110 miles SE of Seattle, 36 miles N of Yakima, 75 miles S of Wenatchee
Ellensburg, which lies on the edge of cattle- and sheep-ranching country just east of the last Cascade foothills, is a town with a split personality. On the one hand, it is a small college town, site of Central Washington University. However, it is also a classic cow town best known as the site of the Ellensburg Rodeo, one of the West's top rodeos. A downtown full of historic commercial buildings further adds to the character of this town, and proximity to the mountains and ski area at Snoqualmie Pass make it a good base for summer hiking or winter skiing. Although the town isn't really a destination per se, its proximity to Seattle and a sunny climate make it a quick escape from the Puget Sound rains.
Most of the buildings in the downtown historic district, one of the most attractive in the state, date from 1889, the year in which most of the town's commercial buildings were destroyed by a Fourth of July fire. If not for that, the town would likely have become the state capital (due to its central location). But with only one commercial building remaining, how could the government set up business in Ellensburg? Instead of becoming the capital, the town became the site of the state college that is now Central Washington University.
While the Ellensburg Rodeo is responsible for perpetuating this town's Wild West image, the Clymer Museum, devoted to the works of John Clymer, who illustrated more than 80 Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, does its share as well. Adding one last unusual ingredient to the eclectic milieu of Ellensburg is the Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, where chimps have been taught to use American Sign Language.