Wednesday, September 2, 2015
North Oregon Coast, Astoria to Newport



It poured down rain overnight, but by morning the sky was a brilliant blue. A great day for a drive down the coast! For two days we'll follow Highway 101 south, with occasional detours bringing us even closer to sea.

Our motel last night was situated almost directly under the Astoria–Megler Bridge. Located 14 miles from the mouth of the Columbia River, the bridge is over four miles long, the longest continuous truss bridge in North America.

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Astoria-Megler Bridge from Motel 6, Astoria

We left the hotel at 10:30, got gas and groceries, and had a quick look around Astoria before moving on. Stupid factoid: It is illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon. Apparently, the Oregon legislature doesn't trust the general public to not blow themselves up while filling their tanks and would rather leave the job to professionals. This is also the case in New Jersey. But for those of us from the other 48 states and most of the rest of the world, who have been managing this menial task for decades, getting gas in Oregon is inefficient and awkward. To my further annoyance, only once in Oregon was I allowed to pay at the pump with a credit card. The other times, I had to go inside the gas station both before and after the gas was pumped to facilitate the transaction. And Tom wasn't allowed to clean our windshield, but rather we had to leave that to the attendants, who performed the job poorly. None of this was helpful.

Founded by John Jacob Astor in 1811 as a fur-trading outpost, Astoria, near the mouth of the Columbia River, is the oldest U.S. settlement west of the Rockies. Victorian homes climb the hillsides, and at the highest peak is the 125-foot Astoria Column, offering panoramic views of the entire region. Supposedly, that is. It was a very clear morning, and the views were probably fantastic, but the Column and park where it's located were unfortunately closed! The Column was closed for restoration, and then the park itself had to close as well when a recent storm tore off pieces of scaffolding which had been erected around the Column, causing a fear that additional parts could come down and hit passersby. Fair enough, but pretty disappointing.

At Fort Stevens State Park, outside Warrenton, we stopped along a sandy beach at the remnants of an old shipwreck, the “Peter Iredale,” a sailing vessel that ran aground on October 25, 1906, in strong winds and high seas. None of the 27 lives aboard were lost, but the ship became inextricably embedded in the sand and was eventually sold for scrap. Only the bow remains.

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A piece of the "Peter Iredale," resting in peace

Also in Fort Stevens State Park, we paused at the site of a Japanese submarine shelling. The inscription of the historic landmark reads: “On June 21, 1942, a 5.5-inch shell exploded here, one of 17 fired at Columbia River harbor defense installations by the Japanese Submarine I-25, the only hostile shelling of a military base on the U.S. Mainland during World War II and the first since the War of 1812.” I later read that the shelling caused no damage, but that the marker is a reminder of “those dark, uncertain days when the forces of Japan were ranging throughout the Pacific and no one was sure what the future held.” (Port Angeles Evening News, February 26, 1970)

We next stopped at Seaside, a cute little Oregon-style beach resort town. By “Oregon style,” I mean that most of its attractions, from bumper cars to carousels, are indoors rather than outdoors, due, presumably, to the many days of wet weather that make outdoor recreation here unfeasible. Today was nice, though - too cold to swim but pleasant for a stroll. We walked along Broadway to “The Turnaround” on the oceanfront promenade, where a statue of Lewis and Clark commemorates the end the 18-month, 4,000-mile Corps of Discovery journey from St. Louis to the Oregon Coast. The expedition over-wintered in present-day Astoria in 1805-1806, but the explorers came as far as Seaside to acquire salt for their return trip.

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Lewis & Clark and Seaman (Lewis's dog)

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Seaside beach bum, building sand castles for donations

At Cannon Beach, we parked at tiny Les Shirley city park, just south of Ecola State Park. Every freaking little state park in Oregon charges a separate fee, so we avoided entering this one. Yesterday we bought an annual Northwest Forest Recreation Pass for $30 that covers a multitude of National Forest Service sites in both Oregon and Washington, but I'm not aware of a similar pass for the state parks. Anyway, we had a very enjoyable walk along an estuary and on the beach and saw the famous Haystack Rock and other offshore rocks, along with the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, a/k/a Terrible Tilly.”

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Cannon Beach

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"Terrible Tilly"

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Jana at Cannon Beach

Continuing down 101, the scenery is outstanding, especially through Oswald State Park, where there are a number of stunning roadside viewpoints.

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Oswald State Park, along the North Oregon Coast

By mid-afternoon we were famished and decided to stop at the very next restaurant we saw. Boy, did we luck out! We had lunch at the Tsunami Bar & Grill in Wheeler, Oregon, seated on their deck over the Nehalem River, in perfect weather, watching the local fishermen in their enviable work environment. As a bonus, the food was good too. But sorry, dear readers, I was too hungry for fish. We both had burgers, fries, and beer. The local brew here was Pelican Pub & Brewery's Cape Kiwanda Cream Ale, made just down the coast in Pacific City – best brew of the trip, in my opinion.

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Tsunami Bar & Grill, Wheeler, Oregon

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Nehalem River from the deck of the Tsunami

Leaving Highway 101 for a bit, we followed the Three Capes Scenic Route down a stretch of coastline between Tillamook and Pacific City. The northernmost stop is Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint, home to a historic lighthouse on Tillamook Bay and a uniquely shaped old growth Sitka Spruce called “The Octopus.” It is believed that the tree was once a gathering site for the Tillamook Indians, and that, as a specially chosen ceremonial tree, its branches were forced to grow horizontally when they were still young and flexible, and then when the branches were allowed to resume vertical growth, it created the tree's distinctive shape.

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Cape Meares

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Cape Meares Lighthouse

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"The Octopus"

It started pouring down rain as we left Cape Meares, and we thought our fun for the day had ended, but we quickly drove out of the rain and the sightseeing resumed. We stopped at the dory boat launching area just south of Cape Kiwanda in Pacific City, next to a giant sand dune, on a beach with crashing surf. Offshore lies Haystack Rock, the second Haystack Rock of the day.

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Cape Kiwanda, Pacific City

Past Pacific City, our side route connected back with Highway 101. We stopped at Depoe Bay to check out the “World's Smallest Navigable Harbor,” only six acres. I could swear we've seen smaller, but Guinness says we haven't. Anyway, still not much to look at, but at least we saw some sea lions from afar. More impressive were the views a bit farther south at Cape Foulweather. Then we checked out the “Devil's Punchbowl," at times a spot where you can watch the sea swirling and frothing “like a devilish brew,” but it was low tide, and the punchbowl was empty.

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Depoe Bay, Oregon

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Cape Foulweather

Just after dark, at 8:15, we checked in at the Rodeway Inn in Newport. It's a three hour and 15 minute drive from Astoria to Newport, but we managed to make it in ten! Still full from the late lunch, we stayed in for a snack dinner of Chex Mix and a six-pack of Widmer Drop Top Amber Ale, a good beer brewed in Portland. The hotel room had no A/C, which I found shocking, but apparently that's common on the Oregon coast.


Continue to September 3, 2015

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