This past weekend, I made another trip to Prosser, WA for the annual hot air balloon rally. Distant friends and family, I’m telling you now: If you want to visit the Pacific Northwest, plan to be here the last weekend in September so you can join me for the balloon rally. You won’t regret it.
You’ll get to experience the charms of Prosser itself. This town of 5,000 people is the heart of Washington wine country. Unlike Napa or Sonoma, the Yakima valley is unpretentious and unashamedly rural. Yes, there’s a winery (or a winery supply store) every block, but the wineries are frequently in industrial parks or in the basement of the owner’s home. This is the land of wine-as-agricultural-product, not the land of wine-as-luxury-item. The wine is delicious, and I find it easier to enjoy a tasting room that’s devoid of snootiness.
You can also bet on good weather for the weekend. As one local told me, the Yakima valley a land with three summers: Early summer, summer, and Indian summer. Plus, it gets only nine inches of rain per year. Unfailingly, my trips to Eastern Washington (ranging from April to September) have been sunny and warm.
Prosser rolls out the welcome mat for Balloon Rally weekend. There’s always a harvest festival the same weekend, with a few city blocks closed off for crafts, food, and pony rides for kids. On a street adjacent to the harvest festival, artists create chalk drawings on the road. There’s a farmer’s market in the city park and a Kiwani’s club pancake breakfast. The winery tasting rooms are all open, and some of the larger wineries have live music.
The town is busy but not crowded. However, the limited hotel beds in the town sell out well in advance of rally weekend, which is the one tricky part of planning a trip on rally weekend. Seeing over two dozen balloons in the air is what the trip’s all about, but balloons launch at first light. You don’t want to be stuck in a motel room an hour away unless you like waking up really early in the morning!
Even the drive between Seattle and Prosser is cool. It takes less than three hours, and in that short span you travel through alpine scenery, past a massive wind farm, and through the expansive sagebrush vistas of the Washington desert. I’ve done this drive about six times. I’ve been impressed each time, but on the way home this trip I found it can get even better: Get off the interstate between Ellensburg and Yakima and take the Yakima Canyon Road. You’ll spend twenty miles right next to the Yakima river with golden hills rising sharply on either side and fly fishermen, river rafters, kayakers, parasailers, campers, and hikers enjoying the scenery with you.
So, start planning your 2011 vacation now and come visit in September!