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“The Columbia Basin” Chap. 4 – The Wenatchee Valley


The Wenatchee River is a relatively short river (53 miles long) that flows due east through a scenic canyon down the slopes of the Cascade Mountains to its’ confluence with the Columbia. The water from the river has been captured and used to irrigate the fruit orchards that sprawl across the floor of the valley. The area is a center for stone fruit production (apples, apricots, nectarines, etc.) South of the confluence of the Wenatchee and the Columbia are the twin cities of Wenatchee (west bank of Columbia) and East Wenatchee (east bank). Just downstream on the Columbia is Rock Island Dam. Wenatchee itself is not particularly a tourist destination except as the jumping off point to explore the valley (where tourism on steroids is on display in Leavenworth!). The urban area stretches in a narrow green band along both sides of the Columbia.

A greenbelt of parks and walking paths hugs the west bank of the Columbia next to the railroad tracks that serve the busy shipping lines between Seattle and the east. Near the center of town on the river bank sits a remarkable display of the agriculture largess of the area: a large complex, the Public Market, home to shops, restaurants and a Farmer’s Market.

Nearly the length of a football field, the market is busy even on a weekday morning, complete with entertainment!

Yes, this is an accordion player, belting out tunes at 10:30 in the morning!

Leaving Wenatchee the highway climbs a bluff guarding the entrance to the Wenatchee Valley and a great view of the valley comes into sight with the Cascades looming in the distance.

My home for a couple of days is at the foot of the bluff where I am pleasantly surprised by the Wenatchee River County Park RV Park. This is one of the nicest public campgrounds that I have ever stayed at and will be a good base from which to explore the valley.

Wenatchee River Valley RV Park
The county park stretches along the bank of the Wenatchee River in an emerald paradise. The Lunch Box nestles amongst the trees.

A pleasant surprise awaits Joey and me as we go for a walk along the river. A series of metal sculptures, both in and out of the water, bring art into the outdoors.

Just river from the RV Park is the small town of Cashmere, a small working class town dedicated to the locals and home to several fruit packing plants as well as the Aplets and Cotlets factory, a source of the famed fruit candy production. The concise town center is framed by a historic bank building on the west and stretches for a couple of blocks to the east.

Normally I wouldn’t have stopped in Cashmere except that I wanted to see the contrast to the next town up the valley, which is an incredible display of a community commitment to tourism! The highway continues up the valley…

Another ten miles up the highway from Cashmere sits the town of Leavenworth, famed throughout the Northwest as a tourist destination. Originally founded in 1893 with the arrival of the railroad, Leavenworth was primarily a logging town for most of its’ history. The decline of the timber industry lead to a corresponding decline in the local economy and in 1962 an effort began to revive local businesses by redefining Leavenworth as a tourist destination. Copied after the successful town of Solvang, California, (which is modeled after a town in Denmark) locals decided to capitalize on Leavenworth’s location at the base of the Cascades reminiscent of the Alps of southern Germany to create a Bavarian village. People bought in and today Leavenworth is a bustling tourist town, especially around the Christmas holidays. The transformation is remarkable (as are the corresponding prices for tourists!). Enjoy Leavenworth as all types of business is housed in Bavarian architecture…

Yes, even the local Starbucks gets to follow the theme!

Leaving Leavenworth and heading back down the valley towards Wenatchee, the highway is lined with ubiquitous fruit stands, luring tourists in to spend their money in various ways.

Next up: The “Basin”