Thursday, December 9, 2021

Astoria Maritime Museum offers superb look at Pacific Northwest's stormy sea connection


Crossing the fabled bar where the Columbia meets the Pacific is the focus of several exhibits
at the engaging Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria, Oregon.  

Life-size exhibits draw viewers from around the world
into the story of Astoria's stormy relationship with the sea.


The museum's exhibits artfully blend photos,
artifacts, three-dimensional art and more.
Here, high-tech underwater diving of yore.

THE MARITIME history of Astoria, Oregon, is one of tumult, terror and triumph.
Many a ship and sailor have been pummeled by the surf -- thrown against the shoals on the treacherous Columbia River bar.
We learned at the Columbia River Maritime Museum that the river has taken at least 2,000 vessels and nearly as many lives.
MERGING OF river and ocean take on mythic proportion at the splendid museum, which does an excellent job of explaining the fascinating reality of meandering river meeting a wild ocean.  
A museum visitor notes the warning given as
ships approached convergence of river and sea.
This section is so rugged because of the huge volume of water as the river spreads nearing the ocean. It washes sands and sediments from many miles away against thrashing tides. As the 1,243-mile long Columbia reaches its mouth, its drainage basin is enormous -- almost the size of France. So when the swelling river meets the Pacific, it's a big deal. It began quietly in British Canada, gathering speed and ferocity before colliding with the turbulent Pacific. From the days of dugout canoes to the early 1900s, lives were lost in this crushing convergence.
Installation of great boulder-mound jetties more than a century ago made the area safer, but before that, the treacherous "bar" was a dangerous five miles wide and filled with changing channels and shifting shoals, making it a navigational nightmare.
A lighthouse lens designed by Fresnel is
artfully displayed in the Astoria museum.

THE MUSEUM takes a colorful look at the river and its importance to its host town and beyond -- a massive region between Washington and Oregon.  
 More than a traditional repository, the Columbia River Maritime Museum is a unique combination of seafaring vessels, maritime artifacts, and exquisite paintings, enhanced by exhibits, three-dimensional displays, live demonstrations and hands-on activities.
A giant ship's anchor is a focal
point outside the museum, and
often photographed by visitors.
One of the paintings, "Smoky Sunset on the Columbia River," is breathtaking -- a ship at full sail on one wide and a canoe on the other, all framed by haunting land and light. For my sailor partner and me, it was an engaging history lesson about boats, equipment and the hazards of the sea.
THE MUSEUM naturally focuses on the waterway that gave birth to Astoria and the northwest region of Oregon. But its scope is broader. Anyone with an interest in the sea and its dangers, challenges and pleasures will enjoy this creative gem of a museum.
The famous Morro Rock stands proudly in the harbor of
a quaint seaside town with shops, views, plenty to amuse.

UP NEXT: The pretty coastal town of Morro Bay, California, attracts hikers, drivers, sea lovers and tourists from around the world. Located midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this lively village is home to world-famous Morro Rock, which serves as the backdrop to an enticing abundance of year-round outdoor activities. We explore the options -- kayaking, surfing, boating, golfing, hiking and biking. We also look at some quaint hotels and visit Morro Bay State Park, home to lagoons, trails and a rich bird-rich saltwater marsh. Remember to explore, learn and live at


  1. Thoughtful, well done story and your usual insightful photos to complement the commentary. This is indeed a place we Oregonians are proud of. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Interesting piece. One doesn't think of a river with that kind of force in our neck of the woods. Would make an interesting trip.