A Rainy Oregon Coast

Saturday, April 05, 2008 -- Along the Oregon Coast at Astoria

My last post had us in Newport at South Beach State Park. Thursday was a wonderful day with good weather -- no rain. Our tour of Newport included the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Nye Beach, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, and, finally, the historic Bay Front area along the harbor where the commercial fishing fleet docks. I'm finding I really like beach towns. They're more laid-back and casual than other, more pretentious, places. They feel comfortable and everyone seems so friendly... and accepting.

In the late 1860's and through the 1870's, increased shipping activity along the West Coast brought with it more shipping accidents and disasters when ships foundered on sandbars, shoals, or rocks. The US Government, wanting to foster growth in the west, made it a priority to build lighthouses to help guide ship traffic along the coast and bays up and down along the Pacific Ocean. The Yaquina Head Lighthouse came directly from that effort.

Often built on points of land that naturally jutted out into the ocean, just getting the necessary materials and supplies to build the thing was a monumental task. In the case of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, every brick and component of the 90 ft. high tower, the tallest operational lighthouse in Oregon, had to be transported on a ship from San Francisco. When near the Yaquina headland where the lighthouse was to be built, the ship had to anchor quite some distance off shore, as there was no natural harbor or dock nearby. Then every item, every brick, every tool had to be loaded onto smaller boats for the trip to the nearby sand beach. From the sand beach, the items had to be transferred to wagons or carts and lugged nearly a mile to the site. Does anybody work like that anymore?

And yes, there are two lighthouses in Newport. Only the big Yaquina Head Light is still active, but the other, the smaller Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, has survived and is now an historic treasure that preserves a way of life, a passion, and a mission that now belongs to the past. With a multitude of other navigation aids for seamen (radar and GPS among others) the importance of the lighthouse has passed, like the use of the turn-signal in heavy California traffic.

The plan only called for us spending two nights in Newport before moving up the coast to the Astoria area. What's more, the weather prognosticators had called for good weather on Friday -- just what we needed for moving day. Of course, we woke to rain. Heavy rain.

The coffee pot got a workout Friday morning as we prepared for the drive and waited for a break in the weather. It's Oregon... if it's raining, just wait a while and it'll stop for a while-longer before starting again. I though that during one of those breaks, I could get us out of the park and at least moving up Hwy 101. About 10am, the rain stopped for a bit and we were out'a there. The recent cold weather had us running low on propane, so we even had time to fill the tank on the way out of Newport.

We arrived in the Astoria area and found a great campsite at Fort Stevens State Park near the mouth of the Columbia River. We're also just a quarter mile or so from the Pacific Ocean. Our plan was to stay here for two nights before moving back to Vancouver on Sunday.

Today, Saturday, we focused on the local history of the Lewis & Clark Corp of Discovery expedition. First, I've got to explain something.

Prior to the past two weeks or so, we had planned to leave Vancouver in early May and tour our way back to the Midwest in plenty of time for our son's wedding. The route we'd been planning had us going down into Utah, which has, it seems, hundreds of National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Areas, State Parks, and other things to see. I think we could spend months there and still not see everything. Utah is something we really want to take our time doing -- we don't want to push it. But what's an alternative?

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

This famed duo managed a feat of undaunted courage from 1803 until 1806. Their "Corps of Discovery", commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson, attempted and successfully completed an impossible mission of exploration that took them through the most treacherous, hostile, and unknown environments imaginable. That mission reached it's most westward point during the winter of 1805 when the Corps spent the winter near our campsite, right here at the mouth of the mighty Columbia, not far from Astoria. So what does all this have to do with our trip back to the Midwest?

Well, the plan has changed. We now hope to follow the Lewis & Clark Trail -- as closely as possible in a big camper -- and re-live the history and challenge of the expedition as we move east during May and June.

I'll have a lot more to say about this in the coming weeks.

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