A friend recommended that we stop in Astoria, the last town on the Oregon coast before we got on the four mile long bridge across the Columbia River into Washington state. It was at the halfway point in today's drive so we did some research to find a place were all 65 feet of us could park in town. We ended up in the lot at the Columbia River Maritime Museum, a special place that documents a special place.
Astoria is the oldest town west of the Mississippi and was named after fur mogul John Jacob Astor who was never here. It lies at the mouth of the Columbia River where it drains into the Pacific. This mighty river brings tons of sand and soil and dumps it at the mouth, creating a giant sand bar that is dredged annually. Big waves from Pacific storms hit that sand bar and all hell breaks loose. Countless ships have met their end in this challenging spot and a major coast guard presence rescues 600 boaters annually. Astoria used to be a major fishing center with canneries dotting the river processing the wild salmon. Today there are no canneries, because there are hardly any wild salmon. A familiar story on this trip as we encounter places where the bounties of nature have been pushed to the limits by men who didn't know when to stop.
As we have driven the coast we have regularly seen tsunami warning signs. Some say that you are in a danger area; others say you are on an evacuation route. The museum displayed a small fishing boat with a big hole in the hull that had inadvertently made its way here from Japan after its most recent major tsunami. They had tracked down the 72 year old fisherman to whom it belonged. He thanked them and said he did not want it back.
On a beautiful sunny day it made sense to climb to the top of the Astoria Column for great views of the countryside. It was built to commemorate the travels of Lewis and Clark who explored the Pacific northwest on an almost three year round trip and spent a cold, miserable winter here before they returned to St. Louis. The column was paid for by the Great Northern Railroad and Vincent Astor, the grandson of Jacob. The hand painted frieze around the tower has recently been restored and you could walk around it tracing important events in the history of Astoria from 1792 - 1880. From the top we could see snow topped Mt. Hood and snow topped flat topped Mt. St. Helens with a missing peak.
The four mile drive across the Columbia River on the Astoria-Megler Bridge was impressive, especially when we had to stop in the middle while they repaired one lane. When it was completed in 1966 it was the final link in Highway 101 from the Canadian to the Mexican borders. We are camped on the water once again on an inlet, which means we are enjoying the warmest temperatures we've had since leaving San Francisco. Our campground is also a marina, but there are no boats in the water here. The owner's main business is building and restoring pricey water craft. They're working on a huge catamaran at the moment and we are wondering how they will every get it back into the water.