Learn your atomic history and so much more in Eastern Washington’s biggest surprise
written by Kevin Max
This trip marked the first time I had spent meaningful time in Tri-Cities (Kennewick, Pasco and Richland). I came for the history and the story of the Hanford Site B Reactor and found an engaging culture all around Hanford.
If you’re as fascinated with the history of WWII as I am, the Manhattan Project National Historic Park at Hanford nuclear site is on your agenda. Schedule your tour in advance, as the free four-hour experience begins with a short film at the visitor center on the edge of the park before boarding a bus to the site 40 stark miles northwest. The experience still feels a little cloak and dagger more than seventy years after its mission began.
One of three pieces of the once-secret Manhattan Project—the other sites are Oak Ridge, Tennessee and Los Alamos, New Mexico—the Hanford site was built in 1943 as the primary location where scientists would enrich uranium to weapon-grade plutonium for bombs that would end WWII and Hitler’s reign. The B Reactor at Hanford was the first large-scale nuclear reactor built. The United States government was concerned that the Nazis were quickly working toward the same bomb technology, but to advance the Aryan race. In 1942, physicist Enrico Fermi, at the University of Chicago and working under the Manhattan Project, created the first nuclear reactor on a small scale under the stands of the university’s football field. Students attending the university’s football games, blissfully ignorant of what was directly below them, were unwitting subjects of an uncertain experiment.
The Hanford site became a national park in 2014, when President Obama signed the authorizing bill into law, and since then it offers tours on select days, April through November. The history and the photo opportunities are both fantastic.
Stay on the atomic theme at the new REACH Museum in Richland, where one of its standing exhibits is Hanford, The Manhattan Project and the Cold War. Here you’ll encounter cultural icons of that era—in news clippings, letters, posters and photographs. This beautiful space overlooks the Columbia River and pays homage to the Columbia Basin.
My home base in the Tri-Cities is The Lodge at Columbia Point, a winsome property on the edge of the Columbia River. Firepits, a pool, hot tubs and a spa and Drumheller’s Food & Drink put The Lodge squarely in the category of luxury escape.
Badger Mountain within the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve is only a short drive west from The Lodge and is the perfect start to any day in Tri-Cities. From its Westgate Trailhead, hike or climb to the top of the 1,571-foot peak. The Skyline or Langdon trails are beautiful out-and-back trail runs or hikes for views of the surrounding undulations.
For lunch, kick it up a notch at Atomic Ale Brewpub in Richland. With an atomic-themed naming system, you’ll encounter such beers as Atomic Amber, Plutonium Porter and Oppenheimer Oatmeal Stout. Thin crust pizza from the wood-fired oven is the way to go.
One aspect of the Tri-Cities not immediately apparent is its proximity to compelling wine regions, too. Red Mountain AVA is 15 miles west of Richland and home to such wines as Col Solare, Upchurch, Kiona and Hedges. You can easily sip for days here and never taste anything but perfection. This small, warm-climate AVA comprises a little more than 4,000 acres from which the state’s best cabernet sauvignons, merlots and syrahs are made.
If you want to get the most from the terroir, hop on a horse and amble through wine country with Red Mountain Trails. Alternatively, take a romantic twist and hire horses during summer months for a Summit Dinner in a secluded knoll.
By trip’s end, I learned more about the Manhattan Project, America’s atomic history and Tri-Cities’ best aspects—its trails, world-class wine and local beer.
Atomic Ale Brewpub
The Lodge at Columbia Point
Hanford Site B Reactor
HikingA at Badger Mountain
Sacagawea Heritage Trail