Eastern Washington is usually a good place to find the sun. It doesn’t take a lot of math to quickly figure which part of the state is dry. The yearly precipitation totals easily tell the story: Forks (on the coast) 118 inches, Mt. Olympus (Olympic Peninsula) close to 200 inches and Richland (Eastern Washington) 7.11 inches. I wish I had had access to these numbers when I went on my first backpack trip in the early 1980s, shortly after arriving here from Chicago. The trip was in the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park and it rained every single day. (Should not have been such a surprise. The area is called Hoh Rainforest for a reason!) After that experience I decided to find out where the driest hikes can be found, which resulted in my first book: Best Rain Shadow Hikes: Western Washington. It elaborates on which hikes are more likely to be dry and why. The term “rain shadow effect” is used to explain the drier weather in Eastern Washington. The winds blow from west to east and the air raises over the Olympic Mountains and the west slopes of the Cascade Mountains which brings moderate precipitation at times. Once the air reaches Eastern Washington the air mass is has dried out, thus the rainfall totals are low.

Badger Mountain and cool cloud over Richland ©Alan Bauer

It does not take a weather expert to know that a hike in Eastern Washington near the Tri-Cities (desert region) would generally be dry. Badger Mountain is a great area and is just outside of Richland. Although not exactly a mountain (1579 feet), and not exactly a lot of elevation gain (800 feet), and not many badgers to see (not many live there), there is some great hiking to be had. To get a good workout go up Canyon Trail (1.3 miles) then down the Skyline Trial (2.9 miles); then back up the Skyline and down the Canyon. That way you rack up 8.4 miles (and get back to your car). In the middle of summer you might want to start this hike early in the day. Along with the dry weather, you can expect temperatures in the 90’s. It is worth the extra loop so that you can twice enjoy the amazing view of the Columbia River.

A scenic hike from a different perspective is the 23 mile Sacagawea Heritage Trail. Also suitable for biking (it’s paved) the trail follows the Columbia River and is very scenic with lots of flowering plants and river views. The cable bridge is also very majestic site.

Lighthouse next to the Sacagawea Heritage Trail ©Michael Fagin
The Cable Bridge on the Columbia River seen from the Sacagawea Heritage Trail ©Michael Fagin

Of course you wouldn’t want to visit this area without enjoying some of the best wine in the state and by some accounts the best reds anywhere!

Wine grape growing areas are named and designated by the federal government (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Each AVA (American Viticultural Area) has a delineated boundary that is established due to similar climate, geology, soils and elevation of a given area. There are no limits to an area’s size, grape cultivars grown, or winemaking procedures. The Red Mountain AVA region in Eastern Washington is named after the “cheatgrass” (technically known as Bromius Tectorum) that grows in the area and turns a dark red hue in the spring.

Vineyard at Preston Premium Wines, the third licensed winery in Washington State ©Michael Fagin

An important climate feature of any given AVA is measured by the level of GDD (Growing Degree Days). GDD provide a measure of heat accumulation that can be used by farmers to predict the development of their crops. Because of the south facing slope of Red Mountain, which absorbs the strong afternoon sun, the Red Mountain AVA has the highest value GDD in the entire West Coast area of the United States. The AVA also enjoys a steady wind and low humidity both of which retard mildew formations. Mildew is a very common issue in Napa and can cause great harm to the grapes.

The Red Mountain AVA is the smallest AVA in Washington State at only 4,040 acres. At this time, there are over 600 acres under cultivation in about 22 vineyards. This makes it a wonderfully compact area in which to visit a lot of fine wineries. Here are just a couple of the wineries that would make for a refreshing stop after hike.

Barnard Griffin Winery produces many award winning wines. Winemaker Rob Griffin received his degree at UC Davis, graduated Cum Laude in fermentation science and has been making wines in Washington State for over 30 years. As is the case in many small, privately owned wineries – it is a family enterprise. Rob’s wife Deborah Bernard is a glass artist whose fused glass art work sets a tone of elegance in their new wine bar.

Rob Griffin winemaker at Barnard Griffin Winery ©Michael Fagin

Located nearby is J. Bookwalter Winery. Winemaker John Bookwalter comes to winemaking through inspiration from his father Jerry Bookwalter, currently the manager of nearby Connor Lee Vineyard. The Bookwalter Winery, besides producing some very fine wines, is a major player in local outdoor and fitness events. The annual SubPlot Trot is a five mile run along the Tapteal Trail (another place to find some great hikes). A highlight of their year is the Annual Big Sleepover. Bring your tent and sleeping bag for a night of camping out in the vineyard. The winery provides music, fun and adventure.

And of course, any big hiker deserves a great dinner. There are many choices in the Red Mountain area. Taverna Tagaris, which is part of Tagaris Winery, offers a wonderful old country ambiance and some equally wonderful food. The old country thin crust pizza and the Greek Burger (lamb) are simply out of this world. Michael Taggares founded the winery in 1987, naming it in the proper Greek spelling of his family name. The Tagaris family roots in winemaking go back in Greek history to the early 1300’s.
So, whether for a day trip or a weekend of hiking, camping and wine tasting, the Red Mountain AVA has just about everything you need for a memorable and tasty adventure.

Badger Mountain view north to Candy Mountain and Rattlesnake Mountain ©Alan Bauer

Co-authored and edited by Elizabeth Fagin.

 

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