by Hank Leukart
May 2, 2006
White bug gunk in the Yakima Valley
Rural Washington is both beautiful and buggy.
A windmill in the Yakima Valley at sunset (view all Yakima Valley, Washington photos)
LARKSTON, Wa. — Windshields must be exceptionally tasty. I’ve never tried eating one, but as I drove through the Yakima Valley in central Washington this past weekend, bugs flocked to mine as though I were running an all-a-bug-can-eat windshield buffet. Inevitably, the problem with a windshield bug buffet is the inherent danger it presents to its customers — at almost exactly the same time a bug gets close enough to get a delicious windshield-glass lick, the bug is squashed by the same windshield moving toward it at seventy miles per hour. Nevertheless, the promise of a windshield’s heavenly scrumptiousness has proven repeatedly to be too much to bear for the Valley’s bugs — driving across central Washington gave me a windshield covered in white bug gunk more than once.
My friend Christine and I drove across the Yakima Valley to visit Hells Canyon, North America’s deepest canyon, which sits five hours east of Seattle at the intersection of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. In the beginning, I thought of the Yakima Valley as an irritating desert lengthening the trip between my origin and destination. Yet travel’s biggest cliche again held true during my drive: half the fun was indeed the (picturesque) trip there.
While only eight inches of rain fall in the Yakima Valley each year, farmers use the Yakima and Columbia Rivers to heavily irrigate their fields. As a result, the Valley is the single largest producer of apples in the world and cherry trees are also common. For tourists from Seattle, the area’s 300 days of sunshine per year is more than enough of a reason to explore.
The drive through the Valley treats travelers to an astonishing array of spectacular scenery: lush, green fields of asparagus, flowery, billowing tracts of fragrant cherry trees, expansive pastures dotted by grazing cattle, barns with “Go Cougs” painted in bright, red letters on the side (the cougar is the mascot of local Washington State University), and treacherous mountain roads through the desert. Consequently, my windshield’s bug gunk was a particularly annoying problem as it put a layer of crushed bugs between me and the scenery.
We stopped in Othello for dinner, a tiny farm town filled with Mexican restaurants — nearly forty percent of the local population is Mexican and Latin American due to the area’s abundance of orchard work — and farm equipment stores. After I self-consciously parked my two-door coupe next to an array of huge pickup trucks, we ate at the Broken Antler Bar and Grill which proudly displayed inside (surprise!) a deer head with a broken antler and outside a hand-painted sign reading “Kingdome East.” Apparently, news of the destruction of Seattle’s Kingdome in the year 2000, making room for Qwest Field and Safeco Field, hasn’t made it to Othello’s sports fans yet.
After a quick stop at Othello’s “Old Hotel Art Galley” — which turned out to be a well-signed but closed, run-down house with no hotel, art, or gallery in sight — we found our way to SR-261, a twisting mountain-pass that gives drivers a James Bond experience, complete with terrifying high-speed cars passing on precarious mountain edges. If you’re ever traveling on this mountain road past Starbuck (no relation) to sister cities Clarkston, Washington or Lewiston, Idaho (yes, they’re named after explorers Lewis and Clark), bring the most fun car you can find.
If there were bug repellent for windshields, I’d suggest bringing that too.
In the next essay, I detail the remainder of trip, during which we took a jet boat up and down the Snake River and stayed overnight at Copper Creek Lodge.