Graveyard of the Pacific

Astoria, OR – After 7 weeks on the Oregon Coast we considered rerouting inland to enjoy some warmer weather.  Instead, we continued on to Astoria, where the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean!  We are so happy we did.  It’s a place where history comes alive.  All that stuff we learned about in history books suddenly became real! The treacherous river bar, the sites of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the forts guarding the channel and the city itself are rich in history.  The best part of all is that our good friends, Phil & Esther, met up with us!  They were in Portland for a wedding and drove to see us in Astoria.  For the past 7 or 8 years we had a tradition of getting together every June when they vacationed in Incline Village, NV.   This year we missed them because we were on the road.   So, the tradition continues.  Thank you Phil and Esther for your time and travels!  We thoroughly enjoyed visiting with you and climbing THE Column!

(See Photo Gallery Below)

The Columbia River Bar gained its reputation as the Graveyard of the Pacific by claiming approximately 2,000 vessels and 700 souls since 1792! The infamous bar (that’s sand, not beer!) stretches 6 miles into the ocean where the mighty Columbia surges into raging seas.  The Peter Iredale shipwreck, beached in Ft. Stevens State Park, is a fitting remembrance.  The Columbia River Maritime Museum, recognized as one of the finest maritime museums on the west coast, is a must see.  We received a bonus on the day we visited: the U.S. Coast Guard gave tours of a working Coast Guard Cutter not generally open to the public.

Fort Clatsop is the site of Lewis and Clark’s winter encampment. Although the fort is a replica, it portrays the lifestyle of the explorers (not too comfy in my opinion!).  A Park Ranger entertained visitors with amusing stories of Lewis & Clarke and demonstrated a flint lock rifle which fired on the first try much to his delight! The interpretive center exhibits relics, tools, maps and journals (much better than any history book!).

Fort Columbia guards the mouth of the Columbia River from Washington State and Fort Stevens protects it from across the channel in Oregon.  Although these historic sentinels date back to the late 1800’s they also served in WWII.  The Japanese fired 17 shells at Fort Stevens with no damage to the fort.  Visitors can walk through the concrete batteries in both forts, aged and tired, but impressive nonetheless.  Definitely worth a visit.

If you like old Victorian houses…the Flavel House Museum is a jewel!  The Queen Anne style mansion was built in 1885 and is over 10,000 square feet!   Built in 1885 by the first Columbia River pilot, Captain George Flavel, this vintage home proudly displays many original Flavel family items and furnishings.  I really enjoyed strolling into the rooms at my leisure instead of peering through “roped-off” doorways – a much better tour experience.

Count them, 162…163…164 steps up a 125 foot spiral staircase to a narrow observation deck with panoramic views of Astoria, the ocean and the mountains including the distant Mt. Rainier and Mt. St Helen.  The Astoria Column, built in 1926, is a monument honoring Astoria’s explorers and early settlers. Artwork depicting 22 significant events from 1792 to the 1880’s are inscribed on the exterior of the column.  The climb up was worth it!  The gift shop sells balsa wood airplanes for visitors to launch from the observation deck.  Great fun and a good distraction from worrying about the ground below!

Farewell Astoria… stop, Portland (stay tuned).

Categories: On the Road


  1. So glad you got to Astoria, one of my favorite places on the Oregon coast. One Summer, I took the kids and we retraced the Lewis and Clark trail ending up in Astoria. There are several excellent books written about the expedition in diary form. Extremely interesting if you’re into reading about it further. And of course, our might Columbia River is one of the most beautiful rivers in the U.S. in my unbiased opinion. 🙂


  2. When we traveled to the Worlds Fair in Vancouver in 1986, we stopped in Astoria for 1/2 day. We visited Flavel House, and loved it. James was only 18 months went we there, so I hope we will go back some day and see all the sites you visited. Love the Pictures Greg!


  3. Rosanne…you write like a professional travel writer! And Greg, those pictures are just amazing! You should be selling these to a travel magazine! Thanks for sharing them for FREE for US!


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Rosanne Wagstaff

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