Monday, September 16 Through Thursday, September 19, 2019
The drive from Pacific Beach State Park to Fort Stevens State Park was mostly routine until Linda was told the US-101 Astoria-Megler Bridge crossing the Columbia River was one of those high scary bridges. Not only that, winds along the Columbia can be epic. Remember the story of Gregg on I-205? The winds blew his van onto two wheels and he was traveling at less than 55 MPH.
Fortunately, winds were calm the day we crossed. She was OK until the last span which is much higher than the first set of spans. Then she closed her eyes.
Forty or so years ago, the last time I crossed this bridge, I had to pay a toll at the Astoria end. The cement structure covering the toll booths was still there but the booths themselves were gone.
Driving through Astoria on US-101, then Warrenton on East Harbor Drive was slow going. Stop lights and lunch traffic. There were a number of turns to different parts of Fort Stevens State Park. Finally, a sign pointing toward campgrounds.
Checking in at the Ranger Station went smoothly. Three of the four windows had rangers in them rapidly checking in campers. While Linda was getting us checked in, I was outside unhitching the Jeep.
The smoothness with which the rangers handled camper check-ins was the first of many clues that this park is exceptionally well run. Other clues were cleanliness, well maintained facilities, clear signage and excellent trails.
After setting up the campsite, we hung out in our zero-gravity chairs and enjoyed the afternoon. Late afternoon, we grilled salmon for dinner.
Overnight and through the morning, as the weather forecast predicted, it rained cats and dogs, flooding our campsite. Walking around, more campsites were flooded than had good drainage. Rain is common in the park. Astoria’s average annual precipitation is 67 inches.
Normally, moss grows on the north side of trees. This tree, in the campsite, had moss all the way around and on nearly all the branches. One might joke that the Fort Stevens rain festival runs from September through August but July and August are the historically and comparatively low rainfall months.
A scan for local TV stations revealed three over-the-air (OTA) broadcasters: two network and PBS. Each station had multiple channels. Given the tree cover, satellite TV would be unlikely.
Cell coverage by both Verizon and AT&T was disappointing. Data rates were horrible. Data service turned out to be intermittent. In some parts of Warrenton, the closest town, cell coverage was much better.
There are miles of pristine beach starting with the state park at the northern end and continuing past Sunset Beach State Recreation Site and further past Del Rey Beach State Recreation Site on the southern end. While beach access is limited in places by private property, the beach itself is public property.
The park can be all about the beach.
Cars are allowed on the beach with some restrictions. Check with the park to see what beach areas are open for vehicle traffic and which areas are not.
Summer vehicle access is more limited in summer months than in winter months. Access may also be more limited during Snowy Plover nesting season.
In 1906, the four masted schooner Peter Iredale ran aground on the beach. A salvage company removed much of the wreckage (steel plates making up the hull and decking) but left the ship’s iron frame.
Not much of the ship is left a hundred years later. The area of the coast is difficult to navigate, especially ships trying to enter the mouth of the Columbia River. The Oregon State Parks has a brochure titled Graveyard of the Pacific covering other notable shipwrecks in the area. This park could be about shipwrecks.
A marathon was held with the finish line near the Peter Iredale Shipwreck.
For some, the park is about marathons.
Coffenbury Lake is accessible by car or trail. Trails lead from the South Loop Campgrounds directly to the lake. Two parking lots, one at the north end and the other in the middle, provide plenty of parking.
There is a boat ramp at the north end of the lake. Boat speeds are limited to 10 MPH. This looks to be a zero wake lake. Check with the park to see if there are other boating restrictions. This could be a fishing park.
Park hosts staff an information booth at the main intersection between the north and south camping loops. An outside ice freezer is to the right of the booth. The freezer’s reflection in the right hand booth window. I approached the window with my wallet out and asked the park host how much the ice cost. They don’t actually sell ice. The ice is available on the honor system. A $3 donation is requested. The money goes into a slot next to the ice freezer.
The park host was kind enough to make change for a $5 bill from her purse so I could buy ice. She also gave me the lowdown on wildlife viewing in the park. Elk and deer. A variety of different birds.
Deer are generally easy to find. The park host had seen elk congregating around the entrance to Loop N after dinner. I visited Loop N after dinner a few times but never saw any elk. Chipmunks were plentiful. Non-native rabbits as well.
Wildlife is always a park thing.
There are nine miles of bike accessible trails. The bike trails are shared with people and horses. The bike trails are paved.
Walking dogs on paved trails like these can be challenging. Not all bike riders understand the bike yield to pedestrian thing. Some folks were riding electric bikes on these trails at upwards of 30 MPH. While I consider electric powered bicycles to be motorized vehicles and therefore constrained to actual roads, this is not the universally held view.
There is also plenty of things to see and do from a car. Out on Clatsop Spit just past the South Jetty is Lot C. An observation tower provides commanding views of the river’s mouth. Whenever the sea is rough, waves crash over the jetty. Fun to watch.
On the river or Trestle Bay side of the spit is Lot D. Lot D provides beach access and has a wildlife viewing bunker. The bunker seems like a fancy bird blind.
What kind of park is this? The best kind – a park that is many things to many people.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!