October 12, 2005

THE PALM SPRINGS OF WASHINGTON

Saturday we rose early, picked up Sally and hit the highway. Our destination was Yakima, "The Palm Springs of Washington." I didn’t (couldn’t) make that up. That’s what a huge sign along the highway 82 indicates. It’s not the official slogan, the sign is privately owned.

Yakima and the Yakima Valley is a lush, green fertile oasis surrounded by basically a desert. It's a hot spot for produce of every kind, particularly fruit. But we were hoping to score on squash and peppers. But first we wanted some exercise.

We headed to the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. It’s a beautiful area, full of color though not necessarily lush. The rock formations are columns of pressed rocked. Layers upon layers upon layers. We hiked along the Canyon Trail, encountering a Ponderosa Pine, by far the tallest thing around and the only coniferous tree in the whole joint. Did you know that the Ponderosa Pine smells of vanilla? It’s more apparent where the sun is hitting the bark. But if you put your nose up to the bark there is the subtle hint of vanilla. The Canyon Trail hooked up with the Uplands Trail which wound us up to the Cowiche Knoll. From here you have a 360 degree view of the valley.

After our hike we were on the hunt for squash. We knew from last year’s visit that Jones Farms has the goods. We anticipated a huge score so we brought along two laundry baskets with which to do our shopping. We took home about 40 pounds of squash at $.30 a pound.

After the squash fest we visited Paradisos del Sol a fun winery we visited last year on our first trip to the Yakima Valley. Paul, the owner and winemaker, is friendly and fun. He has over two decades of wine knowledge to share. He also shares Artichoke Crab Dip and Glop aka Bleu Ribbon Dip. The recipes are available on their site. Decadent? Yes. Difficult? No. So go make some dip. Of course, each dip pairs perfectly with a Pradisos del Sol wine. The wine tasting is casual. The grounds are a little unkempt because real people live here, including a menagerie of family pets like cats, dogs and chickens. The 9 yr. old son, Kevin, has set up his own side business selling jelly beans and chocolate covered treats as well as hand made wine charms. I dumped my change into the honor system jar and mucnhed some chocolate covered espresso beans ($.10 each).

The next stop was Two Mountain Winery. We had a good time here in spite of the hordes of fruit flies. The wines were tasty and there were chocolate chips to snack on. Actually, chocolate squares, which for some reason taste better than chocolate chips. Sally treated us to a bottle of wine.

It was now dinner time and we knew we could get authentic Mexican food in this area. Paul at Pradisos del Sol immediately recommended El Rancherito. Julie and I stumbled upon this place last year. It’s a little different. El Ranchito has been in business for over 50 years so they must be doing something right. It’s the real deal. It’s not fancy. There is also a small store and a bakery and a room for banquets. There is also a huge collection of some of the worst "pottery" I’ve ever seen. Ceramic statues of everything from hugging pigs to Buzz Lightyear. It all looks like a gradeschool project. We can’t figure out why the collection exists. The items are actually for sale. Regardless, the food is authentic and affordable and very good. The service maybe not so sparkly but when in Rome…When the place is patranized by the locals, it's a good indication that it's damn tasty. I had the fish tacos, heaped with fish. Julie tried the Chili Colorado which we were curious about last year but passed on when we were told the meat was "like pork." Without a definite indentification of the meat, we thought it best to stick to what we knew. But now that we've learned it's made with beef, we enjoyed it. And Sally was delighted to find an authentic bowl of Menudo. Menudo is not for me but I’m glad that I tried it.

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