lot, proceed under the freeway bridge, take first left onto I-82 East to Exit 37 to Highway 97. Once past Union Gap, WA, you are on the Yakama Nation Reservation. There is a pull off to the right with a historic marker (mile 6.2) denoting the spot of a battle between Army troops and the Yakama’s during the “war” of 1855. Leaving this historical marker, take “Lateral A” next road off to the right, towards White Swan, WA. (Alternative driving route –continue on Hwy 97 to Fort Road. This route takes you past the Yakama Cultural Heritage Center, turn left onto Fort Road, going past the Legends Casino to Fort Simcoe, follow signs. Or turn right to enter the city of Toppenish to view the western themed murals and museums.)
The Yakima Valley is known as an abundant agricultural area, you will see this on Lateral A. There are farm fresh fruit and produce stands and row crops of vegetables, such as asparagus hot peppers, tomatoes, squash, corn, watermelon, and other produce. Look for Imperial Garden’s and close by on Wapato Road are Blue BerryHill Berries. Continue on Lateral A to the junction with Branch Road (mile 14.3) and turn right, past orchards, row crops, vineyards, cattle ranches, hop and mint fields. The Yakima Valley produces most of the mint, sweet cherries, concord grapes and hops sold in the USA.(Alternate route continue on Lateral A to Fort Road, turn right, follow signs at White Swan take Signal Peak Road to Fort Simcoe Road, turn right to Fort Simcoe.)
As you turn onto Branch Road, note Mt. Adams in the distance directly ahead. This mountain dominates the lower valley, “Phato” to people of the Yakama Nation, the mountain figures prominently in the history and legends of the Yakama people. Continue west on Branch Road, you will come to Harrah (mile 17.4). a reservation town established in 1913 under the name Saluskin in honor of Chief Saluskin of the Yakama Nation. Julius T. Harrah of Philadelphia had much to do with the development of the area in the field of agriculture and business. He built a home here and platted the town and used his influence to change the name of the town to Harrah. Staying on Branch Road, the next town you encounter is Brownstown (mile 20.3). Brownstown, a shallow lake area at one time, was originally called Bench because of the location on a two-mile wide plateau. Named for Reese Brown, who had big hopes for its future, planning to build a thriving empire around Brownstown. Traveling west, stay to the left onto the White Swan Road. (Alternative route at the Y stay right on Branch Road, turn left on Westley, right on Medicine Valley Road, left on Hawk road and right on Fort Road to Fort Simcoe. The advantage is smoother roads.) White Swan was a busy place at one time, with a bank, hotel, and many other businesses. The town was named for the Native American Tribal Chief who served for over 60 years, on whose lands it stands. The town was platted but never incorporated. In 1922, Toppenish wooed the Native American Agency headquarters away from nearby Fort Simcoe, taking most of the attendant population and business with it. You are now about 7.5 miles from the Fort. At the stop sign (mile 27.5) in White Swan, take a right to State Highway 220 and go west.
Fort Simcoe – (mile 35.1). This site was long used as a camping area for the tribes of the Yakama Nation. The cold springs called “Mool Mool” (bubbling water) by the Indians, offered an abundance of water in the otherwise dry region. Timber was nearby, and grassland was readily available. The weather in the valley here was normally better than further north. Simcoe is derived from the Yakama, “Sim-Ku-ee”, or SimKwee, the name for a dip in the ridge about three miles northeast of the fort. Sim refers to the female wrist, Ku-ee, or Kwee, means spine or back.
Pioneers first began to settle on the east side of the mountains from 1856 to 1859. Fort Simcoe served as a base for military expeditions in the Washington Territory. A change in military command in 1858 resulted in a proposal to abandon Fort Simcoe. In 1859, the site became the Bureau of Indian Affairs Agency Headquarters, providing services to Native Americans living on the Reservation. Reading and writing were taught at the post as well as trade skills like carpentry, blacksmithing, and farming. The school lasted until the early 1900’s.
Fort Simcoe State Park: Recognizing the historic significance of the site, Fort Simcoe was established as a State Park in 1953 with the assistance of the Fort Simcoe and Mool Mool Restoration Society. Under a 99-year lease from the Yakama Nation, the 200-acre park is administered by the State Parks and Recreation Commission. The park offers picnic facilities, restrooms, tables, picnic shelter, and running water in a grassy portion of the large oak grove adjoining the parking area. The Interpretative Center in the park depicts the history of the site through displays, artifacts, and photographs. Open from April 1 to September 30 daily from 6:30 a.m.to dusk and from October 1 to March 31 on weekends and holidays only. Search for the old blockhouse, in the spring enjoy the wildflowers and hunt for Lewis’s woodpecker among the oaks.
Return toward White Swan via Highway 220. Once in White Swan, take a right on Curtis Street (mile 42.8) heading toward Toppenish on Fort Road. Continue on Fort Road you will pass Legends Casino, Operated by the Yakama Nation offering wonderful buffet dining daily. Nearby on Fort Road is the entrance to the Yakama Nation Cultural Center (mile 61.3).
Yakama Nation Cultural Heritage Center – (mile 61.7). This fairly new facility is located on the ancestral ground of the Yakama Nation. The Yakamas have lived in harmony with these lands for thousands of years. They share their heritage with all visitors at the Cultural Center. The Center offers a gift shop featuring authentic Yakama beadwork, a restaurant with Native American atmosphere and menu; museum with great dioramas and exhibits; theatre providing first run movies for the area; Winterlodge for banquets, dances, and conventions; and library, full-service with an emphasis on Native American culture.
Return to Fort Road, turn left to downtown Toppenish.
Toppenish – (mile 63.6) – The town derives its name from the native word “gapuishlema” meaning “people from the foot of the hills”. The name has also been generally interpreted to mean “sloping downward and spreading”. In that sense, it describes the easterly slope of the lands from the mountain until spreading flatly to form the basin of the Valley. When the Northern Pacific railroad spanned the Valley, it erected a section house, telegraph office, and water tank here in 1883 to serve as a maintenance center, and they named it Toppenish.
The city’s motto is “City Where the West Still Lives”, and is known as the City of Murals. Murals are bigger than life, depicting the lives and times of Toppenish’s early days. This results from the successful efforts of the Toppenish Mural Society (TMS), a group of local citizens interested in preserving the culture and history of the town. The Society’s insistence on high standards for quality of art and historical accuracy has made the murals a must-see for Valley visitors and has garnered national publicity for the town. You’ll find a map of the city and key to mural locations at the Toppenish Mural Office along with the original artist work submitted for approval for each mural.
Northern Pacific Railway Museum: The Toppenish Railroad Depot was built by the Northern Pacific Railway in 1911. The museum features RR artifacts. Open May through October: Tuesday to Saturday, 10AM to 4 PM, Sunday Noon to 4 PM, closed Monday. Winter hours November through April by special arrangement and see schedule for special events. All operations are now at the depot with caboose rides offered with special events.
American Hop Museum: The American Hop Museum, located in the heart of the nation’s largest hop producing area, features exhibits and artifacts depicting Hop growing, harvesting, and history. Open: May 1st. through September 30th.Wednesday thru Saturday 10am.-4pm.Sunday 11am.-4pm. Offering pre-scheduled tours year round. American Hop Museum History of Hops video.
After viewing the Toppenish Murals and museums, return to Highway 97 to Yakima. On your way back, you will pass the town of Wapato. When the Northern Pacific railroad first came through here, it was called Simcoe Siding. Later, when Alex McCready became active in the community, residents decided they wanted a post office. But, the petition was refused because there was already a post office at Fort Simcoe and the two names would be too confusing. Mrs. McCready and her friends got together and decided on the name Wapato, from a variation of the word meaning potato in the Chinook language. The post office was granted under the new name around the year 1902 and Mrs. McCready became the postmistress.
About halfway between Wapato and Union Gap, you will pass through the town of Parker, established around 1915. Another community of the same name was built earlier across the Yakima River (reached by driving east from Parker, and over the Parker Bridge; an alternate route to the Treveri Cellars Winery and the Yakima Valley Highway). The earlier community was the first semblance of a town in the valley area outside of the Fort Simcoe development and was called Konnewock by the Indians. It is today known as Parker Bottom.
Take the I-82 exit from 97 to bring you back to Exit 33 to Yakima Avenue and Downtown Yakima. (Alternative route, take the Union Gap exit off of Highway 97 and sample the produce stands, eateries, and shopping opportunities at the Valley Mall in Union Gap. Driving north, Union Gaps main Street changes name to South 1st Street – the main North/South Street for the area. To reach Downtown Yakima, stay on 1st Street to Yakima Avenue, running east and west.)
The Yakima Valley blog articles feature members of the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau. If you would like to receive information regarding membership, Click here, or to request a membership application, please contact Michelle Hopkins at (509) 575-3010.