Hanford Reach National Monument

Along the last free-flowing non-tidal stretch of the Columbia River is a remarkably untouched swath of shrub steppe, with crumbling homesteads, nuclear silos, and stands of locust baking under the sun in one of the driest places in Washington.

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"26 July

The trail took me up a hillside of cheatgrass. I was surrounded by this sea of dead stalks. Here and there bunchgrass poked up above through the midst, and sagebrush and greasewood glowed green amongst the brown. I sat there, overlooking this wild stretch of the Columbia. One of few such stretches, blue and sparking below me. The spot on which I perched overlooked a great bend with few small islands. Cliffs of white rose a few hundred feet up from the northern cutbank, reflecting the last of the sun. I was the only human out there yet I felt far from alone. Mormon crickets were all about me. An osprey swooped low over my shoulder and down to the river, plumage white as the cliffs. A pack of coyote started up across the river, and the cocoon covering an old nuclear reactor shone as a scarab in the desert. A warm breeze washed over me and the grass alike, our respective sighs audible in the dry air. I felt that I might sit there for hours in that red-gold light with senses aglow. The magic lasted only a moment, though, and soon the sun and the blinding river reflection were gone, though the beauty echoed still in me as I bumped along the dirt road back to camp. "

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