ABOARD AMERICAN EMPRESS-This was our last day on ilch’eeahwana, the local Native American word meaning “the big river.” (Sounds like “ill-cheat-gee-wanna.”)
The American Empress is parked in Richland at the confluence of the Columbia and the Snake Rivers, and unfortunately I didn’t learn the local word for the Snake. The exact point where this union happened is now occupied by the Sacajawea State Park. The wonderful little free museum there has much intriguing information about the Lewis and Clark party, along with their pregnant Indian guide/interpreter, Sacajawea, and other locals.
At this windy site I tried to get a feeling for all the good will expressed by the local population and the white strangers from the east. It’s a stop on the American Empress’s free hop-on, hop-off bus route, and no newcomer with a feeling for American history should miss it.
The surrounding area is popularly called the Tri-Cities, meaning the towns of Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick in Washington State. A lot of important things have occurred here in the recent past too. My thoughts jumped first to what was called “Kennewick man,” a 9000-year-old skeleton discovered on the shore by some high school students in 1996. This find resulted in a tug of war between history researchers and Native Americans, both claiming jurisdiction over the remains. The tribal leaders simply wanted to bury Mr. Kennewick.
What I didn’t know was how important the local area was in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II. As a result of this, lots of radioactive liquid residue is still stored in underground barrels hereabouts, and scientists are now pondering just what to ultimately do with it, short of shooting it off into outer space. Our hop-on, hop-off guide said there is an experimental program to convert it all into solid glass for more permanent storage – and buried somewhere else. That is, far from the tri-cities area.
Some of this nuclear stuff is represented in another local “interpretive center,” called the Reach. Here a lot of displays are crowded into a relatively small space. Some of the cruisers said the Reach was interesting; others thought it confusing and too much of a hodge-podge.
For a welcome relief then, I recommend the Sacajawea Museum, which presents a simple piece of inspiring humanity recalled from 210 years ago. Meanwhile I think Kennewick Man and all nuclear waste perhaps should remain buried.
April 24, 2015