We hastened from our beds to the bow, knowing we had followed in the wake of Lewis and Clark. We started by land from their Traveler’s Rest encampment in Montana and reached the Pacific by way of the Snake and Columbia rivers.
Ahead, Cape Disappointment Light House flashed its short red and long white signature. Atop this bold headland on November 19, 1805, Capt. William Clark exulted, “We are in full view of the Ocean.” The lighthouse is the oldest on the North Pacific Coast, dating from 1857.
We returned from the notorious Columbia River Bar to Astoria, the first American outpost on the Pacific. In 1810, John Jacob Astor sent parties by land and by sea to dominate the fur trade, particularly in sea otter pelts, from his base at Fort Astor.
Half the morning was devoted to the Columbia River Maritime Museum alongside our moorings. While we took in displays of heroic rescue work on the Columbia Bar of commercial salmon fishermen and historic British, Spanish, Russian and American vessels, our Sea Lion headed to sea and up the Washington Coast. We rejoined the Sea Lion for dinner in Westport on the Grays Harbor entrance.
In the interval that Sea Lion was gone, we went by bus, first to the winter 1805-06 encampment of the Corps of Discovery at Fort Clatsop. The replicated fort is located on a sheltered tidal reach where the Corps found timber for building their fort, good spring water and an abundance of Roosevelt elk. They were thoroughly sick of eating boiled venison by the time they started homeward, but those elk sustained them and provided tallow for candles and leather for all the moccasins they made that winter.
We had a lunch catered by Cannery Café in a private dining room overlooking the 4.5 mile long Astoria Bridge that carried us north into the State of Washington. Halibut soufflé was the highlight of this luncheon.
Our two buses followed Pacific Coast Highway 101 alongside the biggest, cleanest estuary on the Northwest Coast. Willapa Bay, at 88,000 acres, is the epicenter for oyster culture. And its eelgrass beds and marshlands provide critical habitat for a host of migratory birds including Pacific black brant, which winter here. Skeins of brant passed us overhead on their spring migration.
Our naturalist Steve Engel introduced us enroute to the town of Raymond, Washington, where he directed the lay out of five blocks of sidewalk imprinted with animal tracks, birds tracks, vegetation and a fish that all told stories. The 5th and 6th graders wrote stories of wild creatures interacting and Steve did the imprints for every story with an accompanying guide and coloring book, “Track Tales.”
The guiding spirits of this economically hard hit lumber mill town, Rebecca Chaffee and Bridget Beattie, met with us in the refurbished 1928 oriental theme movie theater to share with pride their recent project. Local artisans created 200 steel statues of all the various wildlife and native people, fishermen, loggers, and dairy farmers who depend on the well being of this land. These statues are distributed along Pacific Highway on either side of town. It was uplifting to be among people with so much pride in community.