Back to Astoria

Life is blessed is many ways.  Recently I have been taking every opportunity to appreciate the simple daily joys and blessings.  For me it is that first sip of coffee in the morning.  For you it might be tea or another beverage – but there is something about the reawakening that happens in that morning ritual.  And I take a moment every day to be grateful for this simple pleasure.

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For the past two years, I have been travelling closer to home – which in my case is the upper left corner of the United States.  The Pacific Northwest.  Like my daily rituals, I had not appreciated the beauty and history in my own backyard.

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Sunrise on the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

A few months back I posted about Astoria – which is the oldest (and wettest) city in Oregon.  Founded in 1811 by John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company – it has a rich and colorful history.  I am reading the book, Astoria by Peter Stark which I highly recommend. 

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Early morning in Uniontown neighborhood in Astoria.

I stay in the Uniontown neighborhood, which was the largest Finnish settlement west of the Mississippi.  There are cozy coffeeshops, homes nestled into the hillside, and the masive Astoria Megler bridge – which traverses the mouth of the Columbia River.

Nearby is the Fisherman’s Memorial, a wall of names immortalizing the many lives touched by Astoria’s stormy relationship with the meeting of two massive forces – the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River.

I am so blessed to live in this corner of the world.

 

Favorite Roads – Columbia River highway

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The famous Rowena curves of the Columbia River highway.

This is a continuation of my Favorite Roads Series… see first Favorite Road post here.

This post and others to follow – I will share thoughts and pictures on  my favorite road in Oregon – the historic Columbia River highway.  A 75 mile scenic two lane road following the Columbia River from Troutdale to The Dalles in Oregon.

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The highway near Rowena Crest is a great area to cycle.

Photographing the historic highway provides a bounty of creative opportunity – from waterfalls to tree lined roads to historic structures (Vista House, Multnomah Falls Lodge), bridges, wildflowers, hiking trails, basalt columns, and views – in the posts ahead I will share some of my favorite spots.  Today’s post is about one of the most famous sections of the highway – the Rowena loops and crest.

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Balsamroot and lupine as far as the eye can see at Rowena Plateau.

As with many great rivers across the world, the Columbia River has a tremendous history – from native Americans to the explorers Lewis and Clark – the Oregon Trail, and in the 20th century the burst of dam building and the building of the new freeway which parallels the historic Columbia River highway.

Pictured at the top of this post are the famous Rowena Crest curves – one of the most photographed spots in Oregon.  When the highway was built vehicles could not manage anything more than a 10% grade – so engineers created a series of  curves and loops to make the gradual 500 foot ascent to the top of Rowena Crest – not knowing they were creating a photographer’s dream.

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Rowena Narrows – where pirates would dwell.

Before dams flooded this area – Rowena was where the river narrowed as it passed basalt cliffs – Rowena Crest on the south side and Klickitat River watershed on the north.  Pirates and others tried to seize boats passing through the “narrows”.  There was a small army post at the base of Rowena Crest to protect the boats and others in this area.  A young Army lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant was commissioned here for a short time before he went on to become a famous Civil War general and then president of the United States.

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View of Columbia River highway from Rowena Crest.

Sense of Place – Astoria, Oregon

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With no destination in mind – but with a firm desire to road trip – I left my last meeting on Friday with only the open road before me.  I had to get home from Dash Point, Washington to Portland.  This is a quarterly trip so I was used to the routine of getting on I-5 south.  Part of me wanted to get home and be a responsible leaf-raking home owner.

For no reason that I can explain, just north of Centralia I veered off the freeway and headed to the coast.  Ironically – the retreat I had been just attending was all about decision making. My head was full of ethical discernments.  This was spontaneous – absolutely no discerning other than seeing a road sign saying “Aberdeen/Raymond” next exit.

Taking all the anticipation out of this road trip tale – I ended up in Astoria, Oregon for 2 days.  Best decision I have made in quite some time – I must have learned something at that retreat.

Some of the highlights:

Early morning photo shooting in Astoria and exploring this wonderful and historic town – founded in 1811!

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Early morning at the Cannery Hotel

Wave watching at Cape Disappointment (not disappointing!!)

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Buoy Beer for dinner

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And finally, there is this little church about 2 miles west of the Astoria Megler bridge on the way to Ilwaco, Washington that I have passed a hundred times.  It’s in the middle of nowhere but is beautiful in its simplicity and isolation.  I have regretted never stopping and learning the story of this church by the sea.  I stopped.

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St. Mary’s Church, McGowan, Washington

History fans (I am one!) should read Peter Stark’s Astoria – recently released in paperback – for a closer look at the early years of Astoria.

Astoria has transformed from river city with an economy and industry (most significantly fish canneries) reliant on the Columbia River – to an artistic corner of Oregon – focused on tourism and the two mainstays of Oregon – beer and coffee.

The Columbia River is still a strong force.  Cargo ships provide entertainment as their huge hulks pass by the waterfront. And the nautical history is never far away – including the Flavel House Museum (George Flavel was the Columbia’s first river pilot back in 1850).  But you are more likely to see Willapa Bay Oysters featured on area menu’s than Columbia River salmon.

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The Day After

What a day of reaction from family, friends, co-workers, baristas… yes baristas weighing in on this &**%$#^ election.  There is an odd camaraderie I have felt in these hours since our worst fear has become reality.

I don’t have children of my own but I am auntie to many – and that has been my deepest heart ache.  How to express my apologies to the younger generation.

I don’t know about others but I have appreciated the email communication from a couple of organizations – AFAR – a travel magazine – Oregon Wild – preservation of Oregon’s wild areas.  Genuine, heart felt letters acknowledging the pain that so many of us feel.  But also giving us hope.

This is a dark hour for America.  But an opportunity for us to do better.  What saddens me is that 50% of our populace supports a sexist, racist, egocentric man – but there is still 50% of us who are willing to roll up our sleeves to fight this hatred.  What is our legacy? How will we be remembered?

 

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What now?

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I intended to write an entry yesterday – but as the afternoon and evening progressed it felt so shattering and so life changing that I didn’t know how to put words to what was happening.  For better or worse it was an historic night and I couldn’t stop watching.

So what now?  I am an inherently positive person but for the first time in my life – I was up all night – depressed and unsure how to face this new world where I have to say that Donald Trump is my country’s president.

All I could think of to do – was be as positive as I can be and to give back.  Volunteer more, help young women so that some day they can lead our country to get over this sexism we seem to posses. Help preserve the natural areas here in Oregon – whether through donations, time, photography, whatever helps to save these precious lands for the public and not in the hands of corporations.  Greet each day with a smile and with gratitude.  Not stop fighting for equality and fairness for all our citizens.

I can’t give up on this country, on my country (for better or worse).  On my way home to watch the election returns last night I was watching the afternoon light.  I saw the sun hitting the side of the above building in downtown Portland and just as I took the picture I saw those words “United States of America”.   In the words of the historian and author Doris Kearns Goodwin – “history will give us solace”.   I hope so.