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.
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. "