Richland, WA (July 12, 2022)

We are now at a beautifully landscaped dock slash public park 200 miles inland at the confluence of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. Like many of our stops on the cruise, we are 200+ years behind Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea, the Indian wife of their French Canadian, fur trapper interpreter. We enjoyed the small interpretive center and public park named in her honor. It is on the site where the expedition camped in October of 1805 and again on their return trip in 1806. We learned that she crammed a lot of living into a short life. Born into a Shoshoni chief’s family in Idaho, she was kidnapped by Hidatsa Indians and taken to North Dakota where she was given the name we know her by today, purchased along with another captive to be one of the fur trapper’s wives, and then chosen to accompany the expedition because she would be useful when the group traveled through Shoshoni territory. Sacagawea, a brand new mom, was estimated to have been about 16 at the time. #indispensible.

Although we are very close to being museum-ed out, our FOMO took over and we went to yet another one: the beautifully designed REACH Museum. We were not sorry. We strolled through the Native American gallery pretty fast because of the other things we had seen; learned a lot about the Ice Age floods that created the landscape we marvel at today; saw a baby wholly mammoth skeleton and an adult mammoth’s tuck and molars; pretended to comprehend the intricacies of hydropower in the Columbia Basin; appreciated the ingenuity and artistry of the Solar Stage with its two arches that are perfectly placed to cast precise shadows on the summer and winter solstices; and were flummoxed by the fountain made out of an old fuel cell assembly.

So, what did fascinate us: Richland’s role in the Manhattan Project. The CliffsNotes go something like this. Richland was a small farm town when the army purchased 640 square miles of land in the summer of 1943. Three hundred locals were evicted and a federally sponsored planned community called Hanford Camp was created for construction workers, scientists, support staff, and their families. First came tents, then barracks, then homes and community buildings like theaters, schools, churches, a swimming pool, and baseball field. At its height there were 1,200 buildings and 50,000 people living and working there. It had bragging rights for having the largest general delivery post office in the world and it was the largest voting precinct in the U.S. It had a bit of Old West flavor with more than its fair share of drunkenness, gambling, and prostitution as well as loneliness and homesickness. The real purpose of the work being done here was top secret, so counter-intelligence agents kept tabs on residents, background checks were done, local police had keys for every house, photographs had to be approved, phone lines were tapped, and outgoing mail was checked.

By early 1945, a mere two years later, all the reactors, separation plants, roads, and railroads were built and functioning and there was no need for all the folks that the construction phase demanded. By that time all permanent party and their families lived in Richland, so just like that Hanford Camp was quickly and completely dismantled! The scientists succeeded in their mission to produce plutonium, atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, and the war ended. But Richland did not dry up and blow away like Hanford Camp, it continued to be a center of production and research into nuclear energy and related technology through the Cold War and Korean Conflict. In fact operations did not cease at the complex until 1990.

The museum has a bus and a trailer on display. The refurbished 1954 GMC bus was used to transport Hanford workers to the work site and is fully functional today. The 1947 Vagabond Trailer was designed for luxury camping but was used as a 137-square-feet home. There were 3,600 trailers organized into the world’s largest trailer camp. It would be pretty tight quarters for, on average, 3.7 people with a living room, kitchen, and one bedroom. A combo laundry/bathhouse was provided for every 30 trailers as well as a meeting /party/gathering place.

We were back on the boat in time for cookies and the afternoon lecture on foods of the Northwest. Cindy, our resident lecturer, covered the expected berries, fish, and cherries but moved on to fun products like liquors we have never heard of, Tater Tots, SpoKandy, Harry and David, Oberto, Aplets & Cotlets, and Brown & Haley. At the end of her presentation we helped ourselves to as many samples of as many treats as we wanted. A just reward for attempting to understand nuclear reactors and for persevering in 102 degree heat.

.… Really? … Really.

Check YouTube for funny Oberto jerky commercials.

Richland High School’s sports teams are called the Bombers; their logo is a mushroom cloud.

Richland is home to both the largest refrigerated warehouse and the largest automated freezer on earth.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is the world’s largest gravitational wave observatory. One of LIGO’s two gigantic laser interferometers is located right up the road in Hanford.

It’s no surprise that waste management is a challenges here.
It’s actually the largest environmental cleanup in the U.S.


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