Mt. Adams Highway
By Robert E. Pace
Famed as the road over which the first settlers and soldiers came into the Yakima country from The Dalles in the 1850s, the Mt. Adams road was definitely part of the early history of Yakima County. It was not until 1910, however, that at the request of settlers along the road, the county commissioners ordered a survey that would "put the road on the map."
The Mt. Adams road ran from North Yakima through the gap, to White Swan, Fort Simcoe, Cedar Valley and into Klickitat County ending at The Dalles. It skirted the edge of Mt. Adams and was the nearest traveled road to the snow capped peak. It was for this reason it was traveled a great deal by hunters and campers, and it was believed by the commissioners, would become the shortest, most traveled route to the markets in Portland, Oregon.
It would be almost a decade later, in the summer of 1919 that a party was sent out by the Yakima Commercial Club to scout out the road from North Yakima to Glenwood, there to connect up with the Columbia and Evergreen highways to Portland. The surveyors sent back a glowing report. They reported the road would traverse magnificent stands of yellow pine, fir and tamarack. Along the entire route the timber is quite open, there being little or no underbrush. It was thickly carpeted with pine and bunch grass just one immense beautiful park that skirted the glaciers of Mt. Adams. They ended the report by saying "This route would shorten the trip to Portland by nearly fifty miles over the Satus route, and more than eighty miles over the Mabton route. The scenery is grander by far than over the Snoqualmie Pass. It would be the connecting link with the Columbia River highways taking in the most wonderful scenery in the Northwest. Let us all get behind the proposition."
As the proposed highway would cut through the very heart of the Yakama Indian reservation an easement for the right of way was sought and approved by B.I.A. Superintendent Don M. Carr. Now the next step of financing the project could begin. In October 3, 1921, the Good Roads Association of the Yakima Commercial Club sent another survey team to travel the area to get an estimate of the cost. Their report at a meeting on October 19th concluded the road could be built for not more than $10,000. Of this amount the Commercial Club Trustees apportioned $6,000 to be raised in the district above Union Gap and $4,000 to the district below Union Gap. The public would help fund the highway by buying shares at $1.00 each with a fee for life membership in the association fixed at $25.00. Just before the meeting adjourned, Mr. H. Stanley Coffin of Yakima created a great outburst of applause by handing the secretary a check for $100 to get the campaign started. W. T. Van Decar, of Yakima, announced that he would duplicate Mr. Coffins contribution. The way everyone saw it, with everything now in place, work could start immediately.
Other proposals were also submitted. A Mt. Adams and National Parks Committee of the Commercial Club was formed to look into the feasibility of building a toll road from a point on the highway to Avalanche Valley at the foot of Goat Butte on the eastern slope of Mount Adams. This road could be built, it was estimated, for not more than $50,000 and with the amount of traffic that would develop within a few years would pay excellent returns until such time as it might be taken over by the state or federal government. A hotel could be built at Avalanche Valley that would expose the traveling tourist to the natural meadows of the east side of the mountain. The hotel and campgrounds would be supplied with water from several crystal clear, ice-cold streams that burst from the hillside at the foot of Goat Butte. Natural lawns, interspersed with an infinite variety of wild flowers, abound on every hand. The hotel would be the starting point for several interesting routes by which to ascend Mount Adams. All classes of climbers would find their respective kinds of climbing from this starting point used for many years by the Cascadians of Yakima on their annual climb of Mt. Adams.
Work was started on the lower portions of the highway in November of 1921. The money was raised during the winter and by the spring of 1922 the road was "punched through". With most of the grading done and the needed bridges built, it was announced that the road would be open for automobile travel by June. Plans were made to have a caravan of cars drive from Yakima to Portland to initiate the new road. The 75 miles, it was promoted, could be made in six hours from Yakima to the Columbia River Highway.
The Mt. Adams Highway was completed to the point it could be traveled by automobile and offer the most scenic views of any road in the state. The timing, however, could not have been worse. The very next year, in 1923, the state decided that the old Satus Canyon road would be designated State Highway No. 8 and funding was approved to make the old road a modern highway. The state immediately allotted $421,000.00 and the federal government appropriated $120,000.00. Work was started at once on the total reconstruction of what would be known as Satus Pass.
Although the Yakima Commercial Club and other organizations tried during the following years to promote the Mt. Adams road, it was used very little. The hotel and campgrounds were never built. Primarily hunters and fishermen used the road to get into the backcountry and it was also used by the Yakamas to get to their traditional root digging areas and huckleberry fields.
Years later, the Yakamas closed the high country of the reservation. The road, pretty much as it was originally surveyed, was improved over the years by the tribe and is completely within the closed area of the reservation. Today, tribal members and their contractors use it as a main road to access most all areas of the reservation.
Few people today remember the Mt. Adams Highway project, funded by the valleys businessmen, that held such great promise and lasted such a short time.
Cascadians at Signal Peak on the Mt. Adams Highway during their annual ascent of the Mountain - 1921 Click on image above to browse Yakima Memory Collections on this subject.