October 2012. By land, from Kansas

Today, we end our journey to the Pacific. But first, some coffee and a quick breakfast in the yurt.

A sweet little setup that is becoming more common in western state campgrounds. There are lots of cabins, too. The yurt is built on a platform and covered by a heavy canvas and vinyl skin.

They are heated and have electricity, a small desk and a shaving cabinet on the wall. Five people and gear could sleep in one. $40 a night. Bathroom down the hall. Recommended.

I went up to Point Adams, at the tip of the south jetty near the mouth of the river, and looked across at the steep, rocky coastline where the Expedition had tried to camp in such miserable conditions before moving to this side.

Too steep to camp over there, I’d say.

Trestle Bay, aka Jetty Lagoon, is crisscrossed with trestle bridges linking the islands in this estuary.

The bridge from Astoria to the south jetty crosses Young’s Bay, a broad tidal flat that was covered with thousands of waterfowl apparently floating on the surface. But they were not floating. They were standing in less than an inch of water, dipping their beaks into the water and sand, eating the water plants and bugs and perhaps small fish. I headed over to the other side of the jetty, back to the Fort Stevens beach, for a daylight look at the Oregon coast.

Just 15 minutes after low tide, the broad, shallow waves rolled forever across the smooth beach.

But just a few dozen yards into the mild-mannered surf, with waves just a couple feet tall…

logs roll and collide, rocks tumble, ships come to grief. Don’t turn your back on the sea, says a safety poster at the ranger station. Check out what the tide brought in:

These massive pieces of driftwood roll around in the shallow waves, in water juuust deep enough to conceal them. There is a couple walking toward me in this picture. They were headed back to the park. They’re somewhere over on the right (maybe in the shade of the dune), but they are so small in comparison to the logs that I can’t remember where they were. Click to enlarge (for all the pix!).

With the beach to myself, I walked over to the wreck of the Peter Iredale, a steel four-masted sailing barque that was blown aground here, just south of the mouth of the Columbia, in October of 1906, a victim of fog, a rapidly-rising tide, and a strong northwest wind. Its accessibility and dramatic state of repose probably make it the most photographed shipwreck in the world.

Tillamook Head viewed through the wreckage

I walked out to where I thought the waves might reach. They glided up the nearly-level beach, huge herds of water molecules, advancing in 1-inch swells, covering their predecessors, each wave broadening anew like a geisha’s fan.

I reached out to touch the water as it surrounded me, sipped a drop from my finger: salt, fish, grit. The ocean. We made it.

Time to go.

I reached into the sea once more, splashed a few symbolic drops of transcontinental communion on the moto, bid goodbye to the Pacific,

and we turned to face the rising sun. Homeward bound.

Looking back up the Columbia. Eastbound and down.

The first few miles of my return trip were spent getting over to Fort Clatsop, the Expedition’s home during the winter of 1805-6.

On Nov 15, the party moved from their north-shore camp of five days to one about 3 miles farther west, around the point which today anchors the north end of the Astoria Bridge. They moved from one side of the future bridge to the other. They stuck it out for 10 more days near Chinook Point before the captains decided they had to move. They presented the Corps with three choices: stay on the north side, head back upstream to the falls at The Dalles, or cross to the south side of the bay and see what was there before deciding. The members of the Corps, including both Sacagawea and Clark’s slave York, voted with one exception to explore the southern side.

Returning 15 miles upriver, they crossed and camped for 12 days along the shore east of today’s Astoria, OR. On Nov 29, an exploratory party of six rounded the point on which Astoria now sits, paddled across the bay and about 2 miles up the small Netul River (now named Lewis and Clark River), where they found flat ground 30 feet above the tidal pool, with spring water, plenty of accessible timber, and lots of elk. “A most eligable situation,” declared Clark. On the side of a pine tree, he carved: “William Clark December 3 1805. By Land from the U. States in 1804 and 1805.”

They immediately began construction of the fort, and named it after the Clatsop tribe who lived along the southwest side of the bay. The Corps spent all of December building, finishing on Jan 1, 1806. It rained every single day.

A replica of the fort stands on the original site of Fort Clatsop.

The forest on the southwestern bay is dominated by sitka spruce, western hemlock, and red cedar. The sitka in this picture is less than 110 years old–it’s also actually much taller than it looks. Sitkas can live up to 700 years, and the tallest trees in the world are sitkas over 300 feet tall.

The replica is the third built on this site. The original, made of untreated wood, rotted away quickly in the 70 annual inches of rainfall. A replica of the fort was constructed on the Expedition’s 150th anniversary, in 1955, but it was lost in a fire in 2005. The current replica was built in 2006.

Charbonneau family quarters

Enlisted men’s quarters

The Expedition camped here, trading with and learning from the Clatsops, or “dried fish people,” from December 7, 1805 until March 23, 1806. During this time, Lewis observed their incredible canoeing skills. He saw racks of drying fish he estimated at over 10,000 lbs. Mmmm…dried fish.

The three months at Fort Clatsop, despite the abundance of game (131 elk, 20 deer killed), was, as Ambrose writes, “more a prison than a fortification.” Nothing but elk and deer with occasional whale blubber. The food, the rain, the chores–life was a slog. Lewis spent the time recording his scientific observations, describing the people, the land, the animals, the plants. Among the hundreds of specimens in his notes and in his collection of samples, there were 24 new animal species and 10 new plant species. Clark spent the winter finishing his map of the continent, perhaps the single most important product of the Expedition. The map showed the bad news: there was no Northwest Passage.

There a statue of Sacagawea, in honor of the Shoshone guide, counselor and interpreter, along the trail to the fort. The bronze depicts her with her infant son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau. At the time the party moved into the fort at Clatsop, the child was 11 months old.

After the Expedition, Sacagawea and her husband, Toussaint, moved back to the Mandan settlements near the Knife River until 1809, then to St. Louis, where she entrusted the child to William Clark, who had moved to St. Louis. In 1811, she and Toussaint moved back up the Missouri River, to Fort Manuel Lisa, a trading post near modern-day Omaha, NE, where she died in 1812. At time of her death, the young Shoshone guide for the Corps of Discovery was just 25 years old.

Young Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau had been born on Feb 11, 1805, in the Mandan villages at the Knife River, where the Expedition spent the winter of 1804-5. He traveled every mile of the journey into the truly unknown (to any Euro-American) lands of the west. And he returned. After Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau returned to St. Louis, Jean-Baptiste lived with William Clark, and was enrolled in the St. Louis Academy in 1820, now known as St. Louis University High School. Clark paid just over $8.00 per quarter for tuition. 160 years later, I enrolled in the same school.

Jean-Baptiste moved from St. Louis to present-day Kansas City, KS, then spent 6 years in Europe, then returned to St. Louis before moving west. He worked as a trapper, hunter, and fur trader, then as a military scout, wagon train leader, and gold prospector. He died in Oregon in 1865.

It rained and hailed in the week before the party left Fort Clatsop. On March 23 1806, Clark wrote: “The rain seased and it became fair about Meridian, at which time we loaded our canoes & at 1 P. M. left Fort Clatsop on our homeward bound journey.”

I did, too. I headed for the Astoria Bridge and crossed to the WA side for my return to Portland, OR.

View from OR of Astoria-Megler Bridge, 4.1 miles long, completed in 1966.

Construction had traffic down to one lane, so I snapped a couple more pix while we waited at the top of the 360-degree entrance ramp.

Looking up the Columbia above Astoria, OR.

The view from the bridge, looking toward the port of Astoria and the Pacific Ocean.

The area where the Expedition first camped upon arriving at the mouth of the Columbia can be seen in this picture:

“Roughing it” doesn’t quite do it justice.

A rest area and park mark the site of their miserable experience:

Their second camp is just around the point at the left of this picture:

Hmm…rocky and steep over there, too.

The Expedition stayed on the south coast for their trip back up the Columbia. I took the north side highways 401 and 409 back to Portland.

North shore waypoint in-joke for the family–Duffy’s in Gray’s River, WA.

I rolled back along the heavily-forested, hilly riverside road, thankful that neither I nor the BMW had experienced any illness, fatigue, or mechanicals. And thankful for 8 days of perfect weather. At Longview, I joined I-5 for the last few miles into Portland, OR, for a night on the town with Paige, who is flying out to join me for a celebratory dinner and a toast to a successful trip. One of our favorite splurges in the U.S.: dinner at Veritable Quandary and a room overlooking the garden at the ultra-modern Modera.

Knowing Paige would be waiting at the end of the continent was a powerful motivator! Also, there was chocolate soufflé.

It was another beautiful night on the patio, in every way the most beautiful night of all.


Very happy travels. 105 miles today in a few hours. Total mileage: 2853.

Tomorrow, we all head home.


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