FRAMED BY ROLLING, wheat-covered hills that change from verdant to flaxen with the seasons, southeastern Washington’s Highway 12 is also known for the charming, historical towns that dot its way. For a culturally rich journey, drive the 97-mile stretch of road between Clarkston and Walla Walla, stopping to take in 19th-century pioneer architecture, Native American history, and, of course, the delicious area wines and foods that have recently put this region on the map.
Before leaving Clarkston, sate your appetite with healthy local eats picked up at the Clarkston Farmers Market. Follow the Snake River west for a few miles before breaking off across the hills toward the farming town of Pomeroy, where you can satisfy your curiosity about the region’s historic commerce at the Pataha Flour Mill. Constructed in the late 1800s, the mill has changed little over the past 100 years; visitors are led through a network of wooden ramps and walkways that show off the mill’s massive machinery, largely made of handcrafted wooden components.
About 38 miles down the road, after the westbound route takes a sharp southerly turn, the town of Dayton boasts the state’s oldest courthouse. At the Palus Artifact Museum downtown, visitors can scan Native American relics that span 10,000 years of history: the region is home to the earliest known native people in North America. Looking out the museum window, one can almost imagine the horse races that local tribes used to hold along what is now the town’s main drag. Dayton is also home to artisanal goat-cheese maker Monteillet Fromagerie, the perfect place to pick up some fresh herbed chèvre for a picnic along the Touchet River in Lewis and Clark Trail State Park, a location the explorers passed through on their return journey east.
Your own voyage of discovery leads farther south and west on Highway 12 toward the cultural center that is Walla Walla. Home of Whitman College, this sophisticated city is also the hub of the region’s world-renowned wine country. Visitors can sample a number of local wines at Walla Walla Wineworks, located on historic Main Street. Or they can push on a few miles west to the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, a location that memorializes the sometimes violent clash of cultures in pioneer days, part of a legacy that still shapes the region today. —PETER BELAND
> EAT WHITEHOUSE-CRAWFORD
With a food and wine selection drawn from the culinary and historic roots of the Walla Walla area, this restaurant—housed in a 100-year-old planing mill—will please the palate of the most discerning locavore.
> SEE DAYTON DEPOT
Built in 1881 and recently restored in its original Stick/Eastlake style, the oldest surviving train depot in the state is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. An upstairs gallery features a changing series of exhibits about locomotive history. www.daytonhistoricdepot.org
> PLAY FORT WALLA WALLA MUSEUM
Both kids and grown-ups will enjoy the museum’s pioneer settlement, which features replicas of 17 mid-19th-century buildings within a city park. On weekends between April and October, watch live reenactments of pioneer life during “Living History Days.”