On the Trail of Lewis and Clark in Astoria
“We sell these little balsa wood airplanes you can throw off the top of there.” Our local guide points to the Astoria Column, resting high atop the hillside overlooking Astoria, Oregon. She pauses slightly, then: “It’s the most fun you can have for a dollar since they closed the brothels.”
I began my morning in Astoria aboard the American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Empress with a bracing two-mile hike from the ship to the Astoria Column, led by co-cruise director Lindy.
It’s just one of many on-shore hikes that have been offered this week aboard the American Empress, and it’s exactly what I needed after a day spent aboard-ship yesterday, if only to keep the calories from the excellent turkey dinner last night off.
The entire hike took the ten of us roughly 45 minutes to complete; not bad, considering the thing is straight up the entire way. It’s on paved roads though, so if you’re in reasonably good shape, you’ll find this to be a very rewarding hike.
Once at the magnificent Astoria Column, guests could admire it from the parking lot, or elect to climb to the viewing platform on the top. In the distance, we could see the surf breaking over the treacherous Columbia Bar – something I’ve never seen on my four previous visits here.
Built in 1926, the Column – like everything else here – commemorates the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but also John Jacob Astor’s Overland Expedition of 1810. It was Astor whom Astoria is named after, and great-grandson Vincent Astor put up much of the required funding for the column. Clever factoid: John Jacob Astor’s son, John Jacob Astor, Jr., perished in sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912.
From the Column, we could either walk back down, or hop on the Hop-on-Hop-off tour – the latter of which I boarded just in time to hear the local guide’s musings on the brothels that used to line the Astoria waterfront at the turn of the last century. “I’m not sure what a dollar got you,” she admitted. “I’m not sure I want to know.” This was followed by the most gregarious laugh I’ve heard from a tour guide. I loved it.
Astorians have a great sense of humour, and perhaps the weather has something to do with that. Yesterday, Astoria was the rainiest spot in the continental United States, with lashing winds, driving rains, and a bit of hail thrown in for good measure.
Today, however, blue skies and sunshine greeted us this morning, coupled with climbing temperatures that had me peeling my layers off and going down to just a fleece and a t-shirt.
You might recognize Astoria even if you’ve never been here. The picturesque seaside town has served as a filming location for The Goonies, The Ring, Ring II, Kindergarten Cop, and numerous others.
I first came here on a big-ship cruise in 2005, and fell immediately in love with the town. It’s charming. It’s unique. And wholly irresistible. You’ll find local crafts and artisans selling their wares; coffee shops and brewpubs; seafood restaurants that range from the extravagant to the bizarre. The latter of which is The Bowpicker, a small boat resting atop a trailer on a vacant lot kitty-corner to the Maritime Museum. Apparently, the fish-and-chips are out of this world.
I took the time to patronize the town’s two bookstores and the fabulous Street Fourteen Café, which serves up coffee, pastries, meals and even specialties like hot mulled wine. Locally-sourced breakfast, lunch and dinner are also on offer.
Lewis and Clark Never Had a Bad Day
This afternoon, I took part in one of the optional, additional-cost excursions American Queen Steamboat Company offers here in Astoria: the four-hour Lewis and Clark Experience.
Priced at $69 per guest, this tour is an excellent choice for anyone interested in the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Corps of Discovery.
We began our tour with a drive across the iconic green Astoria-Megler Bridge that is as representative of the city as the Astoria Column. Afterwards, we stopped at Cape Disappointment, with its magnificent view of the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean – not to mention the treacherous Columbia Bar that has earned this stretch of water the nickname, The Graveyard of the Pacific. Since 1792, the Bar and its significant currents and waves have claimed over 2,000 large ships, resulting in the loss of over 700 souls.