Walking along the Columbia

The Riverwalk. Looking east.
The Riverwalk. Looking east.

In Astoria, Oregon, at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, you can walk along the shore on an asphalt path.  The path is called the Astoria Riverwalk and runs almost 13 miles from one end of town to the other and beyond that to the east.

The Riverwalk runs parallel to railroad tracks layed down more than a century ago. A 1913 trolley regularly rumbles down these tracks, noon to 6. The single car is usually crammed full, standing room only.  That’s one of the reasons Nebra and I chose one late afternoon to travel the Riverwalk by foot into town for supper. It is only about a mile and a half from the lodging on 34th Street and Leif Erickson.

Tanker in the Columbia.
Tanker in the Columbia.

The air is invigorating, cool now in the 60s with a light westerly breeze in our faces. We wear wind-breakers. Unbelievable that in 48 hours we have gone from an inferno in Phoenix to this in Oregon.

Only  a few pass us on the Riverwalk.  Some afoot, some jogging, a few on bicycles.

Season for harvesting wild berries.
Season for harvesting wild berries.

The Columbia has little activity. Several huge tankers are anchored in mid-stream waiting for what I do not know. Across the river to the north, the hills and mountains of Washington rise up as an emerald wall.  To the west, the horizon is broken only by the 4.1 mile Astoria-Megler  bridge that leads to Cape Disappointment and other interesting and historic places in Washington.

A tug boat ushers a tanker under the bridge, guiding it around the treacherous sandbars. The Columbia’s mouth is known as “The Graveyard of the Pacific.” A sign listing those sailors who have perished in these waters rests at the side of the Riverwalk.

IMG_2116Between us and the river is a lush strip of wild bushes and a few trees.  Nebra stops to examine wildflowers and patches of blackberry and huckleberry.  My camera is busy shooting the mossy-coated, green piles sticking out of the water. At one spot we see gulls (or are they terns?) resting atop of every one, all facing west to the setting sun.

As we close in on Astoria’s downtown, a concoction of museums, like the Maritime, restaurants and brewers pop into view. The main drag, Commercial Street, is up a few blocks on the left.

Astoria Megler Bridge.
Astoria Megler Bridge.

At 8th Street, we swerve south into the main part of Astoria. It is at this point of departure from the Riverwalk, we find at the Buoy restaurant. It’s No. 2 on Trip Advisor, says Nebra, who venture inside to check the menu.  She says there is a window in the floor looking down on the docks where a sea lion lazed.

Night on the river.
Night on the river.

And so the walk ends. It has been pleasant.

The Riverwalk, I think, is an ideal way to become acquainted with this little logging and fishing city at the edge of America near where the Lewis &  Clark Expedition made history.

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Escape to the Oregon coast

A coastal trip in the Great Northwest.
A coastal trip in the Great Northwest.

It has been a dreadfully-hot summer here in the arid lands of Arizona.  We are closing in on a record number of days in which the temperature has reached 110 or above.  That number is now about 25 days with no end in sight. The record is 33 days, in 2011, and, not eager to further punish ourselves,  Nebra and I plan to do what millions of other Arizonans have done over the ages.

Run for cover in the cool climes of the Pacific Coast.

For us, it’s a sea-change from the sunny beaches of Southern California.  We’re Oregon-coast bound. Think 60-degree weather, clouds and, hopefully, not much rain.

We have only a passing acquaintance with the Beaver State.  I’ve driven through Portland a few times and seen a few episodes of ” Portlandia.”

Our itinerary takes us to Portland by air, then rental car to Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River, then south along U.S. 101 and numerous seaside towns.  I count 30 of them on the visittheoregoncoast.com map, Washington’s border to California’s.  A friend of Nebra’s tried to play down the negative by simply saying the coast is “uh, very busy” in the summer.

The 101 highway, by the way, is a famous route, now diminished by Interstate 5, an hour’s drive to the east. It runs almost the entire width of the nation, north and south, Olympia, Washington, to Los Angeles, a distance of 1,550 miles. In California, it is known as El Camino Real (The Royal Road).

Oregon, I read, has 363 miles of “enchanting” coastline, but our idea is to travel no farther than 237 miles of it, to Coos Bay, the largest of the coastal communities.  Coos Bay, an old but still active fishing port, is far from a village, population about 16,000.  From there, we go inland and begin doing the second part of our three-pronged trip.  Visiting the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis and walking up the steps of the capitol in Salem.  The third part is hiking around Portland and in the Mount Hood region.

How our heat-wracked bodies adapt to a 50-degree drop in temperature is a mystery I’m eager to engage.