Maritime and Memories
The Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria tells the dramatic and inspiring stories of a mighty river, a vast ocean, and the generations of people who have made their living plying the waters of the region. The Museum is home to the largest collection of maritime artifacts in the Pacific Northwest.
One of the most significant and dangerous aspects of navigation along the Columbia River involves the Columbia River Bar. This is where the enormous, swift-moving river collides with the immense power of the Pacific Ocean creating the worst wave conditions on the planet. The potential for disaster is ever-present. Some of the best Maritime professionals in the world are responsible for making the passage of the bar safe. Nevertheless, since 1972 approximately 2,000 vessels have sunk at the Columbia River Bar earning this area the title of “Graveyard of the Pacific”. With this is mind, it is awe-inspiring to learn about the variety of ships that have successfully navigated this part of the Columbia as demonstrated through the various displays in this museum.
The Lightship Columbia once guided ships to safety at the mouth of the Columbia River. Docked in the harbor just outside the museum, it offers an opportunity to hop aboard and see for yourself where the sailors would cook, eat, sleep, and work. It functioned as a floating lighthouse to mark the mouth of the Columbia River from 1951-1979. Since the lightship was essentially a small town anchored 5 miles out to sea, all of the supplies for the crew had to be on board. The lightship had a crew of 17 men who worked 2-4 week rotations, with 10 men on duty at a time. Life on board consisted of long periods of monotony punctuated by fierce storms, particularly in the winter.
Once we completed out tour of the Maritime Museum, we had one more important stop to make. Probably the most recognized attraction in Astoria is the Astoria Column. Standing atop the 600-foot Coxcomb Hill at a height of 125 feet, it’s impossible to miss. The murals on the intricately decorated column depict significant events in regional and state history.
Inside the column you can climb the 164-step spiral staircase to an observation deck at the top. However, even on ground level, you get a pretty spectacular view of the Astoria Bridge as it passes over the Columbia into the state of Washington.
The reason this was such an important stop for us is because it was one of the places we visited on that 2001 road trip. That day we had quite an elaborate picnic on Coxcomb Hill.
As you can see, things in Astoria look pretty much the same, but we have changed a bit in the past 20 years.
Still smiling… and yes, it’s August and we are wearing wool scarves!
Now we are ready to cross the Astoria Bridge and make our way to Olympic National Park where we will spend the rest of the week. We’ll be taking lots of photos and I’ll be making notes along the way so I can share this adventure with you after we return home.