Posted by: bkivey | 20 August 2015

The Half-Day Vacation

I had a job at the coast Tuesday, and because I was taking Wednesday off, looked to take a bit of vacation. The work finished up around 1130 , and it was a glorious sunny day. The Oregon coast is one of my favorite places in the world, and the idea of spending time there, especially when I’m getting paid, is very nice. I’d planned to spend the rest of the day, and possibly the next, in Astoria, 15 miles up US 101 to the north.

My landlord is an Oregon native, and I’d talked to him about places to go and things to see in Astoria. One thing he forgot to mention is Fort Clatsop. This was the Winter home for the Lewis & Clark expedition 1805 -1806. I’d read The Journals of Lewis & Clark earlier this year, so was keen to see the site. The site is a National Park, but the price of admission is reasonable at $3.

Fort Clatsop visitor center

That’s the Visitor’s Center. Inside is a well-done museum of the Lewis & Clark expedition. One of the more fascinating items was a table showing the pay for the various members of the Expedition. The foray ran nearly three years, and Army Privates, making up most of the personnel, were paid some $170 for the time. This doesn’t seem like much, even given the standards of the day considering the hardships endured, but each soldier was also given 320 acres of land. After spending time in the Center looking at the exhibits, I ventured out to the reconstruction of the fort.

Fort Clatsop exterior

Fort Clatsop courtyard

I noticed a couple of things. I’ve seen other reconstructions from the same time period, and was impressed with how relatively roomy the accommodations were at Fort Clatsop. At Valley Forge, for instance, the soldiers quarters are tiny. The fort is built based on a floor plan only: there are no elevation views. The volunteer at the site said that the elevations are a ‘best guess’. The other thing I noticed is that the roofs slope toward the courtyard. Lewis & Clark were well aware of the climate before they built the fort; it seems reasonable that they wouldn’t have built the roofs to slope inward, and so create a mud puddle in the courtyard.

Nitpicking notwithstanding, this was a very enjoyable  visit. I took a little hike along the boardwalk to the Canoe Landing

Lewis and Clark canoe landing

This is the site where the Expedition launched canoes. You may notice that there are a number of piers in the water, and these are relics of a later time.

Log marshaling viewpoint

During the heyday of Oregon logging, loggers would marshal logs between the piers for transport. The placard in view explains the process.

Next on the list of things to see was the Astoria Column. This landmark is built on a hill above the city and affords spectacular views. The only hitch was that the bridge over the Lewis and Clark River was closed, so all traffic from the south was squeezed onto one causeway. It’s summer: traffic was slow. The GPS guided me up the hill to the Column. Along the way, there were icons on the road surface at regular intervals. They look a lot like a stylized rendering of a road-killed armadillo. While paying my $2 parking fee (good for the year), the attendant informed that the icons were supposed to represent the Column and were intended to mark the way, I remarked that they didn’t look much like the Column.

Or maybe they do. This is what the Column looks like:

astoria column

And this is what you see now:

Astoria column covered

I said that it looked like the Washington Monument the last time I was in DC, and he told me I was the 5th person that day to say that. The view, though, was as advertised:

Astpria column panorama




Unfortunately the image doesn’t scale well in this format. The 300 degree view shows Saddleback Mt. above the garbage can on the left, Heceta Headland just to the left of the tall viewer, and the Astoria-Megler Bridge to the right of center. The Columbia is on the right, along with Washington state. The Columbia Bar is between the bridge towers. It’s apparent how the wildfires affect viewing. There’s an installation to let you know what you’re seeing:

Astoria column map

The sign notes that on clear days Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Ranier are visible. Given the fire situation in the West the last several years, there’s probably only a couple of weeks in early July when days could be considered ‘clear’.

Next on the agenda was the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Anything related to the maritime history of the Columbia River can be found in this museum. I’m a bit of a history buff, so I was inclined to be interested in the museum, but was unprepared for what’s actually there. If there is one word that sums up the collection, it would be ‘comprehensive’. Suffice to say that the museum’s website is inadequate to the task of conveying the experience.

Running in front of the museum is the Astoria Trolley:

Astoria trolley

The Trolley runs for three miles along the waterfront, and is the only trolley I’ve seen with a tender. The Diesel generator eliminates the need for overhead wires.  There is also a large ships propeller out front. No placard, but there is information stamped on the casting:

Ship prop info

A minute on the internet reveals that this was likely used for the Charles F. Adams class destroyers. There is also a lightship moored next to the museum:

Columbia lightship

The lightship is open for tours, but requires a museum ticket to board.

Entrance fee is $12 for adults, and it soon becomes apparent what a great value it is. Not a place for doing things by half-measures, there are several full-size fishing boats in the exhibit halls, along with the bridge from a WW II destroyer. Exhibits include the salmon fishing industry, Lewis & Clark, Oregon’s contribution to WW II, the Columbia Bar, Astoria history, whaling, paddle boats on the Columbia, and the Coast Guard. I’m sure I’m leaving out quite a bit. One could easily spend 3 – 4 hours here. I got there at 1400, and was afraid I wouldn’t get to everything before the 1700 closing. The Coast Guard section includes one of the more dramatic displays I’ve seen:

Lifeboat display

That’s a 44′ lifeboat mounted on a simulated wave, and as you stand on the floor, it towers above you. The Coast Guard has their Lifeboat Training facility across the river at Cape Disappointment. The Columbia Bar is considered by most professional mariners to be the most dangerous such crossing on the planet, and there are films in the museum that show why this is so.

I got to the lightship with a half-hour to spare. Tours are self-guided, and there’s a volunteer to answer questions. I was impressed with how roomy the accommodations were compared to other vessels I’ve toured. The lively ride of the ship was also notable in the chop that develops on the river when the tide comes in. The prevailing winds try to blow the river back up it’s channel, and the Columbia is a fairly swift river. Not a great combination if you’re in a small boat.

On the way out, I checked out a former pilot boat:

Pilot boat Peacock

The Peacock was based on a North Sea rescue boat, and is notable for the ‘daughter’ boat on the stern used to deliver and retrieve pilots. Also notable is the use of triple rudders and screws on a relatively small vessel. There’s a film about this boat in the museum.

So that was it for sight-seeing in Astoria. I’d packed a bag in case I wanted to spend the night, but I couldn’t really think of anything in the area I wanted to spend a day doing. As for the rest of the afternoon and evening, Astoria pretty much rolls up the sidewalks after 1800.

I checked Yelp! for a place to eat and perhaps watch the ballgame. Mother’s Tavern was recommended, and on arrival, I noted only one TV, so no baseball. Mother’s is a dive bar located under the bridge, and what it lacks in sports viewing, makes up for in food. I ordered a bowl of clam chowder and a burger, and both  were enormous. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, but was defeated by the burger.

After dinner I consulted GPS for the way home, and was directed up and over the hill that makes up most of Astoria to OR 202. OR 202 is a two-lane road going through the Coast Range generally east and south until it meets US 26. There are few straight sections, and even fewer cars, so it’s a lot of fun to drive. There’s an elk viewing area where herds of elk can usually be seen, but none were visible on the day. I did see an elk by the side of the road, and hoped that it wouldn’t jump in front of the car. Thankfully it went back in to the woods.

Truly a great day. Made some money in the morning, spent a relaxing day sightseeing on a beautiful summer day in one of my favorite places, and a fun drive home. Sometimes, life really is good.














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