Thursday, November 26, 2009
Saturday, November 14, 2009
We enjoyed our stay at Astoria and would like to return some day, but it was time to move on and so we headed south along the coast to Winchester Bay, a small fishing town that we’ve visited before. But before leaving, we visited the remains of old Fort Stevens, and the gun emplacements built during WWII for the defense of the Oregon coast. We weren’t aware of it before we first visited here, but Oregon was the site of two Japanese air attacks in 1942, and Fort Stevens itself was shelled by a Japanese submarine that same year . The fort was one of three built to guard the Columbia River, the others, Fort Canby and Fort Columbia are on the Washington side of the Columbia. Walking through the ruins on the bluff overlooking the Pacific, you get a sense of the massive fortifications protecting the huge guns located here. While the guns have been removed, you can gauge their size by looking at the large holes where the gun turrets were located. This is an interesting area of history, now surrounded by bike paths, campgrounds, and hiking trails.
At Winchester Bay, we stayed at the Winchester Bay RV Resort at Salmon Harbor, one of our favorite places on the coast. The park is built right on the harbor and river, and our site allowed us to pull in to within 20 feet of the water, giving us a great view through the windshield of boats, waterfowl, and harbor seals. It also gave me a chance to do some crabbing from the shore. I tried a device called a “crabhawk” – it's a hinged, spring-loaded net that’s cast like a lure, and when on the bottom, unfolds to reveal the bait (in this case, a chicken leg). When pulled, it snaps shut trapping the huge, delicious, Dungeness crabs so that Keith and Brenda can cook them up…….at least, that was the idea. Everything worked according to plan – cast, watch rod tip for “crab action”, quickly reel in……all went well except for the size. Instead of big crabs, all I caught were little crabs….dozens and dozens of little, foul-tempered, angry crabby little crabs. We had fun watching the action when I dropped the crabhawk on the ground and opened the trap – fast-scurrying little crabs would flee in all directions looking for someone (me) to pinch – it’s amazing how fast those little suckers can move. (Little known fact: crabs, no matter how small, can exert the same force with their claws and pinchers as a full-grown Pit Bull) After three hours of recycling dozens of little crabs in and out of the harbor, I gave up and vowed to get my crabs at the market – it’s worth it to pay someone else for the trouble…..and not get pinched.
This area had a lot of places to explore; we enjoyed seeing the Oregon Dunes, Umpqua Lighthouse and Museum, and walking the beach near the jetty and oyster farm. It was fun to just sit on the jetty and watch the gulls, pelicans, and cormorants compete for a spot on the oyster floats. The lighthouse, on a hill above the jetty, had an interesting museum that told the story of its occupancy by the Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard. This is a great area to visit, although during the summer it’s crowded and noisy as people bring their ATVs to play on the dunes. But for our visit, it was quiet, peaceful, and we certainly couldn’t crab about being here (sorry, I’m on a roll with the crab stuff).
We again headed south on Highway 101, stopping at viewpoints overlooking the ocean along the way. At one stop, we looked down on the beach to see hundreds of California Sea Lions on the beach and in the water. It was an amazing sensory experience – the sight, the sound, and oh yes, the smell! You’d think they’d be cleaner after spending all of that time in the water!
We spent time in Bandon, a quaint little town with a great state park and lots of restaurants (our kind of place). During our time here, we visited with the volunteer coordinator for the Shoreline Education for Awareness organization, and happily agreed to spend next summer here as wildlife interpreters, something we’ve come to truly enjoy doing . We also experienced an amazing winter storm, but more on that later. For now, we’ll leave you with a picture of the Bullard’s Point lighthouse and the hope that you’ll come back and see us again!
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
Leaving Westport, we wove our way down Highway 101 along the coast, passing through small fishing towns and eventually crossing the Columbia River into Astoria. The Columbia is huge, second only to the Mississippi River, and here where it enters the Pacific, it is one of the most dangerous waterways in the country. Crossing the Astoria Bridge was a memorable experience – after three miles of level causeway, the road suddenly launches itself into a high span, then a spiraling right turn down to Astoria’s main street. It was a bit sporty on a good day, I wouldn’t want to cross it during one of the area’s famous winter storms.
Our first choice was to stay at the Fort Stevens State Park campground, a very large park along the coast that extends northward and ends in a jetty on the Columbia. We arrived in a steady rain and found that the only sites available were deep into the trees and rather small. With no cable TV available and no chance of using the satellite for a week’s stay, we opted for a very nice park in Astoria, the Lewis and Clark Golf and RV Resort. A new park on the golf course, we had a pull-in site that gave us great views through the windshield of the green grass and hills, and of course, the rain.
We took a trip back to explore Fort Stevens, as it provides great access to the beach and the south jetty of the Columbia. It’s one of many old forts that provided defense from attack during WWII and the actual gun mounts and fortifications can still be seen. Driving north towards the jetty, the view of pounding surf and endless beach was amazing. The mouth of the Columbia is famous for the “bar”, the area where sand and shoals constantly build and change shape causing huge waves to form. It has an amazing history – since 1792, over 2000 major shipwrecks have been recorded, and even with today’s system of dredging, forecasting, advanced navigation systems, and river and bar pilots, it still claims victims each year. One the beach to the jetty is a stark example of one old wreck; the bow of the Peter Iredale, which ran aground in 1906. At the edge of the jetty, a long series of huge rocks extending into the ocean, we watched from the observation tower as the waves crashed into the jetty and the sun began to set on the horizon.
Astoria is a town with character; much like a small version of San Francisco with its up-and-down streets and interesting small shops in the downtown area. Not as fancy or elegant, but still a town with intriguing places to explore. We drove to the highest point in town to visit the Astoria Column, and interesting structure that provides a great view of the area. A must-see for visitors is the Columbia River Maritime Museum, a beautiful building along the waterfront that helps visitors understand the history of the area. The exhibits are unusual; you can pilot a tugboat, stand on the deck of a WWII destroyer (they actually moved the entire bridge from the ship here and then built the museum around it), and listen to the actual recordings of rescues by the Coast Guard. It’s interesting that to enter the river, large ships need two “pilots”, a “bar pilot” until clear of the infamous bar, and a “river pilot” to navigate to the many ports along the Columbia. The pilot groups are completely separate organizations and both require years of training. The bar pilots have the dangerous job of getting on and off ships no matter what the weather, using small boats or helicopters. They make a lot of money – up to $180,000 a year, but considering the danger, deserve every penny.
No trip to the area would be complete without a trip back across the bridge to Cape Disappointment and the Lewis and Clark historic site. Cape Disappointment was named by an explorer looking for the entrance to the Columbia, and sailing from the north, failed to find it and turned around here. The lighthouse is the most photographed of any in Washington, and the best photo site is from the site where Lewis and Clark’s expedition viewed the Pacific Ocean. It’s beautiful here, another magnificent area of crashing waves, sandy beaches, and tangled piles of driftwood. We enjoyed our stay here, and hope to return some day and spend time during the summer months. From here, we continue down the Oregon coast – check back and see where we’ve been!