ASTORIA! Magic City of the Pacific Coast! Founded in 1811 as Fort Astor, a trading post of the American Fur Company, named for its President, John Jacob Astor. It’s the earliest American city west of the Mississippi, and our base for the day’s activities. The National Geographic Sea Bird docked at Pier 2, and we headed off to Fort Clatsop, winter home of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1805-1806. The members of the Expedition spent a miserable 3.5 months here, complaining about the food, the weather, the boredom, and nearly everything else. But William Clark put the best light on it: We always had three meals a day and lived as well as we had a right to expect. The site is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. It consists of a Visitors’ Center with excellent exhibits, a fine bookstore, a canoe landing, and the reconstructed fort, 2,500 square feet. We’ve been tracking Lewis and Clark all the way down the Clearwater, Snake, and Columbia Rivers, and it was with a sense of fulfillment that we saw where they came to rest.
Following Fort Clatsop we visited the Columbia River Maritime Museum, in downtown Astoria, the finest museum of its kind west of Mystic, CT. The CRMM emphasizes the Columbia River Bar, the most dangerous river entrance in the world, where over 2,000 ships have been lost in recorded history. Bar pilots (there are about 20), Coast Guard rescue vessels, and dramatic moments are part of the story. But history is key: early commerce for sea otter skins (the first ship to cross the bar was the Columbia Rediviva, Captain Robert Grey of Boston, in May, 1792, followed by British vessels on the Vancouver Expedition), steam-powered paddle-wheelers, the salmon-canning industry (Astoria boasted over 40 canneries at its height about 1890), a U.S. Naval base during WWII (the USS Astoria was lost at Savo Island in 1942), and modern commercial barging.
After our usual nutritious lunch (fare aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird could be simplified: crabs and cookies), most guests headed across the Astoria-Megler Bridge to Cape Disappointment on the Washington side. Amazingly, the weather cooperated: it was sunny and moderate. The views are spectacular—the North and South Jetties, the nearby lighthouse, the Pacific Ocean. A short visit to Waikiki Beach capped the afternoon. (There were Hawaiians in the western fur trade, and one early casualty of the bar washed up here). At this writing, the National Geographic Sea Bird is itself approaching the bar, getting as near as possible to impassable waters. The captain’s cocktails and farewell dinner will be most appreciated as we near the end of the day, the week, and the journey.