Our Vantage Points
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The Oregon Coast
Timber and Surf
Astoria

W
hen you drive the streets of Astoria, Oregon, you might feel like you're clinging to the back of a mountain goat.  That's because this is a city built on a hill, Coxcomb Hill.  Some of the streets are very steep.  Perched at the top, is The Astoria Column with it's base at 400 feet above sea level.
Astoria and the Astoria/Megler Bridge
          All photos by Richard L.  Mock
Emerging from the top of the dimly lit circular stairway puts you on the observation platform something more than 500 feet above the waters below.

Astoria ColumnAstoria Column shadow Here's a good place to get your bearings.  Facing east, through the trees you see the broad "River of the West," the mighty Columbia River, slowly but relentlessly moving to help replenish the largest Ocean on Earth.  Looking north, across the river is the state of Washington, in many ways geographically similar to Oregon.  Westward, gazing with your imagination, you see the shores of Japan, and China and the busy harbors of Tokyo and Shanghai.  You see dozens of ships steaming this way; some of them will pass under the high span of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

Turning South, you view at your feet Young's Bay, fed by two minor rivers and a few creeks.  Along the banks of one of those, the Lewis and Clark River, is Fort Clatsop, a replica of the encampment where Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent the winter of 1805-1806 in this usually mild but very rainy region.

We have stopped at The Astoria Column a number of times.  Once in the late 1990's we found the column surrounded by scaffolding as an artist was re-painting the huge spiral mural.  Circling the monument about 13 times, it depicts a time line of events relating to this region.  Almost 20 feet above the ground, it begins with what white men found here in the 18th century, noting that Lieutenant Broughton, a British mariner sailed up this river and named Mt.  Hood in 1792.

Astoria Column Mural


Freshman Orientation
W
hen you tour the Oregoan coast you will probably start here at Astoria or finish here.  The Oregon coast is the most beautiful coastline on earth.  That's not just my opinion, but the firm opinion of most Oregonians.  Skeptical? Unless it rains buckets the entire way, you will be hard pressed to disagree after you experience the Oregon coast.  Just don't forget your coat! ...  and rain gear.

Yep! Studies show that the Oregon coast has its, and somebody else's, share of rain.  Hmmm....  Have you ever wondered why Arizona is so dry? I'll bet they're the ones who have our sunshine.  But, I know that the sun can shine even on the Oregon coast.  We have experienced at least two consecutive days of sunshine at the coast on more than one occasion.  Study my photographs for proof.  It is most likely to happen in late July, but I have seen it happen in the fall.  It happened the two days following "911" in 2001, and it happened October 10 and 11 of 2004.  So come when you have a few days to wait around for sunshine.  Or, in the spirit of the Oregon pioneers, you can simply be adventuresome.  The hardy ones claim to thrill at watching a blustery ocean.  It does get very blustery.  That's why Oregon's 11 lighthouses were built.

Speaking of lighthouses, they dot the 365 miles of the Oregon coast.  Some are still operating, but all speak volumes about their faithful keepers and about the successful passage of determined and brave seamen who relied on them.  Lighthouses prevented many a disaster, yet this rocky coastline has taken its toll.

Lighthouses provide a colorful history lesson.  Even decommissioned lighthouses continue to be maintained for the love of their history.  For example, the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, built one mile off shore on a large rock was decommissioned in 1957.  It's maintenance is financed by those wishing to have their remains kept in the "Eternity at Sea Columbarium" located on the rock.

Later, you may click here" to read this fascinating story.

But before we leave Astoria, I must mention the Columbia River Lightships.  These were a succession of five special purpose vessels anchored at the entrance to the Columbia River from 1892 to 1979.  The early ones had no self propulsion and had to be towed into position.

The WLV604 was the last of five lightships to guard the channel into the Columbia River.  The 604 was relieved by a large navigational buoy (LNB) in 1979.

Later click here to read about Columbia River Lightships.  The WLV604 is currently viewable at the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria.







Fort Stevens State Park
F
ort Stevens, 6 miles west of Astoria, was one of our favorite places when we came to Oregon in 1966.  It has a long, sweeping beach, featuring "The Wreck of the Peter Iredale."

The Peter Iredale was a 4-masted British sailing ship, one of the early iron and steel ships.  She ran aground here on the morning of October25, 1906.  She was en route to Portland, Oregon from Mexico when at 3 A.M. she safely passed the Tillamook Rock Lighthouse.  The mishap occurred with a severe change in the weather as she was attempting to enter the Columbia River channel.  The crew of 27 and 2 stowaways were saved by the lifeboat from Hammond.

The shipwreck now has considerably less showing than when we came here in 1966.  However, in 1999, tide and weather temporarily removed about 8 feet of sand, revealing a large portion of the hull.  At this rate, I would guess the Peter Iredale will be completely obliterated by the year 2106.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale
Ft.  Stevens is a large preserve offering ideal places to watch shoreline wildlife (and domesticated species).  Because much of this is on a sand spit at the mouth of the Columbia River, it is a critical and strategic place in wartime.  The history is fascinating.  Here we have concrete bunkers, built for large artillery emplacements.  The guns are gone, and we may roam freely.  But because it's so fascinating for children, close supervision is important.  There are deep concrete pits.

The mega-campground here is an open wooded delight featuring large spruce and Douglas fir trees.  It's very popular during summer, but a lot quieter after mid September.





Oswald West State Park
A
t Oswald West State park, the Coast Highway, US-101, provides a cluster of turn-outs that present one of the most breath-taking ocean views anywhere.  On a clear, sunny day you can inhale an enormous view of broad sweeping sky over this massive headland with a wide, endless deep-blue ocean and foamy-white breakers incessantly determined to scour the long sandy beach.

But sometimes it's very rainy here, or at least misty.  The scene then takes on a pensive mood as the beaches play peek-a-boo and the vapor shrouded mystery of the ocean teases your senses.
Misty Oswald West
Here, the beach and town of Manzanita are almost completely covered by a fuzzy cotton blanket.





Cape Kiwanda State Park
T
hen there are the smaller, secluded beaches where their serene and simple beauty is enhanced by a bit of overcast.  It looks silent, but as anyone who's tried to be conversational on a Pacific Ocean beach knows, you must raise your voice to be heard above the constant roar.  It's true even on this peaceful Kiwanda beach.
Beach near Cape Kiwanda




Cape Foulweather
A
storm was raging along the Oregon coast, not a strange occurrence for these parts.  Out at sea, perhaps 10 miles out, two sailing ships were tossing about.  Their crews were not particularly distressed, for these men were strong and resourceful sea farers on a mission from England.  They were accustomed to an occasional fit of nature.  Their vessels, the Resolution and the Discovery, were provisioned and equipped for long, hard months at sea. Their leader: the venerable Captain James Cook. 

Just after discovering the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) and their inhabitants, Cook had come to the North American coastline in order to search in earnest for the rumored Northwest Passage. 

It was Friday, March 6, 1778.  Land was sighted through the mist! This was Cook's first encounter with the western coast of the North American mainland.  He named the point of land, Cape Foulweather for obvious reasons. 

Today, this 500 foot high cape affords us striking views of the Central Oregon coast, both north and south of here.  Depoe Bay is 2-1/2 miles north and Otter Crest is 1 mile south.
Cape Foulweather Overlook
Before continuing north, Captain Cook invested a couple of days just checking out land forms and documenting them.  He wrote descriptions of what he saw; the heavily wooded hills, the beaches and the promontories.  He named a couple more capes and noted their coordinates in his log.





Cape Perpetua
T
he next day, March 7, 1778, Captain Cook sighted the highest headland on the Oregon coast, and named it Cape Perpetua in honor of Saint Vibia Perpetua.  It was on this day in 203 that she was slain in the arena at Carthage for remaining true to her Savior, Jesus Christ.

We now enjoy this spot as one of the most beautiful on the Oregon coast, a profound simile of Vibia Perpetua's eternal reward. 
From the top of Cape Perpetua
From the top of Cape Perpetua, 800 feet above the surf, it's a "candy store" of fabulous views.  The wide view is nice, but to really appreciate what's here .  .  .

Spouting Horn and Tidepools
we must focus on specific delights, such as the area around this sea geyser called the Spouting Horn.  It actually honks when it spouts as the waves come charging down the channel into the rocks.  It's surrounded by fabulous The Devil's Churntide pools nurturing countless sea creatures.







Far below the top of Cape Perpetua, we look down into "The Devil's Churn" where seawater is sloshed en perpetua into a foamy brew.
A short walk to the north brim of Perpetua reveals town of Yachats (Ya-hots).
Yachats, OR from the Top of Cape Perpetua
Captain Cook's sighting of this beautiful cape on the day of St.  Perpetua is very thought provoking, even inspiring.  Although I believe sainthood is not dependent upon a human proclamation, this beautiful place is a perfect reminder of the resolute Christian devotion of Vibia Perpetua and others who've gone before.  And it's a reminder of our final reward if we are so faithful.  That reward is not only beautiful, but it is perpetual.  It's lasting and sure.

Adding this gem to his log, Cook continued a little farther south to make his entry for Cape Arago which is near Coos Bay, Oregon, apparently the most southerly of his sightings.  Too bad! He turn north before seeing Cape Blanco. 

Spray at Heceta HeadBut because one of his main objectives was to explore for the Northwest Passage, Cook did not attempt to explore here on land.  He resumed his northward trek without entering the Columbia River.  He slipped by without noticing the Strait of Juan de Fuca and finally landed at Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island where he bartered with the friendly natives and made repairs on his ships.

When he encountered the ice flows of the Bearing Sea and reviewed what had been documented by the Russian explorer, Vitus Bearing, Captain Cook realized that he could not find a northwest passage .

Returning to the Sandwich Islands to thaw out, Captain Cook was slain by a native chief due to an apparent misunderstanding between them.





Heceta Head
J
ust about the next thing south of Cape Perpetua is Heceta (Ha-see-ta) Head.  It's a beautiful place for a lighthouse and a keeper's residence.
Heceta Head lighthouse and residence
The keeper's residence has been converted into an operating bed and breakfast.  What a nice experience that could be! But the website for this B&B fails to list the price.  Hmmm.  From the trails around this house the views are more interesting than just boundless sea.  Every scene is framed by a touchable, natural, on-shore tapestry. 
Rocks at Heceta Head
This lighthouse, was completed in 1894, the next to last lighthouse to be built on the Oregon coast.  But according to my tour guide, it's the brightest.
Heceta Lamp & Fresnel Lens


Heceta Lighthouse Today this lamp is automated, rotating continually to flash it's "signature" day in and day out.  The Heceta Light faithfully fills the gap between the lighthouses at Cape Arago and Yaquina Head.





Lighthouse keepers at Heceta Head have viewed the rising and falling tides in the bay through the old upper lighthouse window for more than 110 years now. 
Lighthouse Window



Cape Blanco
Cape Blanco Lighthouse

T
he most westerly point on the mainland of the contiguous 48 states is Cape Blanco.  Unlike Heceta, the lighthouse here is on a treeless and wind-swept promontory.  And I do mean wind swept!  But like Heceta, this lighthouse is is just over 200 feet above the water.  This lighthouse, commissioned in 1870, is the oldest still in full operation on the Oregon coast.  It too is open to the public for tours that take you to the light deck where you can safely stand directly in front of the Fresnel lens and the lamp.  At Heceta you stand just below the lens. 
Cape Blanco has a fine campground south of the lighthouse on another bluff, this one wooded. Each site is separated by high hedges, providing more privacy than most campgrounds. However, were it not for the wind whistling overhead, it's a bit clostrophobic.
Cape Blanco





Which feature best represents the Oregon coast?

Cape Blanco is the most westerly.

Cape Perpetua flaunts the beauty and charm.

Astoria emphasizes the history and the commerce.

Heceta Head Lighthouse
I think Heceta Head blends it all the best.


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