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The Historic Yellowstone Trail
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The Southern Route

Rediscovering the Southern route of the Yellowstone Trail in Washington State
April 24,25, 2013

Before 1925 the Yellowstone trail took a southerly route from Spokane to Walla Walla then West to The Tri-cities and Northwest along the Northern Pacific Railroad to Yakima then north to Ellensburg.

Map of the route from Ellensburg to Richland

From Ellensburg to Yakima

We were coming from Seattle so we took the route east. We drove east over Snoqualmie pass on interstate 90 to Thorp. We drove through Thorp on the old Thorp Hwy. The Thorp Hwy was not part of the Yellowstone Trail. I just like driving along old roads so we took this route into Ellensburg. We then drove to Ellensburg and had breakfast and then back on the trail.

We wanted to take the original route south on Umptanum Rd to Wenas but it is almost 30 miles of dirt road and I didn’t want to take the car on that much dirt road. Instead, we decided to make some time and take interstate 82 over the hill into Selah. I figured we could explore Wenas another time.

We stopped along the freeway going up out of Ellensburg and got a good photo of the town and surrounding area. On the way into the Yakima Valley we stopped at the rest stop and got some good photos of Selah, Mt Rainier and Mt Adams. I also took a shot of the Interstate 82 bridge.

As we got to Selah we were back on the trail. The old road follows S 1st St through Selah and before the freeway over the river the road veered to the left onto was is now Golf course Rd. There was an old bridge across the river here and you can still see the original pavement. Then the old road connected to what is now Hwy 823 into Yakima.

We then took 1st St south into Yakima and continued south on 1st St. The area is quite built up in the 100 years since the trail came through here and there isn’t much left of those days.

From Yakima to the Tri Cities

We headed out of Yakima and towards Zillah on US 97. We stopped at the heritage marker on the south side of the canyon that marked the Indian War of 1855 that took place near here. From there it was southeast to Wapato.

Once we got to Wapato. We took a side trip to Toppenish to visit the Northern Pacific Railroad Museum. We checked out the old locomotive and after taking a photo of the old depot I noticed the monad above the old Depot was from the Yellowstone Park Line. 

Then it was over the Yakima River to Donald and then right onto the Yakima Valley Hwy through Buena. Past Buena we took a right onto Rosa Dr / 5th St and passed the old 1910 church and into Zillah

When we got to the intersection of 5thSt and 1st Ave in Zillah we saw a newly posted Yellowstone trail sign. It was good to see the sign posted along the old route.

We took a side trip back north to see the old Tea Pot Gas Station constructed in 1922. They moved it in 1978 during the construction of Interstate 82 and is about 1.2 miles away from the original location. After some photos, it was back on the trail.

We drove out of town on 1st Ave and back to the Yakima Valley Hwy toward Granger. After leaving Granger, I believe the old route followed Van Belle Rd to Sunnyside after 1919 or 1920. 

Through Sunnyside it was on Edison St and then after leaving town we took a right onto the Sunnyside-Mabton Rd. then left onto Grandview Pavement Rd into Grandview.

Leaving Grandview, we took the Old Inland Empire Hwy into Prosser while taking some photos of the wine country and Yakima river. As you drive through this region with Mt Adams as a backdrop, you can see all the various agricultural farms and realize how much farmland it takes to give us the food we buy in the grocery stores.

From Prosser we were back on the Old Inland Empire Hwy. The signs now just refer the highway as the O. I. E. The next town is Benton City. After crossing the Yakima River on 1st St into Kiona we took SR224 toward West Richland. 

I found from the old 1915 maps that the route to Richland took a more diagonal route. Down Kennedy road a few miles, the road veers to the left toward Hwy 224.

We stopped for lunch and a few quilt stores to please the wife, then we headed out of town and to Kennewick. From Kennewick we crossed the Columbia River and into Pasco. 

We decided to stop at Sacajawea State park to step foot on one of the places Lewis and Clark camped. This is the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers and is a majestic place to be. The Indians had camped here for thousands of years. 

Though the landscape has been altered by the parks dept in the way of trees and grasses it was still something we had to see. This is near the old town of Ainsworth. Ainsworth was the county seat and a major railroad town. There is nothing left of the town now. After watching the baby geese we headed toward Wallula Junction.

From the Tri Cities to Walla Walla

Map of route from Richland to Colfax

After Leaving the Tri-Cities we crossed the Snake River on US12 and headed toward Walla Walla. This segment from Burbank to Wallula Junction is now underwater due to the dam. 

From Wallula to Touchet I  believe the original Route followed a now long gone alignment. On the map I have traced this alignment out as best I could. You now have to follow US12 into Touchet

I think that when the original route met back up with US12 at the Walla Walla River, the original route continued across US12 and onto Byrnes Rd and followed the Railroad into Touchet.

We passed through Touchet and stopped at the old town of Lowden. Took some photos of the old abandoned garage, gas station, store and building. Then we continued on toward Walla Walla.

Before we got to Walla Walla we took a right onto the Old Hwy12 and stopped at the old town site of Frenchtown looked at the mission marker and the Oregon Trail marker and then proceeded to the Whitman Mission State Park.

Here at the Whitman Mission State Park we looked at the place where the massacre had happened. It was a somber place. After some photos we walked the preserved part of the Oregon Trail that is still there. 

We then walked up to the monument to look at the view of the grounds and surrounding area. This is a painting of what it used to look like. We then walked down to see the great grave. After our visit we then drove into Walla Walla.

From Walla Walla to Colfax

We got a room in Walla Walla and then the next Morning it was back on the trail to Dixie. From Dixie we stayed on US12 north into Waitsburg. After some photos of the old town, we took US12 to Dayton. I believe the original route took some of the back roads to Dayton and not on US12.

Once we got into Dayton we stopped to take some photos of the Old Railroad Depot which was built in 1881 and the Old Courthouse. Leaving Dayton we found this old bridge. It is on Patit Rd east of town. 

I do not think it is part of the trail but a nice old 1915 bridge. We got back on US12 north. Along this part of the hwy we spotted the old alignment and bridge. From the architecture I figure it was built sometime around 1915 same as the bridge we found on Patit Rd..

Once we got to the intersection of SR261 and US12 we decided to break off the trail and take a side trip on SR261 through Starbuck and west along the Snake River toward Lyons Ferry. This is at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers

We stopped at Lyons Ferry for some nice photos of the river, bridge and railroad trestle, then it was north up to the Palouse Falls State Park. The auto bridge across the river has its own interesting history. 

The steel truss bridge was originally built for the Columbia River crossing at Vantage, Washington in 1927. In 1963 that crossing was upgraded to a four lane bridge, and the older bridge was dismantled. The same bridge was then re-assembled in 1968 in its current location.

We were glad we made this side trip as the falls were spectacular, there are many vistas to view the falls. There is a nice cut in the rocks the railroad goes through as we drive over to get into the park. 

We took many photos of the place saw some prairie dogs sunning themselves. We then headed back out over the Palouse hills northeast to Washtucna.

In Washtucna we saw an old abandoned gas Station and an old Chevrolet dealer. Then it was east and back to the trail at Colfax on US26.

The Yellowstone Trail when leaving Dayton would take US12 north to SR127 and to Central Ferry. The 1918 Blue Book advised travelers’ to continue northwest to the Penawana Ferry instead of the Central Ferry as it talked about there being a better road and ferry in Penawana. After crossing either ferry, the traveler would continue northwest to Colfax.

From Colfax to Spokane

Map of the route from Colfax to Spokane

We stopped in Colfax got a bite to eat at Arby’s and then headed north on US195 through Steptoe and north to Rosalia. We took the old US195 and stopped at the old Milwaukee Road concrete trestle. You can still see the Yellowstone trail marker painted on the bridge.

Once in Rosalia we got a couple of photos of old homes and the old restored Texaco Station built in 1923. It is now the Rosalia Visitor Resource and Interpretive Center. Leaving town we spotted a nice old Victorian mansion

Then it was north on the Old hwy toward Thornton . We were treated with some old original concrete pavement and followed the abandoned railroad. We took a photo of a concrete drain that went under the railroad. After some photos of the old road, we drove into Thornton

From Thornton it was north to Spangle and before we got to Spokane we took a photo of the old alignment then drove into Spokane.

Now it was west across the state back to Seattle.


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