Population = 31,731 (with suburbs East Walla Walla and College Place about 45,000), latitude 46º3’, longitude 118º19’, elevation 978 feet, average January low temperature = 27.8, Average July high temperature = 89, average sunny days = 188, annual snowfall = 19.3”, annual rainfall = 16.8”
From Tacoma, the highway East rises through the Cascade Mountains. The lush green carpet of tall trees and flowers gradually runs out. We pass through a broad, flat valley of low crops. We rise again and the trees become mostly pines, until they too run out and the land is just speckled with low shrubs and grasses. At Yakima, we are surprised at a rest stop to look back and finally get our first glimpse of Mount Rainier, peeking through the misty air. We descend into the Walla Walla Valley, between the rolling Palouse hills and the Blue Mountains.
Downtown Walla Walla is compact, quaint, and inviting. The buildings are older but most have been restored beautifully. The pace is leisurely, the traffic slow and yielding. The walkers stroll past shops and restaurants and settle into sidewalk tables for a sip and a bite. The boulevard trees are tall and in full bloom on this early summer day.
It is Memorial Day weekend so we are hoping for a little celebration, but there is none. But the Farmer’s Market is open on Saturday, starting off the new summer season. We admire the fine handiworks, produce, and food as we stroll through the stands. A food stand serves up a chicken onion sausage sandwich that is hot and juicy and laden with the famous Walla Walla sweet onions.
Later in the day is the Mule Mania Rodeo in nearby Dayton. Why not? We saddle up and make the drive over to the fairgrounds. The road to Dayton passes through farm country and the land looks soft and cushy under layers of new crops bursting out of the soil. Different plants have slightly different colors, making stripes and patterns on the hills. We get to Mule Mania just in time to see the Roman chariot competition.
Not much doing on Sunday so we do some exploring. We are lucky enough to contact the owner/operator of the Museum of Unnatural History, who agrees to show it to us. Strange, inventive, imaginative, obscene, and hilarious. We love the funny little dioramas, odd collages, weird statues. And (bonus!) our host, Gerry Matthews, used to be the voice of Sugar Bear for the Sugar Crisp cereal commercials. He humors me with a jingle in his best bear voice.
What else to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon? Walla Walla is in the middle of wine country. On our first visit to downtown, we noticed a lot of winery tasting bars. One of the bartenders (winetenders?) told us that there are 29 wine tasting bars in Walla Walla and over 140 wineries scattered around the valley. I am mostly a beer drinker, but this being wine country, I have to give it a try. Three tastings of 5 or 6 wines each add up quickly. We totter out of the last winery, Marylu clutching a very expensive bottle of Viognier from Charles Smith.
In keeping with Memorial Day tradition, we decided to go see some history about the men and women who settled the land, built the cities, fought the wars. The Fort Walla Walla Museum has all of that and more. They have uniforms and military equipment from every war since the fort was established in 1856. They also have civilian clothing, farm equipment, and homes from the several periods. It is an interesting and varied display and a great way to spend a Memorial Day.
I wasn’t expecting much out of Walla Walla. It was a convenient stopping point on our route. Having been there though, I find I really like this town. It is a town unto itself, not a city that is a part of another city. It is big enough to have everything, yet small enough to not be crowded. The nice old craftsman homes on tree lined boulevards make up peaceful neighborhoods. This could be a sleepy little farm town in the middle of nowhere, but then there is all that wine everywhere. The wine seems to add a bit of culture, a feeling of comfort and leisure to the downtown terroir that makes it such an inviting place to hang out. Add Walla Walla to the short list.