Exploring Astoria, Oregon

The Astoria-Megler Bridge reaching across the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon to Washington State

After a bit of a break from writing, I am back with more on our Oregon travels earlier in the Fall. We are currently enjoying being back in Northern California and near our former home base. Staying at an RV Park in this area gives us a chance to be near family and friends for awhile. I have several more posts I want to do on Oregon so bear with me. For those that have been following, I have written quite a bit about this wonderful state. For traveling, Oregon is one of the best and in years past, we have done a variety of trips around the state. This is our first time though in an RV taking our time, a luxury we never had when we were working! Come along with us as we explore some of what Oregon’s most northern coastal city has to offer.

Columbia River Maritime Museum

Our first objective when hitting Astoria was a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. Astoria sits alongside the mighty Columbia River and this museum showcases life on the River. We found the exhibits to be really interesting and the museum just the right size – not too big or small for an enjoyable visit. We are fond of anything maritime and this is well done. After first watching a great 3D film of unusual deep water sea creatures, we headed outside to tour the Columbia Lightship.

This was the last lightship on the Pacific Coast to guide vessels across the Columbia River Bar, which is also known as the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” The Bar was a treacherous area with bad winter weather that kept the lightship crew on board for weeks at a time when no supplies could be delivered. Duty on the ship was full of lots of boredom with gale force storms. Nowadays a navigational buoy does the lighting and the ship remains on display at the museum. I had never heard of a lightship and found touring the inside and outside interesting. It isn’t very big and I was amazed at how much is stored onboard including thousands of gallons of fuel, water and over 12 tons of food.

On board the Columbia Lightship

One of the biggest surprises for Mark and I visiting the museum was learning about the Columbia Bar which is noted to be one of the more dangerous river crossings in the world. Where the Columbia River enters the Pacific, waves, wind and current create hazardous conditions and the area is littered with shipwrecks. Since 1792, approximately 2,000 vessels including over 200 large ships have sunk with more than 700 people losing their lives to the sea. Bar pilots now guide ships across the Bar, often boarding by helicopter. Besides photos and drawings, the museum had several videos showing the difficulties faced by mariners attempting this crossing.

Historical drawing of ships navigating the Columbia Bar

The museum has a collection of coast guard boats used on the river and the 36-foot boat in photo below was the standard rescue boat in use for 80 years on the Oregon Coast. Decommissioned in 1988, only one lifeboat (1961) was lost during those 80 years.

One of the more interesting boats on display actually arrived from Japan. After the 2011 tsunami, it floated on the ocean for two years, traveling 5,000 miles and washing ashore at nearby Cape Disappointment in Washington. The owner of the boat did not want it returned, so it was donated to the museum. This was the second Japanese tsunami “survivor” I had seen during our recent Oregon travels. The first was the boat dock exhibited in Newport.

Waves, currents and boat trips can’t help but conjure thoughts of seasickness and the museum has an exhibit called, “Why Don’t I Feel Well?” The best cure: “Don’t go to sea!” Sensory wrist bands help some, over the counter meds can combat the nausea although they have side effects or eating ginger which has no side effects. I don’t get seasick but have taken candied ginger root on a few whaling trips as a precaution. On one trip in Monterey Bay, California I passed some out to several sick passengers. And what does Mark do to prevent seasickness? He heeds the first recommendation!

I really enjoyed the historic map room! There were many maps from the 1600’s and 1700’s. It was fascinating to see drawings of the world as early explorers and map makers once envisioned it. For example, the map below shows California as an Island.

Historic map from 1656 showing California (far left) as an island

This map shows the Arctic Circle which early explorers believed was navigable by a water route to the pole. Back in those days, a water route was not possible, but today with global warming and the subsequent melting of the polar cap, the dream of those early explorers can now be realized.

Map of the Northwest passage

An exhibit of Japanese flags from World War II made for a heartfelt memorial. Japanese soldiers carried these flags with them and they were lovingly inscribed with good luck messages from family and friends. American soldiers kept them as souvenirs, but later their relatives wanted to return them to the soldiers’ families in Japan. The Obon Society in Astoria has been able to do just that. A short film showcased the return of one flag and it brought tears to my eyes.

Astoria has a solid history of fishing enterprises which are explained at the museum. The city once called itself the “Salmon Canning Capital of the World.” Mark and I found another intriguing exhibit about the harvesting of shark liver. Since liver is high in Vitamin A, it was given to World War II pilots to improve their night vision. It sold for $18.00 a pound which was a lot of money back in the 1940’s. In 1943, 270,000 pounds of liver was collected at a value of 5 million dollars!

Mark and I usually go our separate ways at some point during museum visits, since I spend more time looking than he does. When we met up later he asked if I had seen the infrared room. In this room people can see themselves as rescuers would using infrared vision technology. Usually I am pretty careful not to miss exhibits, but somehow I missed it. Mark took this ghostly looking photo of himself.

After our museum visit we headed for lunch at Curry and CoCo, a restaurant serving an interesting combo of ethnic foods, Thai and Cuban. During our visit we learned that Cuban entrees were being served at dinner time, but we love Thai food which was the main reason we came. The restaurant was gaily decorated inside with painted street scenes from Havana and colorful furnishings.

Inside Curry & CoCo Thai Restaurant

The food was so delicious and it had been awhile since we had eaten Thai food. We had a yellow curry special called Kao Soj and a Pad Thai.

After a stop at Josephson’s Smoked Fish House to pick up some smoked salmon to go (I have become quite fond of this fish during our Oregon travels 😊), we headed to our next destination, a national historic park. As I have mentioned several times in blog posts, we try to catch as many national park sites as we can during our travels. Fort Clatsop was a pretty important place historically as this was the farthest point of the Lewis and Clark expedition (Corps of Discovery) after completing their journey of finding a water route to the Pacific Ocean. After arriving in December 1805, they erected a small fort where they stayed for the winter, leaving in March 1806 to return east.

Sacajawea was an important member of the Lewis and Clark expedition

Fort Clatsop is located in a a beautiful area of old growth forest. The Visitor Center was nice although the film the rangers raved about was dated and silly. The original fort is long gone, but a replica was built on the site in the 1950’s. I think Mark spent a grand total of about three minutes looking inside the rooms of the fort before telling me he was heading back towards the truck. Before leaving he used his usual phrase of, “But take your time.” In those three minutes I was able to get a few photos of him looking around. It is true there isn’t much to see here, but I think Lewis and Clark deserved more than three minutes attention 🙃. From the Fort I did walk a short trail to see the expedition’s landing spot on the Lewis and Clark River.

Fort Clatsop
Interior of the Fort

This is the second national park site this year where we spent less than an hour visiting. The first was at the River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Southeastern Michigan. I would have to say the River Raisin remains the least interesting national park site we have ever visited. It was so boring that I didn’t take one photo and I always take multiple photos every where we go. Fort Clatsop was more interesting, but not much time needed to take it all in.

Thanks for taking the time to read and stay tuned for more Oregon posts!

6 thoughts on “Exploring Astoria, Oregon”

  1. Know that area well as my son and grandchildren live up the hill at Skyline Place. It is visible from the marina and other locations. Good to be reminded of the history in that area.

    We are enjoying our time at Rincon West. Think of you on book club nights.

    1. Thanks for commenting Ilona! Nice to know you have family in that area, it is a beautiful and interesting town. I have been getting emails about the book club and look forward to joining you all at some point next year when we can come to Rincon!

    1. Thanks for the comment Sharon! I wish we could have spent some time also exploring the waterfalls at Columbia River Gorge. What a beautiful area that is!

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