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Sentinel of the Mighty Columbia River

Tuesday, August 30 we explored the area around Warrenton, Hammond and Astoria, Oregon. This included the massive Fort Stevens State Park south of the mouth of the Columbia River. One of the nation’s largest public campgrounds, Fort Stevens marks the site of a military installation once used to guard the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II.

Today, Fort Stevens is a 4,300-acre park offering a variety of recreation adventures, including camping, beach-combing, a freshwater lake, trails, wildlife viewing, and a historic shipwreck. The RV facilities are the largest I've seen to date and includes: 174 full-hookup sites (36 pull-through), 302 electrical sites with water (11 pull-through), 6 tent sites, 9 walk-in tent sites with parking nearby, 15 yurts (7 pet-friendly), 11 deluxe cabins (5 pet-friendly). Amazing!

Our first stops inside the park was to the wreck of the British bark, Peter Iredale, one of the largest and finest sailing ships of her day. She ran aground on Clatsop Beach October 25, 1906 and was stranded but all crew members were safely evacuated. The iron and steel vessel has been one of the local sights ever since.

From there we drove to the south jetty at the entrance of the Columbia River. Salmon season had started and the boats around the mouth were thick as mosquitos. All day long we heard the larger vessel traffic alerting the small fleet of boats with 5 blasts of their horns. In international maritime language the sound signal of five short blasts means “I am not sure of your intentions and am concerned we are going to collide”.

From the jetty we travelled to one of the many military historical sites at Fort Stevens. Battery Russell is one of nine batteries at Fort Stevens and was active for forty years, from 1904 to 1944. Fort Stevens itself was in service for 84 years, from the Civil War through to WWII. It’s named after Major General David Russell who fought in the Civil War.

The battery once protected the mouth of the Columbia River. Together with Fort Columbia and Fort Canby in Washington, the three forts created the Triangle of Fire. This defense made it difficult for enemy boats to sneak undetected up the Columbia River.

On Wednesday, August 31, 2022 we took a trip over to Astoria, Oregon for a seafood lunch and a visit to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The museum features the unique characteristic of this body of water. Since 1792 approximately 2000 vessels, including over 200 large ships, have sunk at the Columbia River Bar. More than 700 people have lost their lives to the sea. These dangers have earned this area the title “Graveyard of the Pacific”. Mariners agree that the combination of high seas, a mighty river, land shallow, and shifting sand bars make the Columbia River bar one of the most dangerous bar crossings in the world.

The highlight for me was the full size exhibit of a United States Coast Guard 33 Foot Motor Life Boat rescuing a man in the waters off the mouth of the Columbia River bar. This is the same area where the USCG trains "coasties" as Coxswains (helmsmen) to operate in these challenging and dangers conditions.


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