North Coast explorations, Astoria, Fort Clatsop, and Seaside

February 22nd

Astoria and the famous bridge high above the Columbia RiverThe wind blew all night and the rain came down in buckets but we were happily camped on asphalt, not a bad thing in the Oregon Coastal climate.  After a cozy breakfast in the MoHo, we jumped into the Tracker and headed north to explore Astoria.  Costco is conveniently located right in Warrenton on 101, between the entrance road to Camp Rilea and the road to Fort Stevens.  Even with our 10c discount at Freddy’s just up the road, Costco gas was still a lot cheaper, and we paid 3.65 per gallon/regular to fill up both rigs.  I suppose that will be considered cheap by the end of the coming summer according to the news pundits.

taking the historic home auto cd tour of AstoriaWe did as we often do, seeking out the local Visitor Information Center for Astoria before beginning our tour of the town.  Of course, the most famous attraction is the Astoria Column, an impressive sight with equally impressive views on a clear day.  Mo and I paid our dollars and climbed the steps back in 2004 when we visited Astoria on our first cruise together, so didn’t feel the need to go up there again.

great Welcome sign in AstoriaInstead we purchased an auto tour CD for a buck to tell us some of the stories about the historic sites around town.  It took a bit of doing to figure out how to get to the sites on the map while trying to listen to the CD.  The numbers weren’t in order on the map and it made it hard to appreciate what we were hearing while Mo was attempting to navigate the narrow hilly streets.  Too late in the process, I figured out that we should have simply driven to the spot and then fast forwarded the CD to the correct track.  Hindsight!

How is THAT for a view overlooking the Columbia from the hill in AstoriaIn spite of the technical difficulties, we did have a good time listening to the stories of the early maritime history of Astoria, founded in 1811 as the first white community on the west coast.  There are many beautiful historic homes, including the Flavel House, considered one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture in Oregon.  Our CD tour guide told many stories about the folks who were influential in Astoria history, and the biggest surprise for me was the strong influence of the Finnish population that dominated the fishing and canning industry here in the early part of the century. 

historic Pier 39 in AstoriaBeing a Wednesday, during the winter season, we were disappointed to see that many of the cute little shops we remembered from 2004 were closed for the day, and the main street just didn’t have enough zing to get us out of the car to stroll and shop.  I think I may have been a bit shop worn from the previous quilt run anyway.  Instead, we wandered around some of the side roads, attempting to get a feel for the folks who live here, and found that the north facing very steep slope that is so visible along the river and from the highway is just a taste of the winding back streets that lead to charming neighborhoods filled with 20’s style Craftsman homes and less charming subdivisions filled with 70’s ranch style houses.  Astoria is bigger than it looks!

Our trip out of town led us back toward Business 101 instead of the main freeway, and we wandered among wetlands and idle agricultural land for a few miles to discover we were right on the road to Fort Clatsop.  In our Lewis and Clark National and State Historic Park brochure, Fort Clatsop was among the main park sites, scattered on both sides of the Columbia in Oregon and Washington, so we were delighted to have found it without any effort at all.

exploring Fort Clatsop and the fort replicaThe visitor center was lovely, with a great movie about Capt. Meriwether Lewis and Capt. William Clark, who were only 29 and 33 years old when they departed from St Louis at the order of President Thomas Jefferson to find the most direct water route to the Pacific, making scientific and geographic observations along the way.  Even though a Lewis and Clark fan for many years, I newly discovered that Sacagawea was NOT along on the trip for any kind of guidance, but was more an emissary to the various tribes the Corps encountered, proving that they were coming in peace since they had a woman in their party.

the river where Lewis and Clark put in their canoes to return home after the successful jounrey and winter at Fort ClatsopI also learned the the Corps of Discovery, and the Lewis and Clark expedition, was the forerunner to our present day Army Corps of Engineers.  I have two distinct impressions of the COE.  The best impression is of the wonderful campgrounds that we enjoy thanks to the COE.  The other impression is one held a long time by university earth scientist types who hold up really horrendous examples of COE projects that didn’t take into account any kind of common sense.  My favorite geology prof in college always showed dramatic slide shows of landslides precipitated by COE projects cutting of the toe slope of some great mountain along the Salmon River and then wondering why the road kept getting buried.

exploring Seaside on a cold windy dayThe Fort Clatsop site is fascinating and lovely, and as I stood at the spot where the explorers set their canoes for the home trip back to St Louis, it was easy to imagine it was 1806.  The expedition wintered at this fort, of course now a replica stands here, but the stories of their winter and their interactions with the Clatsop people was fascinating.  I was curious, though, as to why we hear so much about their trip to the Pacific, and very little about the trip home.  Interpreters at the center got into a lively discussion about this, and one of them thought it was probably because the fun was over and they were basically really bored on the trip home.  Sound like RV bloggers maybe?

exploring the beach at Seaside on a very cold windy day.  Notice Abby's earsWe then backtracked past Camp Rilea to explore Seaside, a town that is definitely NOT the answer to Carmel.  Seaside is more funky and down to earth, with a very long beach and a lot of touristy shops and souvenirs.  Again, on this windy, cold, midweek winter day, it was quiet, with many shops closed, but I did slip into the Carousel Mall to see the famous carousel, one of the big attractions in the summer.  Interestingly, the carousel is inside rather out in a park, so that is a testament to the possible windy, cold conditions of this part of the Oregon coast, no matter what time of year you visit.

Tomorrow we leave Camp Rilea and travel north across the famous bridge at Astoria, to cross the Columbia and explore more of the National Park sites on our way to Long Beach, Washington.