One of the most fascinating things about the Western United States is its history of exploration, discovery and settlement. One can travel the Oregon Trail via paved highways and actually see what the hardy pioneers saw and stop to rest in the same places that they did. Landmarks like Chimney Rock in Nebraska, Register Cliff and Independence Rock in Wyoming and the wagon wheel ruts nearby attest to the long, arduous route these settlers traversed.
But it is the Lewis and Clark Expedition’s journey’s end at the mouth of the Columbia River that blazed the way and that stands out when visiting Astoria. Located on Cape Disappointment in Washington State is the 621 acre Lewis and Clark State Park. To get there one must cross the Astoria-Megler Bridge that spans the river from Oregon to Washington.
It was a somewhat stormy day with clouds, fog, rain and wind. Heading across the bridge was an adventure unto itself.
At 4.1 miles, this bridge is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America and was the last finished portion of U.S. Route 101 between Los Angeles, CA and Olympia, WA. And it moves. When the wind blows strongly enough here the bridge sways perceptibly. And it’s a bit scary. Committed to get to the Washington side and head to the L & C state park, I ventured across probably frustrating those behind at the slow pace I was going. 4 miles is a long way when the road underneath is moving side-to-side.
Once across the bridge you take a left turn to travel on a very scenic road that is mere feet away from the open ocean. Remember, though, that this was a cloudy, rainy and windy day. The ocean comes right up to meet you as the waves wash over the road. Not huge waves but still lapping up onto the pavement. I drove for a short distance and then considered how much fun hiking in the state park in the rain and wind would be. Not much. I found a place to turn around and drove back through ocean waters to the bridge.
This bridge is safe. It is designed to bend in the wind so to speak. I had just never been on a moving bridge before. Back across on the Oregon side I headed south and a bit east to Lewis and Clark’s winter camp, Fort Clatsop. From December 1805 until the return trip home starting in March 1806, the Corps of Discovery took refuge from the winter winds and storms that hit land on the Pacific Coast and at Astoria. Not far from Astoria, this National Historic Park provides a replica of the original fort built in 1950.
The replica is detailed and depicts how they lived that winter. There are several short hiking trails out from and around the fort and interpretive center.
There is a statue honoring their Native American Shoshone guide, Sacagawea, holding her baby.
You will discover a lot of interesting information about what occurred during the winter months here.
The Corps paddled up the Netul River to what is now the Netul Landing. The river has been renamed the Lewis & Clark River but the landing retains the original name. Today you can launch a canoe or kayak to paddle along the 146 mile Lewis & Clark Columbia River Waterway. Or take a guided canoe tour.
The landing is a 1.5 gentle hike from the Ft. Clatsop visitor center. Here is an example of what the Corps traveled in.
Pretty rugged looking.
I found a variety of mushrooms along the trails.
The fort is a fascinating place where you can spend hours, especially if you are a hiker. This day it was raining off and on. I hiked between rains but eventually got wet enough to hop back in the buggy and head back to the motel.
The winter quarters are not easy to find even with all the signs. Generally you just head out of Astoria south on U.S. Highway 101 and follow the signs to Fort Clatsop. Or from Seaside, head north on U.S. 101 and follow the signs. For more information, call Lewis and Clark National Park (503-861-2471. Sanitary facilities are available. Entrance fee is $3.00 per person 16 and up.
There is a lot to see and do in and around Astoria and we’ve just touched on some of the highlights so far. We are going to visit one more place before we leave and that is the Columbia River Maritime Museum.
But before you enter the museum you can tour the Columbia. She is a retired Coast Guard Rescue Boat and the tour gives you an idea of what life was like on this older boat. The instructions for showers reads: Marines: Hot water is in short supply. Navy showers only!!
Inside the museum is the history of the Columbia River Bar. Remember that Captain George Flavel was one of the earliest and most successful bar pilots here. He was successful because it takes extreme skill to cross this bar. Pilots must be schooled and trained and specifically licensed to cross the Columbia River Bar in either direction. Unless a vessel’s captain is a certified bar pilot, before a ship can enter or leave across this bar it must wait for a licensed bar pilot to be brought on board, usually via helicopter, to pilot the crossing. The ship is then returned to its original captain and the bar pilot returns to port.
Due to the winds this bar is arguably the most dangerous in the world. 2,000 ships and boats have been lost here. It is dubbed “the Grave Yard of the Pacific” because of it. The wrecks are beached or underwater to prove it! In the museum you will find a map of 50 of these wrecks. It is both tragic and fascinating.
There is a lot more to see here as there is a good deal of Coast Guard history and more. The museum is considered the museum of the Pacific Northwest and is the best museum in Oregon. But I will leave you to discover more for yourself, and, with this video that is self-explanatory as to why so many vessels perish here.