Exploring Cannon Beach, Astoria and Cape Disappointment

Thursday (June 17):
My visit to this Washington peninsula would offer only two full days to explore the area. I knew the time would go quickly so I wanted to prioritize my choices. In addition to checking out this area, I also wanted to go back to Cannon Beach and spend a couple of hours there.

My visit to Cannon Beach was timed perfectly for the weather. After a rainy morning on Tuesday, the weather cleared by mid-day. Cannon Beach is a popular destination, with a vibrant downtown corridor and adjoining beach. Haystack Rock stands prominently as the centerpiece of the long flat beach. Parking in the area is competitive; I was fortunate to grab a roadside space near an entrance to the beach.

Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach
Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach
Looking south
Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach
Low tide
Puffins! This is a composite of four images of puffins in flight.
Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach
Beach reflections

On the way back from Cannon Beach, I turned off to visit Fort Stevens State Park on the Oregon side of the Columbia River. Many of the river viewpoints were closed due to jetty construction. I was able to check out the shipwreck on the beach.

Shipwreck at Fort Stevens
Shipwreck at Fort Stevens

With the beautiful blue sky, I stopped in Astoria to get some new photos of the Astoria bridge. I returned to the same vantage point I took photos from the previous day. It’s a narrow residential street in the hills above the river with an excellent view of the entire bridge. I had to squeeze my car into a small turnoff space and walk a few blocks back to the best shooting spot. I was careful to not disrupt the homeowners on this street, I’m sure they see plenty of tourists checking out the view. I also drove down to the waterfront and walked along the area on either side of the bridge.

Astoria Oregon
Wide view of Astoria Bridge
View from the waterfront

On my last afternoon, I went to the Astoria Brewing Company located on the waterfront overlooking the river. Naturally I ordered fish and chips and a cup of chowder. The chowder was excellent but I’m not considering it as a candidate for my “best chowder” search. They add bacon to their chowder, which tastes great, but I call that cheating. I enjoyed eating the chowder, even though I had disqualified it. The halibut fish and chips were very good and I paired it with a very smooth blonde ale. I left the restaurant very satisfied with my last supper of the area.

Last supper at Astoria Brewing Co

Cape Disappointment State Park includes more than the campground. This area reflects the history of the Lewis and Clark Expedition; the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean here at the mouth of the Columbia River. The park includes a Lewis and Clark interpretive center, two lighthouses and several historical remnants from the Pacific coast defense during World War II.

One of the lighthouses overlooks the beach next to my campsite; it is called the North Head Lighthouse. The park offers easy access to this lighthouse; a good sized parking lot and paved trail makes for an easy visit. This spot also has a trail to another viewpoint (called Bells Lookout) which gives hikers a chance to visit an old WWII bunker.

North Head Lighthouse above the campground beach
North Head Lighthouse
North Head Lighthouse
WWII Bunker
WWII Bunker
WWII Bunker
Three levels
WWII Bunker
Ocean view
North Head Lighthouse
This is the campground beach, looking back from the North Head Lighthouse

The other lighthouse is called Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and can be viewed from the Lewis and Clark interpretive center. This interpretive center is also home to the rugged structures of Fort Canby. While at the center I noticed a jetty that looked like it would have a great view of the lighthouse at water level. I consulted a map to see if I might be able to reach this spot and learned it is located in my campground. Very convenient and an excellent viewpoint of the lighthouse!

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, viewed from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, viewed from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Fort Canby at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Fort Canby at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
Fort Canby Exterior
Fort Canby Exterior
Fort Canby Exterior
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, viewed from the campground jetty

On the second evening of taking sunset photos of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, it drizzled for a few minutes. About 15 minutes later, a beautiful rainbow arced across the sky, directly over the lighthouse point. I was gifted with about 10 minutes of viewing (and photographing) this spontaneous gift.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse at sunset
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Rainbow!
Nightfall at the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Before settling down for the last night, I visited the campground beach for one last walk. The wind was blowing fiercely but the walk in the water’s edge was pleasant and bittersweet.

Last walk on a beach

My time spent on the beaches over the last three weeks has been very rewarding. I’ve felt a special sense of peace while walking in the water, outrunning the seagulls in search of intact sand dollars, inspecting the little shells in the sand and watching the rhythmic rolling of the waves. This experience has been cleansing, calming and rejuvenating. I will miss the beaches I’ve visited.

Last walk on a beach

This is a turning point of my road trip. My next two travel days will take me inland toward Hood River on the Columbia River Gorge. In a way, I’ll have two trips: the coastline tour and the central Oregon route. As I say “Good Bye” to the ocean, I look forward to the new adventures that await me.

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Travel Day – Barview Jetty to Cape Disappointment

Monday (June 14): After 36 hours of soaking rain, Monday morning was dry(er); this made packing and closing up the trailer much easier. While breaking camp, I chatted with the gentleman in the next space. He was curious about the a-frame trailer and shared plenty of stories of his truck-driving days. We said our good-byes and I pulled away for another mini-trek to my next destination: Cape Disappointment State Park in Washington.

Traffic along the coastline was heavier than I expected, and the traffic progress was complicated by heavy fog in several places. I had hoped to stop at Cannon Beach for a lunch break, but decided in advance to continue onward if the fog had claimed Cannon Beach for the day. As it turned out, Cannon Beach was fogged in and I kept driving north. I did pull over for one foggy opportunity – I noticed some dense wooded areas off the highway with some excellent-looking fog in the treetops. I found a reasonable turnout and spent about 20 minutes walking up a dirt road through the foggy trees. It was a nice break.

A walk in the fog

Some of the other cities looked pretty interesting and I considered making a day trip to this area from the campground in Washington. I was mostly curious about Astoria, the last Oregon city I would drive through before crossing the Columbia River to Washington.

Before I had a chance to take a look at Astoria, an ominous sight appeared ahead of me. It was what I would call, “The Mother of All Bridges.” I had heard the bridge over the Columbia River was pretty high and long, but I did not expect it to taunt drivers from several miles away.

The Mother of All Bridges – The Astoria Megler Bridge.
White-knuckling across the bridge

The route onto the bridge was very direct with no last-minute escape routes. I was committed to driving over it so I took a deep breath (maybe more than one) and pushed forward. Let’s just say it was breath-taking. I thought I was doing pretty well until I noticed my hands getting very tired from squeezing the steering wheel. I remembered the good golf advice about relaxing my grip, but this was no simple case of putting a golf ball. I was driving my car and trailer over a skinny, metal, two-lane, 4-mile long bridge that was tall enough for the largest ships to pass under. And it was windy. And I had to pee.

Once I crested the highest point of the bridge, the downhill slope was very stimulating. I could see contiguous highway ahead all the way to the Washington shoreline, but it was questionable how cars managed to stay on that thread-like strip of asphalt.

On the downhill side

Naturally, it was no big deal. Thousands of cars traverse that span every day and none of them spontaneously jump over the edge. I just wanted to be sure mine wouldn’t be the first one.

Cape Disappointment State Park is about 12 miles from the bridge and the Washington shoreline is beautiful. I entered the campground and set up camp, all the while noticing the clear and close sound of the ocean. I learned I was camping about 50 yards from the path that leads to the beach. So I checked it out.

Cape Disappointment State Park

It’s another long beach, in fact, a nearby community is called Long Beach. I opted to take a short walk, and was pleasantly surprised to notice a lighthouse clearly visible and the north end of the beach. I did not know how this place became known as Cape Disappointment, but I was not disappointed.

This beach is very close to my campsite.

I returned to my trailer and set it up for my three night stay. This part of the campground is dry-camping with no electrical connection. I will be watching my battery power level and looking for chances to replenish it with the solar system. I’ll just need some sunlight, that’s all. Shouldn’t be a problem.

One note – the cellular signal in this park is very weak, so my updates during this time may be limited and delayed until I reach a better location.

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