Even the toughest people need to take a rest. Fort Clatsop was an encampment where the 33 hale and hearty members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition spent a fairly miserable winter waiting for better weather to return home back east.
Located near the mouth of the Columbia River, the Fort Clatsop National Memorial houses a striking replica of the fort along with an interesting museum of the region and the Corp of Discovery.
A visit to the fort is enhanced by a group that in period costume that answers questions about life in the camp and in part reenact life as it may have been in this remote outpost.
Fort Clatsop was an encampment forced on the expedition in the winter of 1805-1806. The heavy rains and limited food sources were less than ideal but the journey back had to be delayed waiting for snow melt in the Rocky Mountains. After some investigation and even a vote that include all races and sexes, the Fort Clatsop site was chosen. Construction by the party took three weeks.
This is another of the indicators of what hard working people comprised the expedition. The work force, not even the full 33 person team as there was a party gathering salt and another getting food during construction, completed most of the fort in three weeks. Move in date was Christmas Eve, 1805. The current replica of the fort, built in 2006, took over 700 people three months to construct.
The men ate a diet of mostly elk meat and roots. The elk meat proved to be harder and harder to get and it spoiled quickly. Elk still inhabit the area in great numbers.
We enjoyed stopping at the Dean Creek Wildlife Area, an important habitat administered by the BLM. Over 100 head of Roosevelt elk call this home. It was exciting to see groups of large bulls in velvet up close.
For most of the members, the three months in Fort Clatsop was the least favorite of the entire 2 year 4 month journey. Besides tight quarters and poor food, many of the men had colds, influenza, and venereal diseases along with irritating skin conditions from the continual wet weather. The team happily left the Fort on March 22, 1806 heading upstream in several canoes including one stolen from the neighboring Native Americans. The Fort was left to the Indians for their use. It rotted away in the wet weather, with no mention of it past the mid 1800’s.
Much like Lewis and Clark, we enjoyed Oregon’s gorgeous coastline. Our 3 mile round trip hike on the Tahkenitch Trails tooks us from pine trees to sand dunes across swampy wetlands on to the beautiful beach. In 45 minutes on the beach we only saw one other person. We found a few interesting shells but only partial sand dollars. The plovers were nesting so we had to stay on the wet sand in order to not disturb these tiny little shore birds.
Further north of Florence there is an opportunity to visit the privately owned Sea Lion Caves. For $15 a person, you can take an elevator 208 feet down to see the signature Sea Lions.
Being frugal Offpeakers, we stood at the top and saw the interesting marine mammals with binoculars and the camera’s zoom lens.
Further down the road we had a great view back at the Sea Lions along the coast as well as of the Heceta Head Lighthouse. This area is one of the most beautiful we have seen. From this one spot you can see steep cliffs, crashing surf, swimming and sunning sea lions a the spectacular light house.
Less than half an hour further north, save time to investigate the Cape Perpetua Scenic area. Included there is a nice Interpretive center from where you can reportedly see whales swim by earlier in the year. There are also short but interesting trails that can lead you down to the shoreline to see the Devil’s Churn, Cape Cove as well as tidal pools.
Heading north, Tillamook has a massive cheese factory that just cries out for a visit. In a few minutes you can go on a self guided tour, enjoy nice restrooms, and sample a buffet line of cheeses.
Of course you can purchase blocks of the cheese or tasty looking ice cream if you can brave the long lines and steep prices. By now we were near Fort Clatsop, so we hurried on in the tradition of Lewis and Clark. Our new home base is only a few hours away, so the Offpeakers will be back to see Fort Stevens (you can even hike to a shipwreck!), the Tillamook Aviation Museum among other notable sights in the area.
Our exit from the area was not in a hot canoe but still memorable. The Astoria-Megler bridge crosses the mighty Columbia, taking us from Oregon to our new home state of Washington. The towering 4.1 mile long bridge, with a top road height of 215 feet, is the longest continuous truss bridge in North America. 7,100 cars a day take this vertigo inducing trip.
We felt safe despite the height as the bridge was built to withstand windstorms of 150 miles per hour. Reading about the bridge brings to mind how the cost of infrastructure continues to rise. When bridge construction was completed in 1966, total cost was $24 million. Just recently the bridge was painted for a cost nearly the same, $21 million!
Whether you are following the Lewis and Clark Trail or just want a fun outing in the area, the Offpeakers endorse a visit to the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and of course the beautiful Oregon coast. With so many coastal related sight seeing opportunities in the immediate area, try to set aside additional time in order to take more of it in. What are some of your favorites on the Oregon Coast? Are you a fan of Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery?