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The first part of this road cuts across the Hanford Site. Now, most folks have heard of Los Alamos, but they probably haven't heard of Hanford. During World War II, the scientists the built the bomb were at Los Alamos, but the ones who made the plutonium used in the bomb were up here in Washington, way out near the Tri-Cities. A couple of cities were removed to make way for the project in 1943; I don't know much about the area, but it was pretty damned desolate - typical Washington state high desert. I took a bunch of pictures of the area but frankly they're too boring to post here.
In this picture, you can see vineyards way off in the distance, growing on the north bank of the Columbia River. It's amusing to note that the Wahluke Slope, Washington's newest AVA [American Viticultural Area - think DOC, DO, etc. if you're European] is right across from a huge Superfund cleanup site. Still, it's one of the best places in North America to grow wine grapes.
Here's a picture taken just as the road climbs down from the Hanford plateau to cross the Columbia:
Yes, that's a bunch of secret high security government stuff off in the distance.
A bit further on, just south of Mattawa, I noticed a bunch of vineyards. I didn't instantly recognize the name, but it turns out that Butch Milbrandt is a very important wine grape grower in the area. He's got all kinds of vineyards around Mattawa; Eric and I tasted a Milbrandt Syrah from K Vintners last May, for example. I had no idea there was so much stuff out here in the middle of nowhere...
Here's a picture of pruning - it was a great day for it: sunny, warm, and no wind to speak of. If you haven't seen one of these things before, it's basically a tractor with an air compressor fitted to it; the arms have pneumatic secateurs hanging down from them so that a vineyard crew can prune more quickly and with reduced risk of RSIs. Pretty cool!
The town of Mattawa is pretty damned small, but nowhere near as small as other towns in the area; this has got to be one of the most sparsely populated areas I've ever seen.
This is the Columbia River north of Priest Rapids, which was best known as the first impassable area upriver from The Dalles in Oregon. Steamships were built here that carried people and material further up the Columbia and eventually up to the BC goldfields. Today it's really, really quiet; the rapids aren't there due to a series of dams, and the traditional fishing areas used by local tribes are gone. Native Americans apparently live in dilapadated mobile homes - at least that's what the entire town of Schawana looked like; it's the poorest place I've ever seen in the USA.
The Wanapum Dam is four miles south of Vantage, which was once the one and only ferry crossing between Seattle and Spokane. If you're ever in the area - it's just a few extra miles if you're going to Royal City, for example - it's well worth a visit for its small museum about local tribes and what happened to them after Whitey showed up. [Hint: They're mostly not around these days, although Washington does have the second highest Native population after Oklahoma.]
It was here that my camera battery ran out of power for the day. Even so, I was able to snap one last picture - this is on I-90 a few miles west of Vantage, right where you hit a crest known as Ryegrass. That's Mount Rainier off in the distance; it's about 140 miles away by my reckoning.