San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Sunday, June 27, 2010

ASTORIA, OREGON... the most populous community in the Lower Columbia River region, where the mouth of the mighty Columbia River meets the Pacific. The Columbia defines the border between Oregon and Washington for 309 miles before it crosses over the Columbia Bar to empty into the Pacific.
The "Bar" is a treacherous shifting geological phenomena consisting of sand bars and shoals that makes the river's mouth one of the most harzardous stretches of water in the world to navigate.
The Columbia Bar has seen thousands of shipwrecks because of the constantly changing waves, wind and currents that assault this part of the country. One of 16 Bar pilots (earning $180,000.00 a year) is required to guide ships over and through it.
Across the river from Astoria is the home of the US Coast Guard Station, Cape Disappointment. It's renowned for conducting rescues in some of the roughest sea conditions in the world and for its internationally-respected National Motor Lifeboat School.
The Lightship Columbia sat at the entrance to the river until 1979 when the ship and its crew was replaced by a fully automated light buoy. Can you imagine? An entire ship devoted to one task: lighting the ever-changing sea where two colossal frothing bodies of water collide.
The buoy is 60 feet tall, with a 1000 watt light, fog horn and radio beacon. Batteries and two diesel engines keep it all running to mark the entry into the river channel.
Astoria is also home to the Columbia River Maritime Museum, a worthwhile stop if you're in the area, that has a superb array of exhibits, dioramas and artifacts that depict the area's growth and history as the Oregon Territory grew in importance.
The area saw boom years for fur traders, the timber industry, the salmon fishery and the evolution of maritime technology. A diverse influx of immigrants (Chinese and Scandinavians, mostly Finnish) were the bedrock for development of a thriving staging area for economic growth both into the interior and across the Pacific. The museum brings to life the vitality of these ethnic groups which continue to keep their native traditions, markets, religions and language alive to this day.
The "Darle" is a recreated Pacific troller whose square stern and deep hold provided a greater carrying capacity than its sailing, gillnetting sister.
One can cross between Washington and Oregon without a pilot via the Astoria bridge!