I still had a day and a half left to explore Astoria, and I was determined to make the most of it! I had already had a great time during my first day and a half – but I had a lot more to do!
Saturday, November 12, 2016
Saturday morning I went to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. What a fantastic place! The museum covers all aspects of the Columbia River, from the Native American history in the area, to the winter that Lewis and Clark were here, to the various ships that explored off the coast. The museum also explores the fishing and cannery industry that existed from the late 1800s until recent times. In 1945, there were 30 canneries operating in Astoria; the last one closed in 1980. The museum has a wall full of cannery labels; they have a beauty similar to the apple box labels from the same era. The graphic design on some of the labels is amazing!
The museum also has a lot of information on the Columbia River Bar Pilots and the process of guiding these ships successfully into the waters of the Columbia River. The volume of the Columbia River and the way that the North Pacific storms come in make this stretch of water one of the most dangerous in the world. The waves here can exceed 40 feet in height during winter storms, and can easily crash the largest of ships on the sandbars at the mouth of the river. Ships entering these waters have to be boarded and piloted by a Bar Pilot who is licensed by the State of Oregon. These pilots complete a dangerous transfer to the ship they are boarding, done either with a pilot boat or a helicopter. They pilot over 3,600 ships each year into the waters of the river and back out again. And surprisingly, the Columbia River Bar Pilots have been doing this since 1846. It was a fascinating exhibit.
Interestingly, the museum also has a collection of yosegaki hinomaru (the museum used this word order, but there are also references with the name hinomaru yosegaki), which are the good luck flags which were given to Japanese soldiers by friends and family covered in messages and well wishes. They have a longer tradition, but were most notably given during World War II. Many American service members took these flags from fallen Japanese soldiers as mementos and over time, they have ended up in museums such as the Maritime Museum. Here, however, they have been working on a project to find the families of the men these flags were taken from, and send them home to Japan.
I ended my visit with a tour of the Lightship Columbia, which is anchored at the dock outside of the museum. The Columbia served as a floating lighthouse, serving as a beacon to ships between 1951 and its decommissioning in 1979. It is now designated as a National Historic Landmark. The work of the lightship was then done by a more modern navigational beacon, which is also now retired. It is a self guided tour, but there is a docent who can answer questions on the ship. Exhibits explained that the crew of the ship served between two and four weeks at a time, and had to have everything needed to live for several weeks on board the ship, because winter storms often prevented the delivery of supplies. 10 crew members were aboard the ship at all times, with a total crew of 18.
The museum was certainly worth a visit, and worth the price of the $14 admission (which includes the tour of the lightship). You can add a 3D film for another $5; the movies change.
After the museum, I had a late lunch at Clementes, along the riverwalk near the museum. I loved my Salmon Fish and Chips, paired with a Strawberry Blonde from the Wet Dog Cafe and Brewery. It was a great spot to just relax for a little while before continuing to enjoy the afternoon.
Late that afternoon I drove up to the Astoria Column. I had been there once before, on a previous tour through Astoria, but it was worth a return visit. The tower was completed in 1926, and is 125 feet tall. It has a hand-painted spiral frieze winding up the column; it would stretch more than 500 feet if it could be unwound. The frieze depicts three historic events: the discovery of the Columbia River by Captain Robert Gray; the end of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; and the arrival of the ship Tonquin. The artwork is done in Sgraffito (skra-fe-to) style, which consists of a dark basecoat of plaster with white plaster laid over it, into which the figures are scratched or etched. It really is very detailed.
Climbing to the top of the tower is a huge treat. There are 164 steps on the spiral staircase, and then you can go outside at the top to see a 360 view of Astoria and the ocean and the river. Just be aware it can be breezy up there – it is 600 feet above sea level. It’s amazing! You can buy balsa wood gliders at the gift shop on the ground for kids to launch from the top of the tower. I saw several doing this, and it looked like fun! I stayed for a beautiful orange sunset. The kind that makes you appreciate life and the blessings you have.
I finished off my evening with a trip to Buoy Beer Company, a brewery located right on the water in a 90 year old cannery building. They focus on European style beer, and great food. I went with the tempura/beer battered cheese curds – wow, delicious and sinful. And no visit is complete without checking out the window in the floor, where you can see the sea lions who hang out underneath the building! I loved it!
Sunday, November 13, 2016
Sunday I had to make the long drive home, but I was proud of myself that I made the most of my solo trip. The weather was clear on my last morning, so I went for a long walk down the riverwalk once more, and got to see the trolley that delivers tourists to several stops along its route. Apparently I enjoyed watching the trolley so much I forgot to take a photo… It is such a cute feature of this small town! I walked a couple miles down to a viewing platform, and then headed back to the hotel. It was a beautiful morning for November, and it made me happy.
The rain held off until I got back to the hotel and my car. Although there had been rain a few times during the long weekend, it never rained much while I was outside wandering! Success!
What a great weekend…