Saturday, July 6, 2013. Richland, WA.
Once again, the best laid plans… The hot water heater in the RV is on the fritz and needs to be repaired before we leave Richland. We discovered this with a cold shower on the 4th and the repairman can’t get to us until Monday morning, July 8th. Here’s hoping we don’t need to wait around for parts… Even though we camped in a tent and a pop-up for 35 years with no hot water heater, we decided to make the most of it and eat out and not do dishes till it’s fixed.
We had a sightseeing field trip this afternoon (after watching a couple Wimbledon Tennis finals at Susie’s.) We drove a loop around Hanford Reach National Monument.
We drove through desert with mesquite and sage and interesting desert landscape. We had an occasional view of one of the many rivers in this area. We saw some interesting insects and a couple blooming plants at a visitor turnout off a gravel road.
And, we went through an area of cultivation and irrigation canals and lots of fruit trees, grape vines, apple orchards… Water it and it will grow around here…
Unlike many National Monuments, there is very little public access at Hanford Reach National Monument. No visitor center to get your passport book stamped…
A little history… In early 1943, during World War II, the United States Army hurriedly acquired over 600 square miles of land around the farming villages of White Bluffs and Hanford. Former residents, including Native Americans whose ancestors had traditionally fished and hunted here, were barred from entering the site. Complete secrecy surrounded the newly established Hanford Engineer Works.
In the months that followed, nearly 60,000 workers built a complex of facilities that included the world’s first large-scale nuclear reactor–the B Reactor. The Hanford Engineer Works was part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, a vast effort to design and manufacture the world’s first atomic bomb.
The B Reactor produced plutonium used for the first atomic explosion on July 6, 1945, at Alamagordo, New Mexico, and for the bomb dropped the next month on Nagasaki. The Second World War ended days later, with Japan’s surrender.
In 1968, The B Reactor ceased operation. Now the U.S. Department of Energy is managing an extensive cleanup and disposal effort for the radioactive by-products at the Hanford Site.
We drove on the few public access gravel roads into the area, one taking you down to White’s Bluff boat launch along the Columbia River. There is an historic log cabin, left from the once thriving town of White’s Bluff.
This cabin, one of the oldest buildings in Franklin County, was part of the White Bluffs settlement. A natural crossing on the Columbia River, White Bluffs became an important transportation hub where supplies shipped by steamers from the Dalles, Oregon, were loaded onto pack trains destined for mining sites in northern Idaho, Montana, British Columbia, and Ft Colville, Washington. In its most prosperous years between 1858 and 1870, the community included a Wanapum village ferry, Army depot, saloon and trading post, warehouse, and houses. In the early 1900s most of the town of White Bluffs relocated across the river. In 1943, the World War II Hanford Project appropriated the land at this site.
Taking a drive like this just underscores how remote this part of Washington state desert really is…