Day Trip to Lewis and Clark and Willapa NWR

Wednesday was a day trip to visit the Willapa NWR, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Site, and a short side trip back over to near Mt. St. Helens (since we were passing fairly close by) to get some better pictures without all of the fog and clouds.

Our first stop was the Willapa NWR down which is on the north side of the Columbia River immediately across the river from Astoria OR and almost on the Pacific Coast. After some evaluation of the best route; we decided to do it in a counter clockwise loop rather than our original clockwise plan…this allowed us to be nearest Mt. St. Helens in the afternoon rather than the early morning…which allowed the fog to burn off and hence get some decent shots of the volcano. We headed essentially west from Graham but stayed off of I-5 and on the state highways…this allowed us to bypass the rush hour traffic in Tacoma and Olympia and brought us into Aberdeen about 90 minutes after our departure. We turned south just short of Aberdeen and headed down US-101 all the way to the NWR. This was a really nice drive along some rivers and through pretty unpopulated areas…pretty strange considering our proximity to the metro areas of Seattle and Portland. On the way down…we listened to part of the introduction of Apple’s new iPhone 5s and 5c…it’s our year to upgrade from our existing iPhone 4 models and we’re all looking forward to more storage, more cpu horsepower, and all the new features that the 5s model incorporates. Our iPhone 4 models are now 3 generations out of date…and hence pretty much in the dustbin of technology. Our original generation 1 iPads are even further into obsolescence but we’re waiting for the next update to get those. The new iPhone 5s will be available on Sep 20 but as we’ll be on our transit back east/south by then we’ll just wait until the initial rush dies down and get them from the local Apple store on our arrival down in Fort Myers. The features we’re looking forward to the most are the significantly improved camera over the earlier iPhone 4 and the fingerprint sensor/reader to control access to the phone rather than needing to type in a passcode.

Anyway; we arrived at Willapa NWR around 1030 or so and headed off on the short boardwalk hike. It ended up only being maybe 0.3 miles total and since we were in the middle of the day at low tide the bird and animal population situation was pretty minimal. Nonetheless…we did spot an almost extinct species…this particular genus is only rarely seen these days as most of it’s natural habitat has been obliterated.

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Heading off on the boardwalk we spotted some wildflowers and Neil got a shot of a little pond next to the boardwalk.

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Shortly after that we spotted our only (almost) wildlife; a little caterpillar of some sort.

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We headed across the highway (US-101) to the riverside and grabbed a couple shots up and downstream…the island you can see out in the river is most of the NWR’s area but it’s boat access only and looked pretty muddy anyway so we’re glad we didn’t head over there with Neil still in his boot.

There is actually a second wildlife spotting in the first shot…across the far side of the water right on the shoreline just about underneath the far right hand of the yellowing marsh grass (just a bit right of center in the photo) Connie spotted a Great Blue Heron. Neil was going to pull out the big telephoto from his backpack and zoom in…but (a) it was just another Great Blue Heron and photos of them are like a dime a dozen and (b) even with the telephoto it was still pretty much a bluish dot as it’s about 300 or 400 yards across there.

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With that our quick tour of the NWR was over…it was pretty much a bust but sometimes that’s the way it is…but the drive was nice and worth it anyway. We headed off to lunch…our idea was to go down to downtown Astoria, OR and find something with decent food and a view. After parking we wandered down and were headed towards this BBQ place even though Neil was sort of leery about the concept of BBQ in the Northwest…and we saw this place named Baked Alaska…we figured that was a strange name for a pizza place but the view from it’s riverside terrace looked pretty nice so we headed in. Turns out that it’s a pizza place on the shore side but by walking through the pizza place and the attached lounge you get to the regular restaurant portion of the establishment. With that figured out we naturally followed that recommendation and ended up on the terrace with a stupendous view over the river.

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Turns out that the concept for the restaurant was as an assignment that the owner/chef had while he was in culinary school. When he graduated he married his college sweetheart, toured the country for a year and finally bought a 7 table cafe in Astoria, OR. The quality of the food got him an outstanding local reputation and they moved a few years ago into the current 60 or so table (plus the pizza area and lounge) location on the river.

We had a couple of Double Red Ales from a local brewery and Kara tried to make like her Golden Retriever namesake and swim out to fetch one of the anchored bulk carriers in the anchorage…luckily Neil caught her before she got away.



Connie had an Ahi Tuna Baguette with sauce and some slaw on it…and was pretty impressed. Neil had “The Burger” which was advertised as being Kobe beef (unlikely he thought), bacon/Jalapeño jelly, white cheddar and pork belly on a brioche bun. He’s paid 12 bucks for many a hamburger in his day…and this was absolutely the best burger he ever had in any restaurant. Tender and still pink in the middle; the jelly was brilliant and the fried pork belly (think thick bacon) was outstanding. His only gripe was that they sort of skimped on thickness on the pork belly…it was only 3/8 of an inch  thick. You shoulda seen this chunk of meat…but as we all know…Pork fat rules. The bacon/Jalapeño jelly was also also outstanding; a nice bit of sweetness to match the burger, cheese and pork belly and just enough heat from the Jalapeño to give it a little kick.

He grabbed a photo of his half eaten burger…the pork belly is those two thick chunks just below the top bun. Connie had already inhaled her Ahi so he didn’t get a shot of it. 

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Truly an outstanding burger…and this place has two thumbs up from Neil and Connie. If you’re ever in the Astoria OR area…make sure to stop by Baked Alaska run by Chris and Jennifer Holen…they have about a dozen or so local beers on tap and the everything on the menu looked outstanding. They had trouble figuring out which of the many scrumptious offerings to have…and ended up making the decision on a “we wanted a sandwich for lunch rather than a full meal” idea.

On the way out of town we passed this building…which the locals had cleverly and politely put a label on…just in case you were confused and had no idea what it was.

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After that we headed down to the Lewis and Clark National HIstoric Site. This was the first scientific expedition back in 1803-1806 to survey and explore the newly purchased Louisiana Territory. Lewis and Clark set out from St Louis in the spring of 1803, spent the first winter of 1803/4 in what is now North Dakota then traveled across the Rockies and down the Columbia River system to the coast near present day Astoria. They spent the winter of 1804/5 in a camp they named Fort Clatsop after the local tribe that befriended them. The Clatsop tribe was friendly since they were used to traders arriving by sea…but had never seen white men arriving from the east…they were especially taken with Lewis’s slave who they nicknamed Buffalo since he was black and they had recently prayed for the return of the Black Buffalo. Following the winter the expedition headed back east and arrived back in St Louis in late 1806. The fort at the site has been reconstructed based on maps and drawings in Lewis’s notes from the expedition. Later cartographers determined that the maps drawn up by Lewis and Clark in the early 1800’s were within about 40 miles after a journey cross country of almost 4,000 miles…an amazing 1% accuracy that is really amazing given the relatively poor quality of their equipment.

Neil got a couple shots of the rebuilt Fort Clatsop and one of the interior bunk rooms

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then we headed down towards the canoe landing on the nearby Lewis and Clark River. On the way he posed Connie next to a seriously thick tree

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and finally got a couple of shots of the Lewis and Clark River where the expedition landed their canoes for the winter. Their initial inclination and stop was across the river on the north bank but lack of a suitable place to build sent them south to the other side…where as fate would have it they landed in the exact land occupied by Sacagawea’s tribe.

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With that (and seeing as it was almost 1600 by this time) we bid adieu to the Historic Site and headed east. We pretty much followed US-30 along the river until crossing back into WA and then heading up I-5. Our final destination was Mt. St. Helens for some more pictures; since it was getting late, the sun was starting to go down, and we were tired we elected not to go all the way back up to the Observatory but to get pictures from someplace a little closer to I-5 so as to minimize our extra driving miles. We stopped about halfway across from I-5 to the volcano at the closed visitor center and got these shots from about 15 or 17 miles away rather than the 5 miles we would have been up at the observatory. It’s also a slightly different view of the mountain than the photos from the post the other day with the vulcanology lesson. Most of those photos were taken from directly north of the volcano looking south towards the open side of the U-shaped cone. These were taken from about due west of the mountain looking east. In this shot you can see both the near (west) side of the cone as well as the inside of the far corner of the north facing U-shaped cone. The gray area on the far left side of the frame is on the inside of the far edge and the ridge slightly below and right of there is the near side of the cone.

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We also took some photos down in the valley where the North Fork of the Toutle River was buried by the debris field…you can see the little hill shaped hummocks of debris that were left behind as the flow passed. You can also see the old Spirit Lake Road running across the first photo which is oriented a little to the left of the second one. The new course of the North Fork of the Toutle River is on the far side of the valley in the gray area under the ridge; the course before it was buried by the landslide was nearer to the middle. The old road is visible in places but in others is completely buried .

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To illustrate; here’s a helicopter flying some tourists around. It was taken a couple minutes after the photos above but to put them in perspective the helo is about 100 feet off the ground as he heads in toward his airfield just out of sight around the rocks on the right side of the second valley photo above. The first helo shot is when it was just to the right of the farthest left piece of the old road you can see in the first valley photo and the second it was just below the right side lens flare in the second valley photo; he was just over the tan portion of the valley floor below the lens flare and river course. Between the extra zoom he used on the shots and the closer cropping for the helo shots the effective magnification difference between the valley shots and the helo shots is about 6x or 8x. As you can see; this is a huge valley and pretty far below where we were  standing. If you really zoom in close in the first valley shot you can just barely see the little wet area directly below and behind the helo in the first shot.

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With that…our day was pretty much done as we were both tired. We headed back down through Toledo WA to I-5 then home to Graham. Stopped by the Safeway in Yelm on the way in and got a rotisserie chicken for dinner along with a glass of wine…watched a little TV, and hit the sack early. Tomorrow is Neil’s (hopefully!) final appointment for his broken foot and then we’ll be starting to get ready to travel on next Wednesday. We’ll firm up the plans for getting from here to Fort Myers and I’ll tell you about them in a day or so.


About Gunther

The full time RV travels and experiences of Gunther the Bear and Kara the Dog…along with their human staff neil and Connie.
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2 Responses to Day Trip to Lewis and Clark and Willapa NWR

  1. Mj Trainor says:

    So beautiful! Hope the foot appt goes well tmrw! Looking forward to more chapters!!

    • Neil Laubenthal says:

      Connie thinks they will tell me to wear the boot only if it hurts…we will figger it out mañana. Looks like we will definitely be outa here next Wednesday though.


      The three kinds of stress…nuclear, cooking and a&&hole. Jello is the key to the relationship.

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