The Columbia River – Astoria, Oregon

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Celia and I made our way from Tillamook, Oregon to the northwestern point of the state near the town of Astoria. The town is the site of the oldest city on the west coast and is the first American settlement west of the Rockies. It was also a winter home for the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark who were seeking, among other things, a river passage to the Pacific. Clark wrote in his notes upon seeing the broad expanse of water the famous line, “Ocian in view! O! The joy!”

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We were able to secure only a one night stay Fort Stevens State Park, the largest public campground west of the Mississippi (over 500 sites). This state park is located at the junction of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Lodging is hard to come by here but we were able to get a spot for a few more nights in a private campground in Warrenton, Oregon.

This very popular area is home to the Fort Stevens State Historical Site, Fort Clatsop, Astoria Column, shipwreck of the Peter Iredale, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, and is close to many other things to see and do. You could easily spend much more time here than we did and it has the added benefit of having much cooler weather than places farther inland.

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As soon as we got the Bighorn setup, we set out to explore the places that were in the park. Fort Stevens is a large historic area that over the years sought to secure the entrance of the Columbia River from the time of the Civil War up to the conclusion of the Second World War.

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The earthworks for the Civil War fort can be seen from Point Adams. Twenty-six guns were installed to protect the region from potential Confederate sailing raiders. There are some cannon replicas on the grounds.

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Over the years the fort grew tremendously, but most of the structures have been destroyed except for the gun batteries themselves. One exception is a large gun built by an individual in his driveway! It now sits in one of the battery placements.

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You can walk along the batteries which look out over the Columbia River. Interestingly enough the state has installed a Frisbee discus golf course within the fort.

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I believe this area would have been more interesting to us if the Visitor Center had been open. I understand that there are scale models there of the grounds and hopefully additional information. There is very little informational signage on the premises itself. They do provide tours, but these are currently canceled due to Covid-19.

Next, we went out to the Clatsop Spit and the South Jetty which helps to protect the Columbia River entrance from the forces of nature. There is an observation tower toward the end of the spit that makes for a great place to watch the sunset.

The jetty is currently under renovation in a multi-year project to protect this vital waterway. As you can imagine, taking on the powerful ocean is no small feat.

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This area is home to numerous shipwrecks and is commonly called the Graveyard of the Pacific. There are over 2000 shipwrecks here. If you experience some of these fierce coastal winds you will understand the danger. Even today, the large Columbia River Bar only adds to the peril.

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Not far from the South Jetty is the famous shipwreck of the Peter Iredale. This British ship ran aground here in October of 1906 and instantly became a landmark. The ship, almost the size of a football field, created quite a sight. Even now, part of the rusty bow sticks up out of the sand and it continues to be a frequently visited attraction in the Astoria area.

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The evening before the wreck, the Captain of the Peter Iredale was hoping to wait until morning to cross the infamous Columbia River Bar. Unfortunately he was much closer to shore than he thought and did not realize his mistake until it was too late. High winds grounded the ship near Fort Stevens and the iron frame remains to this day.

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We had only been here for an afternoon and we were excited for what the next few days would hold. We still wanted to visit the fort where Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery wintered, Cape Disappointment, and the town of Astoria itself.

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