Yakima Scenic Byway – State Highway 821

Yakima Valley, Washington.

There are several scenic highways connecting parts of the beautiful Yakima Valley. For this post, my camera is focused on a 25-mile (40 km) stretch of highway paralleling the Yakima River. That highway is known as State Route 821. The road winds through the valley right along the river’s edge when the valley floor is wide enough, and high on the valley when the level plain narrows to the point of having no more room for anything more than the river itself and the railroad track that was placed there first. In the opening image, both levels of the roadway are visible from this scenic pullout. In the distance on the valley floor, you can spot the highway near the water level.

Another view from up high shows the railroad tracks below. Depending upon the terrain, the tracks are sometimes on the same side of the river as the highway, and at other times, they are on the opposite sides.

On the day of our drive, the skies were cloudless but hazy with smoke from the wildfires then raging in other parts of Washington state. The time was late afternoon and the three images above are reflective of the actual views of the sky on that day. I make a point to mention it because as this post is being written, I’ve started experimenting with Luminar AI, the latest version of the Luminar photo processing tools from Skylum Software.

As an exercise in learning the sky replacement tool built into the program, several of the images feature an alternate reality. Sky replacement is easily done with the software and a few clouds or dramatic sunset images can be easily added. One has to be careful, however, to pay attention to the light in the original image. For example, if the shadows indicate the sun is to the right or left, in front of or behind the camera, then the sky must indicate as such. Notice in the image above, the right river bank is sunlit, small shadows of plants are toward the camera. The bank edge on the left is in shadow and the reflecting light in the water both indicate the scene is backlit. The sun, in the original photo, was off the top and just slightly to the left-center of the image. The replacement sky must show indications, if not the actual sun, that the camera is pointing toward the light source.

As a reference, here’s an image from a slightly different position indicating the sun is almost dead center of the image. In my altered reality version, the sun is lower on the horizon and slightly more left of center, but the resulting image appears to be a realistic placement of the light source. Another tweak to the image in Luminar AI to give the appearance of being captured at a time closer to sunset is an adjustment of the Golden Hour slider which gave the image the tonal change needed to reflect the time travel to late afternoon.

But I digress from the point of the post which is to feature views, altered or not, of the beauty of the Yakima River Valley. If you see clouds in the sky in the images that follow, they have been altered. The blue hazy sky in some of the images is your clue that on this day, that’s what the camera saw.

State Route 821 is an alternate road to U.S. Highway 82. Both roads travel south from near Holmes with SR 821 rejoining U.S. 82 north of Yakima. About halfway along the scenic route, a pull-off with a rock on a concrete pillar will attract your attention. The plaque tells the story of the geology of the region that is easily discerned by viewing the strata in the exposed hillside on the opposite side of the river. This pull-off happens to also be the entrance to the Lmuma Creek Recreation Site.

At several of the scenic viewpoints along the highway, there was plenty of room for parking and I  had the opportunity on a few occasions to launch my drone to get some aerial views of the valley, the roadway, and the railroad, at this point on the opposite side of the river from the highway.

State Route 821 is a worthy drive for taking in the natural beauty of the Yakima River Valley. If you’re in a hurry, stay on U.S. 82, but even if you are, leave a little early to drive the slightly longer route that twists and turns with the river. You can always tell the boss you were tied up in traffic. I submit for your review a collection of images gathered on our journey through the Yakima Valley.

John Steiner

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