Hello, Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa, Idaho

My original plan was to stay for a bit longer in Tri-Cities, Washington, but staying flexible is one of the most important ways to ensure you remain safe dur­ing a winter road trip. I always keep an eye on the weather, and I noticed that my planned trip from Tri-Cities, Washington to Boise, Idaho through northeastern Oregon would’ve taken place during a snowstorm.

Not wanting to drive through mountains in my rear wheel drive pickup truck without snow chains, I left Washington early and booked a shorter stop in Nampa, Idaho before my long-term stay in Boise. This impromptu adjustment to my schedule gave me an opportunity to visit the Warhawk Air Mu­se­um, one of the top-rated attractions in the city.

I made my visit to the museum on November 6, which happened to be the same day as the Veterans breakfast. I didn’t get to participate in the breakfast because I didn’t know it was happening; I arrived several minutes after noon, shortly after the event had ended.

The fact that this event had just happened was both unlucky and lucky for me—unlucky because they had cleared out some of the exhibits in the center of the hangars to make room for the event, but lucky because there were quite a few veterans still at the museum. I suspect that many of these veterans had attended the breakfast with their children and grandchildren, and they were still telling them stories about their time serving in the military, so I was able to overhear some of their interesting wartime anecdotes.

As for the museum itself, if you’re an American history fan, this museum will probably be a dream come true for you. There are sections on all the major wars, in addition to some special sections on specific military-related topics. However, that’s not what makes this museum special.

This museum has a library’s worth of reading material available to browse scattered throughout the hangars. Some of the booklets and binders were just printouts of Wikipedia pages, which I thought was a bit silly, but it also had some very special and exclusive literature, including many original doc­u­ments that came from the respective wars’ eras. I didn’t spend too much time in the reading areas, but someone passionate on the topic could spend lit­er­al­ly weeks here non-stop and still have plenty to enjoy.

Whether or not you’re a history enthusiast, I think this museum is worth a visit.

 

—§—

 

Hello, REACH Museum in Richland, Washington

For my final tourist activity in Tri-Cities, Washington before heading out across northeast Oregon into Idaho, I visited the REACH Museum in Richland.

This was a very traditional and straightforward museum. It didn’t really have anything too innovative or compelling, but it wasn’t bad either. It reminded me a lot of the spirit of how the American education system works, in that, it’s not interesting enough to really pull you in, but if you have the intrinsic mo­ti­va­tion to learn about that particular topic, there is plenty of information there for you to digest in your own time.

The first gallery in the museum covered the geology of the planet and how it changed to become what it is today.

This area had some decently realistic taxidermied animals.

The second gallery covered the events that happened during World War II with a focus on the atomic bombs. Most of the information here overlapped with what I had already seen during my tour of the B Reactor at Hanford at the Manhattan Project National Historical Park.

The rotating section of the museum, presumably themed after Halloween, was a section on bats.

The most interesting part of the museum, in my opinion, was the fact that they had an aquarium near the entrance with some very interesting sea crea­tures. I managed to capture a nice shot of a catfish and a lamprey.

Funny enough, I enjoyed the outside of the property more than the inside. It looks like there were some event areas set up, which I imagine are used for per­for­mances, banquets, corporate meetings, or other gatherings. They were aesthetically nice and had great views of the Columbia River.

There was also a path leading away from the building and towards the river, which was lined with various placards and steel animal cut-outs. I started walking northbound on that trail for a bit, and noticed that it would lead me to Bateman Island if I crossed Columbia Park Trail, but I only had a light jack­et and it was pretty cold, so I decided against it for this trip.

If the breadth of the museums you’re able to go to is limited, and you’re patient enough to read a lot of text, then I think the REACH Museum would be worth­while—it has a decent chunk of information packed into a relatively small space. Although the content delivery method isn’t stunning, it is still visually pleasing and well-organized, and from what I’ve seen, it seems to be one of the best you can get in this area.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Sacajawea Historical State Park in Pasco, Washington

I’m not really much of a holiday person, so I didn’t really have much of an interest in doing anything special for Halloween, but when I was browsing Google Maps, I noticed a place called “Haunted Forest at Sacajawea State Park.” I figured that, even if I don’t want to go out of my way to celebrate Halloween, this is still a good spot to stop by. It’s in a state park so I can go hiking there, and I already have a Discover Pass for Washington State Parks so I can go for free and get more value out of my purchase prior to departing Washington.

When I arrived and drove deeper into the state park to the parking lot, I went through a lot of autumn foliage. Having spent most of my autumns from the past few years in areas that don’t have trees that undergo the autumn leaf color phenomenon (yes, I just looked it up, and that is apparently literally the scientific name for it), it was nostalgic seeing so many orange leaves everywhere like I did when I used to live in Illinois and Wisconsin.

From the parking lot, I walked east towards a structure I saw in the distance. It ended up just being a sheltered picnic area.

I followed a path behind the picnic area and walked alongside the shoreline. Far in the distance, I saw a bridge over the Columbia River with train tracks that connected Finley to Burbank.

Farther down south, I saw an opening that let me get very close to the Snake River, so I climbed all the way down to snap a photo from a different angle.

After making my way back up, I saw another building, which I found out was the Sacajawea State Park Interpretive Center. It was a fairly traditional mu­se­um with some relics on display and a lot of text accompanying them. There was no extra fee for admission—it was included in my Discover Pass.

It was now time to find the Haunted Forest. After leaving the Interpretive Center, I kept walking north past the parking lot and found a trail that led first to a smaller pond that connected into the Snake River…

… and then a couple of tipis that were untented and just had the wooden sticks.

From here, the path continued further north, but the Haunted Forest was to the west. I looked around trying to find out how to get to the Haunted For­est, but all I could see was sparse vegetation and an empty field. At this point, I realized that I had probably made a mistake—there wasn’t an actual haunt­ed forest there, but rather, it was just a special event. Upon taking a second look at the Google Maps reviews, I realized that it might have been an annual seasonal event that has since been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and hasn’t returned yet.

I probably would’ve been disappointed if I had come here just for the haunted forest, but luckily, I was enjoying my walk, so I continued on the trail. In the northeastern part of the path prior to the loop back around to the west, there was a clearing where I again was able to climb very close to the Snake River and take a nice photo of another train track bridge, this time connecting Pasco to Burbank.

As I looped around the bend and made my way across the northern side of the trail, there was a point where I originally snapped a photo and didn’t think much of it at first, but after I saw it again on my computer, I liked its aesthetic. It is a row of power lines extending into the distance with a faint row of windmills dotting the horizon.

This northern stretch of the trail was a lot more rugged and started to get a little bit overgrown. It was also an amusing sight to see when I came across what appeared to be mounds upon mounds of tumbleweed that I imagine had somehow rolled their way onto the side of this foot path and gotten lodged among the trees.

Eventually, the hiking trail ended and connected back onto Sacajawea Park Road, the auto road leading from U.S. Route 12 all the way to the parking lot. I walked the final semi-circle on the rocky shoulder of the road, and at one point near an intersection with a bike path, I was able to get somewhat of a view of Indian Island.

Eventually, I made my way back to the parking lot.

In total, my GPS tracker said my walk was 2.68 miles (4.31 kilometers), though I am guessing that it might be marginally higher than that because I left it going while I was walking around the museum and it tends not to capture movement as accurately when I am inside a building.

I wouldn’t say this state park is anywhere near impressive, especially if you’re not going for boating or picnicking, but if you already have a Discover Pass and don’t have to pay the $10 admission fee, then it’s still a nice place to go for a walk. Even though I went on a Sunday, it was still pretty empty, and most of the few other people who I saw around were also just going for leisurely walks with their families and/or pets.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Manhattan Project National Historical Park, B Reactor in Hanford, Washington

Apart from its wine, another thing that the Tri-Cities area is known for (at least for tourists) is Richland’s involvement in the Manhattan Project via the Han­ford Site. While in the area, I decided to book a tour of the B Reactor to learn more about the nuclear bombs used in World War II.

Surprisingly, the tour was free. I showed up at the visitor center at my designated tour time slot and was greeted by a docent who showed us an in­tro­duc­to­ry video and walked through some of the rules with us. Afterwards, the group and I loaded onto a bus (a nicer one with individual chairs in a 2-2 seating configuration, and not bench seats like a school bus) and took a 45-minute ride to the B Reactor.

Upon arrival, we were taken directly to the actual reactor.

After everyone got seated, another docent gave us a brief overview of the Manhattan Project and explained the logistics how the reactor worked and what steps the staff had to take to remain safe from radiation.

If I remember correctly, the docent informed us that there were 2,004 process tubes in the reactor. At first, the plan was to build it with only about a thousand, but on the advice of some engineers, the number of tubes was increased as a safety measure. This ended up being a very wise decision, as there were some unexpected chemical imbalances in the reactor that required more fuel to be inserted, so the excess process tubes were immediately put to good use upon operation.

Displayed on some tables nearby the reactor were some equipment and accessories that were used during the operation of the reactor. For example, there were some fuel tubes that were inserted into the reactor, off-set between two spacer tubes each.

Around the corner was the exhaust fan hallway, which contained four exhaust fans—two steam-powered and two electric.

Originally, this hallway was split into individual “pods” for each of the fans, and the only way to get from one room to the other was around a curvy bend—the architecture was constructed this way because the radiation traveled in straight lines, so if one of the fans were to malfunction, the radiation could be contained in one of the rooms. Since then, archways were excavated into the concrete walls to create the hallway.

Next, I visited the valve pit, which was responsible for passing treated water through process tubes. The docent had a small presentation in this area, and he explained that, until not too long ago, this room was annually audited as part of a peace agreement. The way the room would be checked to ensure the facility was no longer operational was to verify that the tubes did not show signs of having been recently wet.

I don’t quite recall exactly where this photo was from; I believe it might have been from a hallway near the electric equipment room.

Around the corner was the accumulator room, which contained, as you may have guessed, accumulators. They served as a back-up system for inserting hor­i­zon­tal control rods into the reactor in the event of a power failure. There was a mirror between the accumulators that was strategically angled so you could see the inside of the accumulators from the ground; they contained a lot of small rocks.

This was one of the unlabeled rooms right outside the accumulator room, which appeared to have some telecommunications equipment, tools, and in­stru­ments on display.

I eventually made my way over to the secondary “main attraction” (behind the reactor itself), which was the control room.

After thoroughly exploring the control room, I continued my way down the hallway to the fuel storage basin. This area was blocked from public access due to contamination, but there was a viewing area behind some thick glass where we could see where irradiated fuel was stored prior to being shipped to the 200 Area, also known as the Central Plateau.

Outside, there was a train on display. The docent did not specify what this was for, but just from the fact that it is on display at the B Reactor, I imagine this was one of the trains used to transport fuel and materials to and from the reactor.

I talked about this more in-depth in previous blog posts when I started visiting museums a lot more a year and a half ago when I completed the first por­tion of my road trip, but museums like this have played a very large role in lessening my dislike of the topic of history. Throughout all my academic years as a student, history was my most hated subject because the way it is taught in the United States is passive and makes everything appear in­con­se­quen­tial.

Now that I’m actually seeing this all first-hand, I’m able to conceptualize and internalize what happened. Additionally, the docents here were former employees of the Manhattan Project at Hanford, they are lifelong residents of the Tri-Cities area, they are still taking an active role in the clean-up proc­ess, and it’s clear that they truly care about helping people understand the importance of this history.

These docents demonstrated a stark difference from the history teachers I had, especially in high school, where it was a recurring theme for them to just lecture at me out of a textbook. They only cared about the process (i.e., saying that they showed up for class so they can collect their paycheck), rather than caring about the results when it came to the students.

I thought this tour of the B Reactor was amazing, and I am astonished that it was free. Based on quality and the resources they have to put in for trans­por­ta­tion and staffing, they could justify charging ~US$30 for this, and even then, it would still be an amazing deal.

I think the timeframe allotted for self-exploration was a little short, and it was mainly geared towards the casual visitor. If you are an enthusiast or end up getting very interested in the topic, this is absolutely a tour worth attending twice.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve in Richland, Washington

After digging around on Google Maps and All Trails, I noticed that Tri-Cities doesn’t really seem like the best place to go hiking, as the area appears to be relatively flat. However, I did come across Badger Mountain, part of the Yakima Fold Belt that was created through tectonic compression.

I decided to start my hike at the Westgate Trailhead, located on 210 Private Road off of Dallas Road, and right near the intersection of Interstates 82 and 182. I got on Skyline Trail and started zig-zagging my way up the mountain.

Once I got past the point where Skyline Trail crosses over 210 Private Road, I already started seeing some pretty nice views of South Richland.

As I kept climbing, I saw a rock labeled “Lake Lewis.” I looked around but there was clearly no lake, so I snapped a photo of the marker to do some re­search later.

I found out that Lake Lewis was a temporary lake that people suspect existed around 13,000 to 15,000 years ago which was caused by the cat­a­clys­mic Missoula floods. Based on evidence found in the Pacific Northwest, it is believed that the lake reached elevations of 1,250 feet. That means, during the floods, this entire area was engulfed in water as high as this marker rock.

Badger Mountain didn’t seem quite lively or colorful, but I did see this lone plant with purple flowers on my way up, so I snapped a photo.

Continuing higher, Skyline Trail crossed back over 210 Private Road and went on the southern side of the mountain, opening up views to the un­de­vel­oped land and some of the new homes built on either sides of Ava Way and Trowbridge Boulevard off Dallas Road.

As I approached the summit, I saw a cluster of radio towers.

When I did a loop around the radio towers and approached the intersection of Skyline Trail and Canyon Trail, I was able to see sweeping views of Richland, Kennewick, Pasco, and even as far as the edge of Burbank on the other side of the Columbia River.

As I circled around and prepared for my descent, there were a couple other radio towers away from the original cluster that I had seen.

While I was at the summit, it began drizzling rain, so I decided to take a quicker route back down—instead of retracing my steps on the winding Skyline Trail, I just took 210 Private Road straight down the middle. As I got closer to the bottom, I was able to get some nice views of what I believe is the Goose Ridge Estate Vineyard and Winery (though I may be disoriented and it might actually be one of the neighboring plots of land instead).

Eventually, I made it back down to the parking lot without getting too wet and avoided getting hit by lightning.

Overall, my hike was a little bit over 3½ miles (or just a little under 5¾ kilometers) in distance and approximately 700 feet (or about 212 meters) in el­e­va­tion gain.

 

—§—

 

Hello, Columbia River Park in Kennewick, Washington

After my short stop in Yakima, I made my way over to Tri-Cities, Washington, a metropolitan area consisting of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. Behind Seattle and Spokane, Tri-Cities is the third-largest metropolitan area in the state of Washington.

Upon arriving, I nearly immediately noticed a difference from my previous destination. I expressed my dissatisfaction with Yakima’s poor street plan­ning, but I haven’t run into any issues of the sort in Tri-Cities.

In fact, I’d say that Tri-Cities is nearly the opposite—they are very future-accommodating, and even in areas where there isn’t much around right now, the roads are robustly built and organized in a way that it can accommodate large spikes of population and traffic through appropriate insertions of turn lanes, one-way lanes, and stop light intervals.

For my first activity in Tri-Cities, I decided to keep it simple and go for a walk at Columbia River Park. The weather looked like it was going to rain, but something I learned from visiting the Seattle Metropolitan Area is that I can’t sit around and wait forever for the weather to be nice, because that’s not exactly a feasible thing to do in Washington without just running out of time.

After taking exit 42 off Washington State Route 240 and turning right onto Columbia Park Trail, I parked in the central lot just west of the Playground of Dreams then walked west to the Regional Veterans Memorial.

Just to the north was the Sacajawea Heritage Trail, so I took that east along the Columbia River.

There weren’t too many wild animals because this part is fairly inland in the center of Tri-Cities, but I did see quite a few geese, seagulls, and ducks.

After heading as far east as I could on the trail, I made it to the hydro pits and the Bernie Little Memorial Tree. There was a small pedestrian bridge that led me over to the boat launch, from which I had a nice view of Washington State Route 395, better known as Pioneer Memorial Bridge.

Continuing southeast, I made my way over to the Columbia Park Pond. There was a little peninsula and another pedestrian bridge, so I was able to see a few different angles of the various sections of the pond.

Nearly completing a full loop, my final stop was at the Old Veterans Memorial.

I haven’t posted a photo of my truck for a while, but I’m still driving the same vehicle—my 2018 GMC Canyon.

I’ve put nearly 20,000 additional miles on it since I started my road trip in June 2021 (which is pretty substantial, considering that, before my road trip, I would only average about 6,000 or so miles of driving per year). It’s suffered a little bit of cosmetic damage from harsh weather and a few bumps from neighboring parkers who seem like they weren’t very careful with their doors, but from a mechanical sense, it’s still going strong.

The park obviously wasn’t exactly stunning, but it was still very refreshing to go for a walk and get some crisp, cool air. Overall, my walk was a little bit over 2 miles (about 3.3 kilometers) with a mile pace of 22.5 minutes, which includes all the stops I made taking photos.

 

—§—