Ever hear of the Astoria Column? Me neither. It’s one of twelve historical markers built in the early 20th century that were placed from St. Paul, Minnesota to Astoria, Oregon to celebrate westward expansion. Click here for further information. The murals on the Astoria Column commemorate major events of Northwest history between 1792 and 1818.
And it’s also the site of playfulness for one and all; I’ll fill you in later on these friendly skies.
Hannah and I have come to Astoria, in the northwest corner of Oregon this first week of June, where the wide Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. We have come for the weekend to catch up with Hannah’s amiga from Arizona State, Patty, and her husband Kent for some Northwest hiking, Mormon Bridge card playing, and margarita drinking.
Astoria itself was the first permanent United States settlement on the Pacific coast. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805–06 at Fort Clatsop, just to the southwest of modern-day Astoria. The expedition had hoped that a ship would come to take them back east, but instead they endured a torturous winter of rain and cold before returning over the land route from whence they came.
Just a couple of hundred yards up from the main drag (Commercial Street) in this town of 9500 residents, we park roadside at the trailhead of the Cathedral Tree Trail. Just a half mile down the trail is the Cathedral Tree itself, a monstrous 300-year-old Sitka Spruce for playful adults (Hannah and Patty). This old growth forest contrasts with the bare stretches of hillside across the Columbia River where Washington loggers have had their way with the evergreens.
The lushness of this trail is something you might find 50 miles inland, as we did at Boulder River, Washington two days ago. Its green on green has thimbleberries about to pop with flavor. Asking the only couple we see on the 1.6-mile trail to the summit to snap our picture, we wonder what are the odds of seeing four Sun Devils on a mountainside on the coast of Oregon?
Light through the forest ahead reveals that we are near the 600’ summit of Coxcomb Hill, home to the Astoria Column. The 125’ concrete column has 164 interior steps to the platform at the top.
But what’s cool about the Astoria Column is that from its top, it is the launching platform for balsa wood airplanes (the kind of light planes that were a hit with kids in the 50s in Radburn, New Jersey).
On this blue sky Saturday afternoon, many have come to join us in the aerial revelry. Patty has brought two planes, which we christen Owen and Max. Others buy balsa wood planes at the gift shop for just one dollar each. The gift shop clerk says that she sold 1300 in the last two days!
While Patty, Kent, and Hannah climb the 164 circular steps to the top, I wait below to record the launch for your viewing pleasure.
Corralling both the Owen and Max planes after they have landed nearby, I take to the stairs to join the other three, and maybe 15 others, at the top. This video takes you to the top of the Astoria Column.
With riverside margaritas waiting for us back at our Astoria Crest Motel (Click here to learn more about this four star Columbia River motel), Hannah and Patty check out the gift store while I wonder just how fast I could climb the 164 stair steps of the Astoria Column.
Thanks to the technology, I have the stop watch on my iPhone at the ready for my assault. Faithful readers of this blog might be thinking, Danny, my boy, you’ve been icing and stretching your left Achilles for the last week in the Northwest and now you are charging up the metal stairs to the top of the Astoria Column. Are you insane?
Fact is, during the entire 1.6-mile Cathedral Tree Trail hike and climbing to the top of the Astoria Column, I never even noticed my Achilles. Limber and raring to go without a thought to my heel, I take to the circular stairs, charging ahead. But within 30’ of the top, 68 years of living takes its toll on this 83F late afternoon; I slow and stagger to the top.
But then there is a buzz among the 15 people at the top! It seems I may have just set an age group record (65 to 69) for the Astoria Column stair climb. Panting and gasping, I accept their unspoken and unacknowledged congratulations.
As king of the world, I look to the Pacific and can just imagine Leonardo DiCaprio at the bow of the Titanic! Sounds a little ominous? Trust me, no such danger lurks for me this beautiful Pacific coast Saturday.