The Mighty Columbia

(This post is from February 21 and 22 )

a dark day in the forest at Fort Stevens SPAfter two days of quilt shopping all along the Oregon Coast, it was time for us to relax back into our original plan to explore places yet unseen by both of us.  Fort Stevens, Fort Clatsop, Astoria, and Long Beach on the Oregon Coast all have one thing in common.  The incredible history of Lewis and Clark and their journey to the Pacific is the thread that ran through the rest of our time during our coastal road trip.  Being winter, the beaches were beautiful, but cold and windy, and lazy beachcombing explorations were cut short when we would look at each other and say, “OK, Enough!” 

Mo's childhood home on the banks of the Columbia River in Columbia City, OregonMo’s family, originally from North Dakota, relocated to the small mill town of Columbia City on the Columbia River north of Portland when she was just a toddler.  She grew up with that truly mighty river in her backyard, a playground for homemade wooden rafts and watching the passing freighters. In spite of this, she doesn’t remember thinking much about the passage of Lewis and Clark down that same river.

I relocated to Idaho in my late 20’s and spent the next 25 years or so mapping soils throughout Lewis and Clark territory, sometimes actually walking on the trails they walked north of the Lochsa River and over Lolo Pass, and having lunch at Canoe Camp along the Clearwater. I mapped Nez Perce lands and in the process learned much about their interaction with the Corps of Discovery.  I was fascinated then by their story, and for me this trip to the final destination of that amazing journey was extra special.

Oregon coast 02-17-20121Our campsite at Fort Stevens was cloaked in mist when we woke on Tuesday morning.   Our plan was to explore a bit and then move south to Camp Rilea, a Military Family Camp with full hookups and good television for a mere $20 per day.  I can see why Fort Stevens is such a popular camp in the summer, with more than 500 spacious sites, lots of history and long stretches of open beach.  For us, on this windy and cloudy morning, we decided to first check out the wreck of the Peter Iredale, one of the more than 2,000 ships claimed by the treacherous Columbia River bar since 1792, earning the bar the name “Graveyard of the Pacific”.

We had the beach to ourselves, and I worked very hard to get my photos to show something other than a seriously gray landscape.  Even Abby wasn’t too interested in running on the cold, wet beach.  The sands on this part of the Oregon coast are much finer as well, and darker in color, so with all the storms, the water was thick and muddy as the waves crashed inland.

notice the bunker funded by the Oregon Lottery!Following our map of things to see at Fort Stevens, we drove north to the South Jetty and the ocean and wildlife viewing platforms at Clatsop Spit.  As we approached the jetty, huge waves were crashing over the rocks and we were glad for the viewing platform to at least get a glimpse of the wild ocean.

The north and south jetties at the mouth of the river were built between 1885 and 1895 and served to keep beach sand from clogging the river.  The sands have built up over time and the shoreline is now actually a full mile farther west than it was when Lewis and Clark arrived in 1805.

brookings north_98We drove through the State Historic Site portion of the park, with it’s tiny museum, but chose to continue to one of the historic batteries to get out and explore.  Fort Stevens was actually constructed in 1862 during the Civil War and remained active until shortly after World War II.  Although the guns have been removed, the concrete batteries remain.

the fog and rain only made Battery Russel more mysteriousWe climbed the moss covered steps of Battery Russel and walked alone among what was left of our nation’s defense against a Japanese invasion.  In fact, Fort Stevens was the only military installation on the continental United States to have been fired upon since the war of 1812.  If you enlarge the photo on the left, (by clicking on it) you can read the information on the sign we found at the site.  There is so much to see at Fort Stevens, and I can see how lovely it might be on a summer day, but because of the season, we had it almost all to ourselves.  I know the weather here can be iffy any time of year, however, so even a summer trip would require plans for rain and wind and fog.

Camp Rilea is pristineWith most of the morning gone, it was time to get back to the rig and move our camp south to Camp Rilea. Just a couple miles south of Fort Stevens, Camp Rilea is an armed forces training camp first established for the National Guard in 1927.  Even though there were only ten sites, all on pavement, I think we enjoyed it more than any other MFC we have visited. Once settled into our spot at the end of the line, we had wide open view of the pristine white buildings and red roofs surrounded by acres and acres of perfectly mowed grass, occasionally dotted with a large herd of Roosevelt elk that casually wandered through the grounds.

finally found it, the famous haystack Rock at Cannon BeachOnce again settled in, we decided to return via Highway 101 to Cannon Beach, where I hoped to get a view and a photo of the famous Haystack Rock, the oft photographed icon of the Oregon Coast.  By the time we got there, it was late afternoon, but in spite of the rain and wind, there were a few hardy souls walking on the beach and exploring the town that calls itself the Oregon coast answer to California’s Carmel.  With some effort, we found beach access and walked down to the famous sea stack. 

Roosevelt Elk outside out window at Camp RileaCannon Beach was delightful, even in the rain, but Mo waited in the misted up car with Abby while I explored beautiful galleries and colorful candy shops. We then found the historic Driftwood Inn just in time for a happy hour Irish Coffee before going back north in the waning evening light.

Tomorrow: Astoria, Fort Clatsop, and Seaside

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Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

10 thoughts on “The Mighty Columbia”

  1. One of my favorite places!! Love, love Astoria area and the history. The museum at Ft Stevens has lots Japanese info on who fired on the Fort. Very interesting. Also the cemetery there was interesting, lots of women and children, very sad. There is also a Mo's in Cannon Bch for more of that good chowder & cheese bread!!

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  2. We enjoyed this area very much last September and were lucky enough to have nice weather. Your photos are great and went well with the interesting history lesson. Will enjoy reading about the rest of your adventures in the area. This is definitely a place we will return to.

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  3. Camp Rilea looked GREAT – always nice to come upon some color on an otherwise gloomy day, eh? We stayed at Ft. Stevens in August one year, and vowed never again. Wonderful park, and we have since visited the beach there in summer… but the campground was a madhouse that time of year. I'm sure it was calm and quiet when you visited. 🙂

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  4. Sorry the weather didn't cooperate … but the beaches still look good to me … so eerie and misty. And that fort reminds me of Fort Worden in Port Townsend. Nice FamCamp – going on our list for when we eventually make it out that way.

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