Northern Oregon Coast

25 Apr

We set off to make our final lighthouse visit in Oregon, Cape Lookout is the middle cape on the Three Capes Loop, the northern most is Cape Meares this is the location of the last Oregon lighthouse open to the public (the final lighthouse, Tillamook, is a columbarium a storage place for ashes of the deceased).

When we arrived the road was in full sunshine but we could see the mist rising from the ocean and the view disappeared and then reappeared frequently as we looked out from the car park view point to the rocks where tufted puffins nest. I would have stayed longer but the mist and cold wind blowing did not encourage standing around so we walked the trail to the lighthouse and were surprised when we got to the end to discover we were on a level with the light rather than looking up to it! This is the coasts shortest lighthouse with the biggest lens, now out of operation it used to shine 21 nautical miles out to sea.

It was a quick tour, a bit disappointing as this would be our last one, I did not expect to be so fascinated by the lights but each one is different in so many ways its interesting to learn and compare.

We moved on and again North, the road surface was shocking and we bumped and joggled our way to Tillimook (which smelled so very badly of manure we christened it smellymook). We had decided to visit the Tillamook Dairy where they make cheddar cheese and visitors can watch the process from a viewing gallery. Many years ago we visited Cheddar Gorge the home of Cheddar and remember well the very hands on way they cut and turned the curds, the art of cheddaring, it was very different to the process in place at Tillamook where from the milk coming into the plant nothing was visible until a 40lb block of curd cheese emerged in a plastic bag to be sealed and conveyed to the chilled storage area for the designated length of time for its particular variety. When aged it returns to the packing room to be cut into accurately weighed portions and again vacuum sealed for sale. They claim it ages naturally, I dispute how it can when vacuum sealed, I would think traditional cheese makers may agree with me that it should age exposed to the atmosphere, maybe I am wrong! However, we tasted samples and agreed it was good cheese and bought some sweet creamy tasting fresh curd cheese, mature cheddar and some smoked cheddar along with some butter. They also make Ice Cream and sell from the on site store, in cones and tubs but I had bought some from the local supermarket expecting it to be cheaper there, it was actually 50c more expensive, hey ho.

We had the details for two sites for the night in Garibaldi just along the coast. We wanted laundry and Wi-Fi to enable us to catch up on both. We found the first site, pulled in and took a look but were not impressed so moved on to find the second. A huge sign on the side of the road told us to turn left which we did. We found a Methodist Church children’s camp, and could see an RV site behind some houses but could not find a way into it. With this I decided we were not meant to stay here the night and we moved on to either stay at the State Park or elsewhere if we happened across a site en-route.

We were almost at Nehalem State Park when we saw a sign for a private park on the roadside and decided to follow it for a look. We turned in to a small entrance alongside the Nehalem River with log cabins overlooking the most picturesque of views. We were just wondering if there was someone around when a gentleman appeared from a cabin on our left, Robert got out to chat and they wandered off down the plot leaving me to drink in the view.

On return Robert explained there was only one site and the manager was not sure we would fit in but willing to let us try, so we did. We backed in fine just fitting in the length and with a bit of propping up at the front from Roberts home made supports we were soon level. Forms filled in and fees paid we set about filling washing machines and firing up the internet.

From our vantage point in what we term ‘the conservatory’ (front seats) we watched over the river for wildlife, Elk and eagles apparently visit quite often but we only saw the normal water birds and maybe a red tailed hawk in a distant tree. As the sun began to descend it lit the mountains in the near distance, changing their colour from green to golden, a peaceful view to end the day.


We awoke to bright sunshine and the view was just as good as the night before, this morning the mist was rising off the water as the air warmed and we did not need the heater on for long, it was more a case of opening windows to let the heat out.

Today’s destination was Fort Stevens near Astoria, the northern most point of the Oregon coast and of great historical importance. The explorer’s Lewis and Clark arrived near here in 1805 on their journey of discovery from the East, sent out by Thomas Jefferson to map the interior west of the Mississippi River. Along with the museums which tell their story and that of the native Indians who lived here originally, military forts dot this corner between the Columbia River and the Pacific. From the Civil war through to the Second World War it has been of major importance and we were keen to learn more.

We selected a site at the State park and decided on an afternoon walk to the beach and the remains of a 1906 shipwreck, however after a mile and half walk we spent about 5 minutes on the beach as the cold wind was blowing hard and, memories of our sandstorm walk previously, sent us back behind the dunes into the sunshine and shelter. We took a trail which led to Battery Russell and the battery commander’s station, both grey concrete box structures, Battery Russell having huge gun emplacements behind its walls to hide them from any approaching enemies. Today the sand has filled in what was once the coast line and about a mile of wooded land stands in front of the battery so there is no view of the river or ocean leaving the battery well camouflaged. Tomorrow we intend to visit the other historical sites and continue our education.


The State Park has 9 miles of paved walkways and we took a route which led to the Museum. Having looked at the Battery the day before we were interested in the background to it and the other buildings in the vicinity but the museum also houses relics and anecdotes from the wars those buildings have witnessed. The claim to fame is of being the only mainland fort attacked by enemy fire since 1812.

During World War II, when a Japanese submarine opened fire on the Fort, the soldiers were keen to try out their guns and fire back but the higher ranks did not give the word to do so. The officers considered the sub was beyond the range of their guns and figured that firing back would give away the position of the fort and all that surrounded it. It looks like they were correct, a report from the Japanese Captain of the submarine after the war indicates he was totally unaware of what he was firing at and had he known how many guns were there would not have attempted to show any form of aggression. The shelling seems to have come as somewhat of a surprise to both the military and civilians living in the area, there were notes from old soldiers which indicated there was some confusion as to what was happening and one from a local resident who confessed to thinking it must be a salute to the death of someone important, it seems they were not expecting hostility!


Astoria is the last City on the Oregon coast before we move into Washington State and they were holding their Crab Fest (this seems to be the herald of Spring around here) it must be pretty popular as the State Park Ranger told us when we arrived it was full for the weekend, they have around 200 sites which equals a lot of campers!
We called a local Private site Lewis and Clark RV resort and they could accommodate us for Thursday evening.

We wanted to visit Fort Clatsop, the winter fort built by Lewis and Clark on their arrival this side of the Columbia River in 1805 and dedicated to the Clatsop Indians to whom they handed it over when they made there way back home to the east in 1806. The centre and the film proved very interesting with extracts from the journals of Lewis and Clark and the 30 men in the Corp of Discovery giving an insight into the journey they made and the conditions they endured how they made contact and befriended the native Indians and bartered with them to the benefit of both parties. This is a piece of American History we had no knowledge of and have found very interesting.


A cold bright start to the morning rapidly degenerated into a foggy soup and just as quickly improved again! We had information on how and when to catch the bus into Astoria from just across the way to the Campground and we were ready to set off when the owner pulled up in his truck and offered us a lift. Not only did he take us to town he dropped us at the bus terminal and came into the office with us to enquire about the return journey and timetable. This was all much appreciated but typical of the spirit we have found over here.

With our information in hand we wandered off to explore. Astoria has a four mile river boardwalk alongside the Columbia River. This is the largest river mouth on the West Coast entering the Pacific Ocean and is navigable by large boats 50 miles inland to Portland. The Coastguard has a huge vessel permanently moored here along with a buoy maintenance ship and the Megler Bridge they made a interesting sight. The bridge is four miles in length and crosses into Washington however there is not any habitation on the other side so was once called the “Bridge to Knowhere” and the State refused to pay for its building, bonds were raised locally to enable the construction and until the bonds were paid off a toll was charged to all who crossed. This toll was removed quite some years ago and the four miles is free for all. We gleaned this bit of information from a great volunteer (yet another one!) on the tram which from 12 noon until 6pm each Friday Saturday and Sunday runs up and down the four mile boardwalk. For a dollar a trip, or two dollars to travel all day, you get to ride the four miles and listen to the local information these volunteers offer. Astoria was used for some of the filming of Free Willie and the local High School was the venue for Kindergarten Cop. The main house and its neighbours, which featured in The Goonies also sits on a hill overlooking the river. Robert was very interested when the local brewery was pointed out en route and having travelled to the eastern end of the track we came back a short distance on the tram then got off and popped into the Wet Dog Café, which houses the brewery, for lunch .

The menu gave plenty of fishy choice for me, as usual, not so much for the veggie, but Robert decided to have lasagne and a glass of Porter. I wondered about clams which are a big local delicacy, as I have not tried them before, but our waiter described them as being like calamari which I do not like so I opted for scallops, deep fried in beer batter and French Fries washed down with Coffee. A view over the Columbia with the blue sky shining on the mountains to the North made for a great view whilst we ate. A second glass of Porter for Robert finished our lunch off nicely then we found our way back to the Transit Centre.

Astoria sits between the Columbia River and Youngs Bay, the bus we needed to take does a loop around the City, back to the Transit Centre then loops out to where the Campground is, crossing the bay a couple of times, and giving a great view of the bridges and mountains beyond. As the 75c fare would take us all the way around we decided to use it as a sightseeing trip and do the whole route. This took us up onto the hill and the residential areas allowing a close look at the lovely Victorian and Craft Homes built there. A lot of the Downtown buildings date from the 1930’s and also are very well preserved, the overall feeling of the place is actually quite strange in that there are some quite scruffy run down industrial blocks but also some lovely well preserved old buildings, added to this, a new housing estate built in keeping with the old shingle buildings mingles in too.

Back at base a late afternoon of leisure, in doors and out of the cold wind, is allowing me to type up these notes and Robert to sleep off the Porter!


One Response to “Northern Oregon Coast”

  1. Holiday Park Breaks April 25, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    Sounds like a fantastic experience and it was engaging reading about it in your excellent account.

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