Astoria, Oregon

Mileage today: 46 Total: 1,595 miles

Today we left Washington and crossed the amazing Astoria-Megler bridge over the Columbia river, which marks the border with Oregon. It’s a long bridge – 4.1 miles and quite a feat of engineering. The day was warm with mixed cloud and sun, it got better as the day went on.

Our first stop in Astoria, was the amazing Columbia River Maritime Museum . Another one of these superb modern museums that are very far removed from the old fashioned, dusty case and faded photos type. It’s on the river itself, about 5 minutes drive from the bridge. Astoria itself is a colourful little town built into the hillside beside the river. Lots of Victorian houses, a rather gentrified waterfront. Think old canneries converted into brew pubs…. art galleries built next to the remains of old wooden pontoons. It’s hilly too. A slight San Francisco vibe somehow, but in miniature.

The museum entry was $13 for seniors plus an extra $5 to view the 2 x 3d movies that were part of the exhibits. The basic entry also includes access to the retired lightship, Columbia, which is moored alongside. It was great value. We were in there for about 3 hours. It had 3 main themes: The Columbia Bar and all the Shipwrecks ; The Coast Guard rescue service which is a cross between what the UK understands as Coast Guard and the Lifeboat Service; The Salmon Fishing Industry – Fishing and Canneries. There were various actual boats on display including one of the lifeboats. There were lots of very exciting film displays and interactive displays which aimed to bring to life the challenges of operating on the water around the Columbia River, the Bar and the Sea, the training of the rescue crews…. It was all very absorbing and interesting. Worth every penny.

We also went on board the Columbia and had a good poke around the crew quarters and the wheelhouse. I must say, having seen the films, I would never want to serve on board it or on the rescue ships either – hats off to those who do. The weather and waves are so regularly utterly hideous that it takes a very special person with a lot of specialised training. All the CG rescue rough water training is done out here for that very reason.

After we finished at the museum we drove to Fort Stevens State Park, out on the point with the sea, opposite Cape Disappointment on the other bank. It is a huge state park incorporating, an army fort, large forest area with trails, camping, beaches, a shipwreck on one beach and much more. It also surrounds the Lewis and Clark NP, Fort Clatsop. Fort Stevens itself is a large fort built in the Civil War era that was still being used in WW2. It holds the distinction still of being the only military installation in the contiguous USA to be shelled by a foreign enemy (it was shelled by a Japanese submarine in 1942) since 1812 when the British attacked various sites.

We had our lunch in the park and also bought our $30 Oregon State park access pass. We’ll get good use out of it. We decided to skip the fort, tour around looking at the woods and then go and see the wreck of the Peter Iredale on Clatsop Beach.

It was a British owned 4 masted steel barque that ran aground in 1906. The crew were all rescued and all that is now visible is a skeleton piece of the bow sticking up out of the sand and a few other small bits emerging behind that. It’s very picturesque and quite a feature of a spectacular beach.

Finally, we drove to the Fort Clatsop section of the park. This is actually part of the multi site Lewis & Clark National Park, not part of the state park, so we used our NP pass to get in here. There is a very excellent interpretive centre with a small museum. There are 2 very good films to see, taking about an hour. One follows the expedition from start to arrival at the Pacific and the winter at Fort Clatsop. The second features a Chinook woman telling the stories of her people’s interactions with white explorers, including Lewis & Clark, to her children, as told to her by her grandmother. Both films were excellent. We then explored the fort area set in a forest clearing. The actual fort is a recreation, created using traditional methods and as close as they can get to the original.

Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806. After finding a location that offered plenty of game and close proximity to the ocean, Clark sketched a preliminary site plan, and they began construction in early December. The fort was completed by January 1st and housed 32 men, one woman, a baby, and a dog. Joseph Whitehouse wrote that the officers named the fort “after a nation of Indians who resided near us, called the Clatsop Nation.” They spent the extremely rainy winter collecting supplies, making salt and leather, and preparing their maps and journals.  It was a miserable time by all accounts. Incessant rain. Of the 106 days they spent in their fort, only 12 were dry. The Captains treated colds, influenza, rheumatism and other ailments. Clothing rotted and fleas infested the bedding to such an extant a full night’s sleep was often impossible. Constant incursions from the indians who had a different view of property ownership than the company…….

Having said that, when the Corps came to leave, they found themselves short of 1 canoe. They petitioned the Clatsop Nation for one of theirs but they misunderstood the almost mystical status of the canoe to the tribe and their request was refused. So…… they stole one…….. and when confronted, they gave the Chief 2 papers from Thomas Jefferson and from the Corps themselves in compensation.

The fort was really interesting to see. Not big at all for over 30 people, but I suppose a secure, dry and warm compound. Around the outskirts of the fort, in forest clearings, 3 rangers were set up – in period dress, proper stuff, not costumes – giving various talks: Guns on the expedition; Food ; Chinook hatmaking from cedar wood. Excellent all of them. Huge amounts of genuine knowledge.

Finally, we arrived at our accommodation, Astoria Crest Motel, for the night. A really lovely motel set on the bluffs above the river with a stupendous view down towards the bridge and the ocean. The lady on reception was nice enough to upgrade our room to a river view. We have the usual fridge and microwave in the room so we are self catering tonight. Pasta shells with tomato and 3 cheese sauce. Very nice big room and super comfortable bed.

Beautiful sunset tonight over to the west where the river meets the sea! Nice from our terrace with a glass of Jack on Ice.