Astoria Megler Bridge

Astoria Megler Bridge

The 4.1 mile long steel cantilever Astoria Megler Bridge, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America, dominates the view from the large picture windows in my brother’s living room. During our stay we drove across it and completed a loop to Cape Disappointment, near where the Lewis and Clark expedition made their historic vote about where to spend the winter. All of the expedition participants, including Clark’s slave and Sacagawea, decided whether to stay on the north side of the Columbia, to head back upriver, or to cross to the south side of the mighty river. They decided to cross the river and build Fort Clatsop where they endured cold, rainy conditions from December 8, 1805 until March 23, 1806. We visited the 2005 reconstruction based on William Clark’s journal that is more rustic and rough hewn than the 1955 reconstruction that I had previously seen. We watched two video presentations, one outlining the Corps of Discovery trip from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, the other telling the story about these travelers from the Native American perspective. Our walk on the grounds included sighting Saddle Mountain. We drove the labyrinth of Astoria roads atop Coxcomb Hill where the 125-foot Astoria Column was covered for restoration work. I was able to photograph Chinook Chief Comcomly’s burial canoe replica overlooking Youngs Bay.

Fort Stevens

Fort Stevens

We visited Fort Stevens, named for Isaac Ingallis Stevens, the first governor of the Washington Territory. Born in 1818, Stevens served in the military from 1839-1853 before being appointed governor in 1853. With the start of the Civil War, he reenlisted as a colonel in 1861, was quickly promoted to Brigade Commander under General Thomas W. Sherman, and posthumously promoted to Major General after his death in 1862. Fort Stevens was built in 1864 and not decommissioned until 1947. I found its World War II history most interesting. I learned that the Japanese submarine I-25 fired a 5.5 inch deck gun and a 25 mm machine gun toward the fort on June 21, 1942. Earlier, on December 16, 1941, a planned attack on the Cape Disappointment lighthouse was cancelled at the last moment. Later in the war, this Japanese submarine attempted to torpedo tankers and also made incendiary bomb attempts. Another informational display outlined Japan’s FUGO program of bomb carrying balloons that included an explosion on May 5, 1945 that killed six people on a Sunday School outing, the only known deaths attributed to a Japanese attack on the U. S. mainland. Don’t miss the miniature railroad reconstruction to gain an overview of the fort complex. The garden behind the Military Museum had several beautiful roses. Our visit included a stop at the remains from the October 25, 1906 wreck of the Peter Iredale and views of the South Jetty.

Columbia Lighthouse

Columbia Lighthouse

The Columbia River Maritime Museum explains why the mouth of the Columbia is considered the “Graveyard of the Pacific.” Since Robert Gray’s 1792 exploration of the Columbia River, approximately 2,000 vessels have sunk at the Columbia River bar. The high seas, the mighty river, and the shallow, shifting sand bar make the Columbia River bar one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers annually removes enough sand to fill 500,000 dump trucks or 5 to 6 million cubic yards of sand. Our ticket to the museum allowed us to visit the Lightship Columbia. Ship No. 604 was stationed 6 miles off the entrance of the Columbia River from 1951 until November 2, 1979. The crew of 17 worked 2 weeks on and one week off with 10 men on duty at all times. Winds of 60 knots and waves 30 feet high were common. The first lightship on the Pacific Coast, No. 50, was assigned in 1892. No. 604 was the last active lightship on the West Coast. It had bright beacon lights atop its mast that were visible at night, a powerful foghorn, and transmitted a radio beam signal. It stored 12 tons of food, 13,000 gallons of fresh water, and 47,000 gallons of fuel. Those who worked on such a ship were heroes. A couple of other interesting factoids gleaned from the museum. A typical steamboat would burn 3 cords of wood an hour or 40 cords of wood a day. Remember a cord is 4x4x8 feet. That’s a lot of wood for each steamboat plying the waters of the Columbia River when it was the main method of transportation. During World War II, shark fishing was a source of vitamin A used to improve the night vision of pilots. The only part of the shark that was used for this purpose was the liver. In 1943, 270,000 pounds of liver were collected. Although not directly related to the Columbia River, we also viewed the 3D film “Nature’s Wonderland and Galapagos.” The photography was exceptional and it was great to be reminded of our own special time in the Galapagos. We learned about a new species of iguana only recently discovered, but there are many more facets of Galapagos not covered in a 22-minute presentation.

A final note about Astoria’s interesting history concerns the Ghadar Party, an international anti-colonial resistance movement. The beginning of the twentieth century Indian (as in India) independence movement can be traced to a gathering in Astoria’s Finnish Socialist Hall In May 1913. Our visit to Astoria allowed me to reconnect with my brother and to learn about his newly adopted city.

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