The Columbia Meets the Pacific: July 2-11, 2011

(Editor’s note: All of the pictures are thumbnails. Click on each to view it. Then be sure to click the back button to get back to the text or the next image. Don’t “close” the picture — that will cause the whole travelogue to close!)

Ocian in View! O! the Joy.

William Clark was a bit premature on November 7, 1805 when he wrote those famous words, because it was still about 30 miles – and 9 hard days – before the Corps of Discovery actually stood at Cape Disappointment (not named by them) and watched waves of the emence Ocian crashing on the rocks below.

Our route was easier. We departed Portland, drove briefly south on Rte 5 to Rte 26, then out to and up the coast. I had what turned out to be a lame-brain idea. Cannon Beach was pretty much on our way, so I decided to show Dot its famous Haystack Rock. What I forgot to remember was that a summer hamlet is hardly comfortable for a 40 foot RV towed by a wide dually pickup. Somehow I got to an open area without hitting anything and was able to make a three point turn – backing and forthing about thirty times! We opted to come back sans trailer to see The Rock.

Astoria was the site we picked for home base. Just outside of town, about two miles from Fort Clatsop, was an underused campground called, coincidentally enough, Lewis & Clark Campground. The price was a bit steeper than we like to pay but on the low side for the area. They charge by the dog – something we usually avoid – but they have an unfenced football size field for them to run in. They also have a nine hole golf course with a greens fee of $10 (two times around for $15), free loaner clubs if you need them, and a cart for another Abraham. Like the campground, the course was underused and we don’t rightly know why. We loved the place.

We got set up Saturday and did some preliminary touring on Sunday, visiting a couple of sights. On Monday, Independence Day, we started at the main event: Fort Clatsop. From there on it was a whirlwind. We visited almost two dozen sites, fitting shopping time, puppy time, eating time and maintenance time in between. More than a third of the sites were across The Columbia in Washington.

Fort Clatsop was the site of L&C’s second winter home. After arriving on the Washington side, the Corps sought local (Chinook and Clatsop) knowledge on the place to settle for the best food and shelter opportunities. Crossing the river to the Oregon side was highly recommended. Yet the ever fair and organized Meriwether called for a vote – and everyone had their say, including the first vote in American history by a black slave (York) and a woman (Sacagawea). Well, everyone but Pomp, who was only nine months old. And Seaman. The overwhelming choice was to journey across and find a spot there. They settled on a bluff about two miles up a river known today as Lewis & Clark River off Youngs Bay. This fort reproduction, completed in 2006, is believed to be within a few yards of the original location, though apparently no one has searched for any Tennessee mercury (see Missoula/Traveler’s Rest!).

We started in the Interpretive Center before walking down to the fort. A new and different statue, commissioned in 1980 for the 175th anniversary, is called Arrival and features Lewis, Clark, a Clatsop Indian, and, of course, Seaman. Models of the Corps’ three forts are featured, along with artifacts and storyboards. A Chinook seagoing canoe is there; in addition to repairing their arrival canoes, they purchased one and appropriated another from the locals.

The fort, about 50 feet square, underwhelmed us a bit after seeing both DuBois and Mandan. I thought at first that it was the fact that there were more occupants at Mandan – those who took the keel boat back to St. Louis the following spring – but I think rather that it was the energy of the men and the resources available. The two slant-roof structures were joined by gates at both ends. Three rooms in the left housed three 23 privates, three sergeants and two interpreters. The Captains and the Charbonneaus each had a private room on the other side, along with the Orderly and Storeroom. Note the addition of a carved Seaman doorstop!

A gunnery officer gave us a talk about weaponry and then organized a firing. He was obviously a schoolteacher in his other life – did a great job. He and I had an animated discussion about “Number 12” at Traveler’s Rest – we exchanged numerous facts and opinions. We also walked part of the path to the L&C River, passing a dugout in repair on the way. From the observation platform, we learned about the plethora of stakes along the bank. They were added a century later by the logging industry – 80 foot long fir trees driven 20 feet into the riverbed for the purpose of separating and organizing log rafts.

About ten miles south we found The Salt Works. Members of the Expedition were craving salt, and they needed it in large quantity to preserve meat for the return trip. So a team of five men camped on the Pacific shore in the heart of today’s Seaside and boiled water continuously in five of their largest kettles to extract the precious mineral. Three and a half bushels were obtained in the 23 days of operation. We spent a little time touring Seaside, — obviously jumping during July 4th week — and we bought ice cream (choice of 45 flavors) and salt water taffy (170 flavors).

Across the River were more L&C sites. The first was Dismal Nitch, the hellacious spot in which the Corps was trapped for six days. It was a shelf with an overhang that couldn’t be climbed. The rising tide flooded it twice a day. The wind and waves pinned them down; there was no hope of launching canoes until it abated. The natives, master canoeists, ventured by from time to time and provided some eats, but mostly it was almost a week of deprivation. Today, it’s simply marked by some signs in a rest stop.

We also had learned at Ft. Clatsop that the natives could make virtually everything they needed from cedar trees, including housing, clothing and the hat and poncho shown at left.

To the west about ten miles is Station Camp. It was their refuge after the Nitch, and they stayed there for ten days to recover and reconnoiter. Lewis and Clark both made separate excursions out to the Coast. And it was there on November 24th that the famous vote was taken. Today it’s just a roadside sign.

Continuing westward, we drove out to the town of Ilwaco and south a few miles to the Cape Disappointment State Park. The State Park has a comprehensive L&C Interpretive Center. And it’s not just about the western end of the journey; it starts the story from the beginning and takes them all the way out and all the way back. I rapidly snapped pictures of almost all the interpretive signs and got excited about how much I knew. I’ve just posted a few below; you can read them if you open the thumbnails.

Thus endeth the L&C sites we visited. The last picture above is a drawing by Sgt. Patrick Gass, showing Captain Lewis treed by a grizzly with his horse standing by. The grizzly finally got tired of the game and left.

We went back down to Cannon Beach to see Haystack Rock and took a side trip to Ecola State Park, just north of town for another view. At 235 feet, Haystack has the distinction of being the third largest “intertidal” structure in the world, meaning it can be reached by land. It’s home to flora and fauna, including gulls, puffins and cormorants.

We made several visits to Fort Stevens State Park. The Park covers 3700 acres. It encompasses the south side of the Columbia River, fronting on both the River and the Ocean. It’s about 10 miles west of Astoria, which is on the other side of the Bay. The fort itself was positioned near the northern end of the park..

We started out farther south, where one of Oregon’s more famous attractions is located. On October 25, 1906, in the middle of the night, the 275 foot British bark Peter Iredale was blown onshore about 20 miles south of the River entrance while awaiting a pilot. Despite efforts to refloat her, the seabed won, and there she has sat ever since. It was less than 24 hours before the curious began flocking to her – she is accessible from the beach. And millions have done so since. Now, 205 years later, little is left. I first saw her in June 1970, and took dozens of pictures. The photos below, just taken, depict a considerably smaller silhouette than my earlier ones. I didn’t want to borrow a picture from the Internet, but I recommend that you Google “peter iredale” to see her original profile. I understand that a large section of her prow, which was intact in 1970, has been removed and stored until a time when a memorial can be built.

Also south of the fort is Battery Russell, one of the heavily armed bunkers that defended the coast. Battery Russell seemed to me more trained to sea, while the other batteries within the primary fort area were primarily aimed toward the River. Her armament has been removed, but the structure is fascinating.

A trip the following day to Fort Stevens itself completed the picture. Built in 1862, it served until the end of World War II. We checked in at the admissions building and opted for a narrated tour via vintage army vehicle. It started off down the armed front, showing us all six batterys. Bumping along, we then got to see mostly images of the balance of the Fort’s facilities; the majority of it has been torn down, leaving some buildings, some foundations, and some outlines. Mine assembly and positioning was as important as aerial armament; we saw their production, testing and launching areas. Railroad tracks ran all through the site. Twenty foot high earthen walls were constructed behind the batterys to absorb shells that overshot. Barracks were outlined on the ground, while other support buildings, from communication centers to fire station, church, hospital and bakery, were there at least in part.

The museum was small but informative. It housed two impressive exhibits. One was a scale model of the property as it existed during the twentieth century. It ran in an L shape; I couldn’t get a single photo but the right two below will give you an idea of its complexity. The second was a model of a Disappearing Gun. Used in the batterys, they would rise up and turn to from the batterys to sling their charges and then retract behind the wall. The model works – deposit a quarter and it rises and swivels eerily. That’s just one way that the single dedicated person who built this model is raising funds so he can build a full size weapon to enhance one of the batteries.

Fort Stevens and two other Oregon locations were attacked by the Japanese during W.W. II. The only attack on a military installation took place on June 21, 1942 when the Japanese sub I-25 surfaced, turned its stern gun on Fort Stevens, and fired 17 rounds at Battery Russell. The only casualty was a baseball backstop. There was no retaliatory fire. The commander claimed that he thought the sub was out of range and did not want to give away his position. The men in the fort were furious! The Japanese commander said many years later that if he knew his enemy’s firepower, he never would have attacked in the first place.

I-25 was also involved in a second attack in August. She surfaced, then assembled and launched a seaplane that dropped two incendiary bombs near Brookings, Oregon to ignite a forest fire. Fortunately the forest was wet and the wind slight; no conflagration ensued.

And on May 5, 1945, five children and a woman were picnicking in south central Bly, Oregon and came across an incendiary bomb that was carried across the Pacific by a giant balloon. As they tried to drag it from the woods, it exploded and killed all six. The balloon was one of over 9,000 sent by Japan, but the barrage brought little damage. The six in Bly were the only people in the war killed by enemy action on U.S. soil.

We thoroughly enjoyed Astoria itself. We got our best meal a block up from the waterfront, where the Bow Rider, an old wooden fishing boat sat firmly on land and sold only tuna and chips. You climbed up a staircase, ordered through a cabin window, and picked up your meal in the cockpit, ready to eat at an open air table nearby or take home. By far the best fish and chips we’ve ever eaten.

Housed in a building mimicking the storm waves off the Columbia entrance, the Columbia River Maritime Museum was opened in 1962 and significantly expanded forty years later. The new section has a glass front, and inside, a real 44 foot Coast Guard rollover rescue boat is perched at a 45 degree angle at the crest of a wave in its roaring violence. Off the stern, two Able Bodies are pulling a half drowned victim of the storm into their boat. That’s enough to lure anyone inside. The museum does an excellent job of chronicling the history of Oregon’s maritime heritage. The Coast Guard rescue force was extensively covered, including the evolution of the service’s men and equipment. That 44 remains the most effective and most used craft. Both successful and disastrous missions are covered. A second emphasis of the museum are the Columbia River Bar Pilots. Watching the movie of them in action and learning about their training and skills gives you the sense that they are as elite as Navy Seals! A huge wall map details the major victims of the Graveyard of the Pacific, and many uncovered artifacts are on display. Several full size indigenous fishing craft, accompanied by a full size walk-in tug pilot house, fill one hall. The entire bridge of the W.W. II destroyer Knapp has been incorporated and is explorable. A section of floor is glass, with sealife flowing beneath. Adjacent rooms hold two temporary exhibits: the “Art of the Tattoo” and “Marking Time.” The latter displays the actual cots of troops shipping over to Vietnam, telling every conceivable level of story in words and pictures. Outside, the lightship Columbia floats at the dock and is boardable. And the 90 foot pilot boat Peacock sits on hard ground.

The bad news: no cameras allowed inside. They claim the whole thing is copyrighted.

Dot went through the Flavel House. Built in 1885 by Columbia River Bar pilot Captain George Flavel, it is pure Queen Anne and fully restored right up to its four story octagonal tower. The house remained in the family until 1934, when the Flavels’ great granddaughter donated it to the city. In 1936 there was talk of tearing it down. Rather than do it, the city unburdened itself by passing title to the County. In 1951, threat of demolition arose again, and it was saved by concerned citizens who formed the Clatsop County Historical Society and made it its headquarters and museum.

Atop the highest hill (Coxcomb Hill, 660 feet) sits the Astoria Column. It is 125 feet tall, built of concrete, completed in 1926, and underwritten by Great Northern Railroad and Vincent Astor, a descendent of the famous fur family for whom the town is named. The entire exterior is covered with a frieze that spirals from bottom to top and portrays 22 events milestones in the development of the Pacific Northwest. It was created by immigrant Italian artist Attilo Pusterla, who used a technique called sgraffito, a combination of paint and plaster carvings. Unwound, the embellishment would measure 500 feet.

Speaking of hills, one can swoop up around the western end of town and travel from south to north on comparatively level ground. But for roller coaster fans, it’s more fun to drive the fifteen or so blocks up and down over the top. Some of the streets rise at least at a 20 degree angle, giving the sensation of falling over backward!

Now for the Washington side . We drove out to Ilwaco, the farthest east town on that side of the River. A marketplace was under way on the waterfront, so we parked and walked through it. There were plenty of foodstuffs and trinkets to separate you from your money, but we settled for our first taste of kettle corn – and quickly became addicted. The waterfront sported many charter boats for salmon fishing and a statue of a giant condor, a memorial to Captain Clark’s sighting and a crew member downing one on their first visit.

From the waterfront, we went up to see the two lighthouses in Cape Disappointment State Park. We drove out to the Ocean side first to see the later one built. Increased traffic, combined with the fact that the other was not visible to ships arriving from the north, led to the activation of the North End Lighthouse in 1898. It stands just 65 feet tall because it is positioned on a basalt cliff almost 200 feet above the sea. The keepers’ house was home to three keepers at a time, each working an 8 hour shift. Today, it’s a vacation rental!

Down at the tip, inside the jetties, the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse has been standing sentinel duty since 1856. Scheduled for completion earlier than that, it was delayed when the ship carrying its building materials was. . . you guessed it . . . shipwrecked two miles offshore. A second delay occurred because no one had remembered to order a lens. Arrangements were made to transfer a First Order Fresnel Lens (you know what that means, right?) from the shore town of Navesink, New Joisey (close to where I grew up) . The original lens, purchased for $4,500, would run about $6 million now and is on display in the museum. Both lights have rotating beacons today – no more hauling many gallons of kerosene up the towers.

There were other non-L&C exhibits in the museum as well, mostly maritime related. But it is also the home of Fort Canby, a three battery installation of smooth-bore cannons established in 1862 during the Civil War. Fort Canby continued to serve as a U.S. fortification through World War II as a sub-fort of Fort Stevens.

Heading north again, we followed the coast a few miles to Long Beach. It goes on for miles and miles, with drive-on access everywhere. Constantly windy, picnickers arriving in time can use one of the clever triangular shelters with tables and grills. The beach also features a 2,150 foot long boardwalk, with exit points to take advantage of the hundreds of shops and eateries along it.

Still farther north and slightly inland, we found our way to the Cranbury Museum. Having lived for many years in the Massachusetts home town of Ocean Spray, it struck a familiar chord. There were several bogs on exhibit, along with a small museum that chronicled the process, both historically and currently. I was delighted to find a label exhibit which included one from Ocean Spray in Hanson, Mass. Though I grew up in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, I still consider Hanson my home town.

Getting tired? We weren’t! Hopping back to the water side, we found our way to the World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame (not to be confused with the National Kite Museum, which is in Pnom Penh, Cambodia). Seriously, this was a place of serious kite flying, with exhibits from nations all over the world and famous kite builders whose names did not roll off the tips of our tongues. Bright and colorful, it also featured an exhibit of kites used for commercial and wartime purposes, including antennae lifting, weather predicting, Gibson girl survival and actual bomb dropping barrage kites. Paul Garber, whose Arctic Mail kite and Target kite were on display, was the prime mover behind the National Air and Space Museum and arranged the acquisition of the Spirit of St. Louis.

Two more stops. On the way back, we briefly took in the local Ilwaco Museum. It was filled with the usual artifacts but had several interesting features, including a painting of two working horses emerging three dimensionally from the wall and one of the early railway cars. Upstairs on the mezzanine was an exhibit heralding the feats of Gerard D’Aboville who, in 1991 at the age of 46, rowed solo across the Pacific Ocean in 134 days from Japan to Ilwaco. Prior to that, he had similarly conquered the Atlantic in 1980 from France to Cape Cod, covering that span in 72 days. A funny photography incident: When we walked in, I had camera in hand and began snapping in sight of the registration desk. Before ascending to the mezzanine, I went outside, put a charged battery in my camera, and came back in to snap the D’Aborville exhibit. A voice rang out from below: “no picture taking, please.” It was a different volunteer. Her rationale was that the museum didn’t own all of the exhibits. I stopped and left, but I didn’t throw my pictures away.

The last stop before we headed back across the bridge to Astoria was Fort Columbia, the last of the three defenders of the River. A late bloomer, it was built between 1896 and 1904 and went out of service in 1950. It is now a 593 acre state park and much of its military construction has been preserved, with several of the buildings serving as vacation destinations. The interpretive center is in the first enlisted man’s barracks. Upstairs are refinished sleeping quarters; it’s a surprise to guests when they find an interpreter lolling in his bunk reading an old newspaper. On the main floor is a reconstructed mess center complete with period silver and china. The kitchen behind features three coal burning stoves and an oak refrigerator. Catch the ecological slogan on the last photo, way ahead of its time. At the other end of the front row of buildings, the Commanding Officer’s Quarters is now a period museum. Docents serving both buildings were full-time RV couples who volunteer in exchange for free campground amenities. Both were “residents” of Livingston, Texas, as are we. The husband at the COQ was handsomely dressed in a WW II uniform and served over 30 years in the army. As we walked back to our truck, we passed theirs. In the back window was a memorial decal, lamenting the death of their progeny, I suspect a grandson, who perished in Afghanistan in 2009.

That’s the end of the longest treatise of the journey so far. But here’s a few reasons why we’re not homesick yet!

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