Astoria, OR – Gateway to the Columbia

If you saw my previous post about the Northwest coast, you might have picked up that I was pretty excited about being able to get back to the Great Northwest. I had not been to the coast since 2018; 4 years is way too long! As I had been in Portland, Oregon visiting some investment clients there, Astoria is the first place on the coast I reached as I was traveling northward across the Columbia River and up the Washington Coast.

I took this photo from the patio at Mo’s looking eastward up the Columbia River.

I pulled into Astoria right about lunch time and found a place to park my rig at the Maritime Musuem. From there I walked up to a nice little restaurant called Mo’s that sits right on the Columbia River, and found a table on the back patio overlooking the water. Real, fresh Northwest seafood — Wow! I forgot how good it is.

I took this photo from the Maritime Museum parking area in 2018. Notice some of the old architecture up the hill.

Astoria is quite a cool little town. It gets its name from a very famous American industrialist – John Jacob Astor, who founded the American Fur Company and Fort Astoria in 1811 – only 6 years after Lewi and Clark first arrived at the west coast just north of the Columbia River. Astoria was the first permanent US settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Astor’s American Fur Company ended up with a monopoly in the fur trade in the early part of the 1800’s, and he became the first multi-millionaire. I guess not much has really changed in the business world in the last two hundred years.

Astoria currently has a bit over 10,000 residents, and interestingly enough the population hasn’t changed much in the last 90 years. The city has a long maritime heritage, and also has some incredible architecture. Astoria possesses a mild, maritime climate with very few days over 90°F (32°C). But it rains a lot in the winter months, and is mostly sunny in July and August. I have decided that I must make this a destination stop in the near future.

This is the Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River. It actually spans a bit over 4 miles (6.5km) and is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. The highest span sits 196 feet above the water at high tide.

The city lies at the southwestern end of the Columbia River as it pours into the Pacific Ocean. The area is quite rich in early American exploration history as Lewis and Clark’s first winter camp at Fort Clatsop is only a few miles from Astoria. And north across the Columbia River is the spot where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark first reached the Pacific Ocean in their attempt to find a “Northwest Passage” across the continent. Not far south are the popular Oregon beach recreation towns of Seaside and Cannon Beach with its famous Haystack Rock.

This was Astoria from the Maritime Museum parking lot in November of 2017. It was absolutely pouring rain and really windy – lovely Pacific Northwest winter weather. 😉

I also spent a day on the north side of Columbia photographing the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. That lighthouse sits on the very northwestern tip of the Columbia River as it empties into the Pacific Ocean. The lighthouse was lit in 1856 as a critical navigation aide for ships as they sailed into the Columbia River. However, the lighthouse had some significant problems. It was not visible to ships coming into the river from the north, and its fog bell was frequently drowned out by the tremendous roar of the ocean during the intense winter storms.

The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse on a warm fall day in early September.

The US Lighthouse Service (rolled into the US Coast Guard) commissioned another lighthouse to be built at North Head, only two miles to the north. But, the North Head Lighthouse provides much better guidance for ships coming into the river from the north.

A closer look at the lighthouse. It’s really in need of some TLC. Letting this historic landmark fall into disrepair is a real shame.

Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to make Astoria a destination. Why? Well, I really want to spend some time photographing the area in the winter, hoping to catch some nice winter storms as they impact the coast, maybe shooting the lighthouse or something. And I want to explore the city and photograph some of its amazing late 19th century architecture. Being a history buff too, I think it would be fun to take more time to see the Lewis and Clark sites.

Well, I really hope that you enjoyed the article about Astoria. Anytime I can photograph and write about the northwest, I know I am happy. Have fun out there, and stay safe, friends!

This is the Columbia Lightship, another navigation aid used by the Coast Guard in the 20th century. You can now tour the ship at the Astoria Maritime Museum.

This US Coast Guard ship was moored at the Coast Guard area at the Maritime Museum.