Monday, February 22, 2021

The Columbia River Maritime Museum

Learn About the Maritime History of the Pacific Northwest in Astoria, Oregon.

Astoria, Oregon, is located near the mouth of the Columbia River that creates the border between the states of Washington and Oregon. Astoria, the oldest city in Oregon, is an interesting and fun place to visit. Anyone who is on a Lewis and Clark pilgrimage is going to stay there of course. But there is a rich history about this town that goes way beyond the Corps of Discovery.

The Lewis and Clark Expedition spent the winter of 1805-06 at Fort Clatsop that they built just four miles to the southwest of modern-day Astoria. In 1811 fur trappers of the American Fur Company, owned by John Jacob Astor, established Fort Astoria where the city is today. Astoria is a deep-water port whose location on the Pacific coast made it a thriving resource town since then. Along with the fur industry, there is the timber industry and fish canneries for processing locally caught salmon. As you can imagine, not only the shipping of these commodities but the fishing industry as well creates a strong maritime history in Astoria. Oh, yes, and do not forget the Columbia bar.

Those of you not familiar with the area might be asking what the Columbia bar is exactly. Well, as the Columbia flows over 1200 miles all the way from Canada to the Pacific, it picks up sediment, as most rivers tend to do. As the waters of the Columbia hit the Pacific Ocean, it slows. When it does it drops the sediment creating what they call a “bar.” The Columbia Bar is an area about 3 miles wide and 6 miles long where the river enters the ocean. Because the bar creates shallows, the waters there tend to be rough and prone to a lot of unusual waves and currents. Plus, the sediment in the bar is always shifting around. That’s why large container ships need a river pilot to guide them into port. Moreover, combine the dangers of the bar with the naturally crappy weather of the Pacific Northwest and you’ve got some challenges. There are so many shipwrecks historically around this area (over 2,000 since 1792) that it has earned the nickname of the “Graveyard of the Pacific.”

This is where the Columbia River Maritime Museum comes in. This is a must-see when you visit Astoria. Most of the exhibits are indoors so don’t worry about the weather (oh, yeah, it rains a lot in Astoria). We made our trip pre-covid, but despite the pandemic, the museum is open with protocols. You will see exhibits on each of the industries that are a part of the history of this area. Particularly interesting to me is the information about the bar. Such a historically dangerous spot that had to be conquered (still true today) in order to exploit the resources of this region and on an individual level, earn a living. You’ll learn what a “bar pilot” does, and that there are only about 16 of these specialists working out of Astoria today. There is also a fine exhibit honoring the work of the United States Coast Guard in and around the Columbia River Bar.

When we visited Astoria, we stayed at the River Walk Inn, one of several hotels that provide a view of the marina from your room (nice!). From the hotel, you are able to catch a trolley that runs the length of the city with a stop at the Maritime Museum. The entry fee is a little pricey at $16 for adults, but that’s probably because I think all museums should be free. Regardless, the museum is worth it. Add it to your itinerary along with your pilgrimage to Fort Clatsop

For more information, visit the Columbia River Maritime Museum website.




Monday, February 15, 2021

Fort Point National Historic Site, San Francisco

The Civil War-Era Fort under the Golden Gate Bridge

Did you know that there was a Civil War-era fort under the Golden Gate Bridge? I realize that at times I can be slow on the uptake, but I didn’t know about Fort Point until just a few years ago. And I grew up in California! How could I not notice? I’ve driven over the bridge several times in my life. The first time way back in high school. When I was in the army, I even flew a helicopter from Camp Roberts to the Presidio in San Francisco – didn’t notice it then. Finally, Fort Point came on the radar several years ago when I visited the Presidio as a tourist. Who knew? 

The history of the site goes back to the late 1700s. The Spanish were worried about encroachment into California by Russia and Great Britain. They built a fort on a cliff at the southern point of the narrowest entry to the bay. That would later be known as the “Golden Gate.” The fort, Castillo de San Joaquin, was completed in 1794, was made of adobe walls, and mounted from 9 to 13 cannons. When Mexico gained independence from Spain, the Mexican army moved to Sonoma and let the fort deteriorate.

At some point during the Spanish and Mexican eras, the cliff that the fort was located on was known as the Punta del Cantil Blanco (point of the white cliff) became known as Punta del Castillo (Castle Point). After the Mexican-American war and the United States gained control of California in 1848, the name was carried over as “Fort Point.” Soon the Gold Rush was in full swing, California became a state in 1850, and the United States now needed to protect the bay. A series of defensive fortifications were proposed that included Alcatraz Island, Fort Mason (located adjacent to Fisherman’s Wharf), and Fort Point.

The construction on Fort Point began in 1853. The first task was to knock down the cliff and build the fort near sea level. The idea was that guns placed in the first level of the fort could skip cannonballs along the ocean and hit ships at the waterline. Two hundred former gold miners were employed on the construction of the fort for eight years, finishing it in time to be garrisoned just before the start of the American Civil War in 1861. The fort is constructed with seven-foot-thick walls and three levels, or tiers, that built with a reinforcing arch. The fort could aim 126 guns at any ship passing through the narrow Golden Gate, although during the Civil War there were only 55.

Fort Point never fired a shot in anger. Time and technology made the fort obsolete. Navies of the world moved on to ships made of iron and steel. By the 1890s the smoothbore cannons at Fort Point were scrapped in favor of rifled, larger, coast artillery emplaced in concrete batteries at Fort Winfield Scott on the west side of the Presidio. Fort Point was used as a barracks for a time until it fell into disrepair. Recommendations to have the fort demolished in the 1920s were turned down. The fort was left standing even as the Golden Gate Bridge was built over it in the 1930s. After World War II, efforts were made to preserve the fort. In October of 1970, President Nixon declared Fort Point a National Historic Site.

Read complete histories of Fort Point at the National Park Service website, the Presidio San Francisco website, or on Wikipedia.

Fort Point is well worth the trip alone. But certainly, be sure to put it on your itinerary when you plan a trip to San Francisco. I enjoyed it more than exploring the coastal artillery batteries at the Presidio. Those coastal defenses built in the early twentieth century are common. I’ve also visited them at the mouth of the Columbia River and protecting the entrance to the Puget Sound. But on the west coast, Fort Point is the only one of its kind. There are no other Civil War-era forts, well preserved, on the west coast. I was fascinated by the architecture of the fort and the technology for the time that it was built. During the summer months there might be living historians or reenactor groups at the fort. Check with the NPS website. Oh, and bring a jacket. You know the old joke: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” 😎

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Angels Camp and the California Goldrush

I was going through a bunch of pictures on my computer today. I used to urge everyone to scan and organize old, printed photos. I finally got that chore done myself a while ago. But I have come to realize that my computer is a lot like an old shoebox full of photos tossed in. Time to get organized. I’m working on getting that chore done. While eating the elephant one bite at a time, I came across some pictures taken in the city museum of the California Gold Rush town of Angels Camp that I thought I’d share.

A short few years ago we did a California Gold Rush trip that included Old Town Sacramento, Sutter’s Fort, and the Marshall Gold Discovery State Park. Part of that trip was driving down a major portion of California State Highway 49, sometimes called the “Gold Rush Highway.” You can start northeast of Sacramento in the town of Grass Valley and drive the Gold Rush Highway over 200 miles south, all the way to Oakhurst and Yosemite National Park. Along the way, you’ll pass multiple Gold Rush Towns with intriguing names like Coloma, Sonora, Jamestown, Chinese Camp, Placerville, and of course, Angels Camp.

The California Gold Rush had an initial phase that featured placer mining. Basically a technique of finding gold on the surface that had washed down over the centuries from a “lode” or major vein up higher in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Placer mining relied on a constant supply of water. Moreover, water is typically what brings the gold down the mountain. So you’ll find Gold Rush towns in conjunction with streams and creeks. Angels Camp is no different.

Today the city of Angels Camp is located at the intersection of Hwy 49 and Hwy 4, about an hour’s drive east of the Central Valley city of Stockton. Back in 1848, the water running down the mountain at that site was known as Carson’s Creek. Shortly after the discovery of gold that year, there was an estimated 4,000 would-be miners trying their luck in the area (a funny coincidence because that’s about what the population of Angels Camp is today). A man named Henry Angell, having come out to California from Rhode Island, set up a store on the banks of Carson Creek. Soon the town that grew around the store took his name.

Mark Twain stayed in Angels Camp for a while. It was there that he was inspired to write “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” That story made Twain a household name. The story becoming an American classic, it then inspired the annual jumping frog contest held each year during May at the nearby Calaveras County fairgrounds. Get a full history of Angels Camp from the Historic Hwy 49 website

What I enjoyed most about Angels Camp was the Angels Camp Museum, which is managed by the city. They have a great collection of wagons and carriages, mining equipment, even a period printing press. You can even try your hand at panning for gold. It is family-friendly and well worth the stop. Although I’m sure covid protocols are in place, the website reports that the museum is open. Well, you might want to wait for summer. But plan a Gold Rush themed California vacation and put Angels Camp on the itinerary.


Friday, January 22, 2021

Snoqualmie Falls in a time of COVID-19

Okay, for all of you who have local roots in the Puget Sound, please do not judge me too harshly for this. But after living in western Washington for cumulatively a couple of decades, I had never visited Snoqualmie Falls. No excuses, other than most of the time we lived on the west side of the sound and just never made it a destination trip. So now that we are living on the east side of Lake Washington, we finally drove up for a look-see. Unfortunately, it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and quite a few other folks decided to join us. But more about that later.

Okay, for those of you unfamiliar with the Pacific Northwest, Snoqualmie Falls is a 268-foot waterfall on the Snoqualmie River, between the cities of Fall River and Snoqualmie, Washington. Perhaps it is easier to visualize if I just tell you that from downtown Seattle, get on eastbound Interstate 90 and drive for about fifty minutes and you will run right into it. There is free parking, a gift shop, a nice lodge, and a 1.4-mile round trip hiking path that runs from the upper viewing area down to a lower viewing platform. Of course, the real star is the falls themselves. They are beautiful year-round, but I gather that some dedicated individuals drive up there after a few days of heavy rain to get a view of the falls on steroids.

The falls have been a spiritual site for Native Americans for thousands of years. The Snoqualmie Tribe, a subgroup of the Coastal Salish people, would gather at the falls each year for trade. (See the official website for a complete history.) Anglo-American settlers moved into the area after the middle of the nineteenth century. Soon after came industrialization. The 1870s brought logging operations. The 1880s brought a town and a railroad. The 1890s brought a hydro-electric powerplant still operating today.

On the day we visited it was light overcast with no rain. A great weather day for January in Seattle. But do bring a rain jacket even if there is no rain forecast. The falls create their own mist. We arrived about 11 am, kind of late for us early risers, but still, we made it just as the parking lot was filling up. By 12:30, people were trawling for parking spaces. The view from the upper area where the Salish Lodge and the gift shop are located is great, so if you are not in the best of shape, there is no need to see the falls from the lower viewing area. There is a lower parking lot now open, so look for that on the map if you like. The hike down to the lower viewing platform is only a 0.7-mile walk. But it is a little steep and you’ll need your breath climbing the 250 feet back up to the upper parking lot.

We are still working with COVID-19 restrictions and I was happy to see that although viewing the falls is an outdoor activity, a vast majority of people were wearing their masks and doing their best to stay socially distanced. That social distancing was easily accomplished up top and on the trail down. But as you get to the bottom, the trail narrows to a boardwalk that goes past the old 1911 powerplant building and out to a viewing platform. Unfortunately, when we got down there, it was busy. A crowd that could stay distanced in the upper viewing area could not on the sidewalk-width of the boardwalk. Folks were patient and queued up nose-to-back along the boardwalk waiting for their turn to go out onto the viewing platform. But that’s not the point.

Everyone was cooperating and waiting their turn. That was great. But there was no guide or park ranger (this is not a state or national park) to keep people distanced. And hardly anyone would have seen this situation as dangerous while we are fighting a pandemic. We decided it was not worth it and left the line after about a minute when we realized that it could very well be a “super spreader.” I am writing that tongue-in-cheek, but it is true. Sheila and I both have had the “Rona” virus as some of my students call it. Trust me. You do not want it. And we didn’t want to get it again.

Enjoy the pictures and videos. Stop by and see Snoqualmie Falls when you are driving from Spokane to Seattle. It is worth the stop. Look at the Falls and think of a much longer history that you are seeing. And double-down on those protocols: mask, wash hands, stay distanced. The only way to get through the pandemic is with a little dose of discipline and good judgment.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The California State Railroad Museum

Memories from a pre-covid trip...

Last year I was teaching high school in California and we were sent home to conduct “distance learning” on March 13th and my old school is still at home trying to teach and learn via the Internet. That’s getting close to a whole year. Now, this post is not about the merits of distance learning or whether students should be in the classroom during a surge in the pandemic. When I decided to share some pictures of the California State Railroad Museum I was reminded that people in professions other than hospitality and travel are having a hard time during this crisis as well. There are a good number of museum workers at home too.

What I’m saying is that there is definitely a crisis for those working in museums and historic sites. Last summer there was an article in Forbes that said that the pandemic could close up to a third of all museums in the United States. Permanently. I was struck by this statistic when I checked in on the California State Railroad Museum’s website and found out that they had been closed completely since November 2020.

I hope that with the increasing availability of vaccines and through our own mitigation efforts, we will be able to travel to historic sites and museums once again. In the meantime, let me share some pictures from a pre-COVID-19 trip to Sacramento when we were able to walk through the museum and look at some trains up close and personal.

The California State Railroad Museum is in Old Town Sacramento, just north of where Interstate 5 and 80 intersect. It’s the historic waterfront of the Sacramento River. We did a blog post about our visit to Old Town Sacramento back before the pandemic. One of the main attractions is of course the railroad museum, but there are many shops, restaurants, and other attractions for non-train enthusiasts (is there such a thing?). In the summer months, you will also find historical reenactors encamped in the state park.

Since Sacramento was the western terminus for the First Transcontinental Railroad, the museum devotes an enjoyable and educational exhibit to this feat of engineering (that would be building a railroad through the Sierra Nevada mountains in the 1860s.) I especially enjoyed the exhibit on the heyday of passenger travel. If I did not make it clear, this museum is full of trains. So you will get to not only see the trains but also climb on them and go inside them. Another exhibit I liked was the homage to toy trains and the vast collection they have on display.

The California State Railroad Museum is a first-class, fun place to visit. Very kid-friendly. It rates a place on my “places I’d go to again” list. While it is currently closed for the pandemic (which has hit California especially hard over the holidays), you can still enjoy the museum online. Visit their website and maybe like their Facebook page, which is full of great pictures. You can still support museums with a cash donation or buy something from the museum store if they are available online (which the railroad museum is). 

Just remember that hard times don’t last. And if we never had it rough, we wouldn’t know when we had it good. But for now, enjoy some pictures of trains.

Friday, January 8, 2021

New Year, New Location, New Vocation (and some local history too!)

Elvis is exhausted after
a long walk through
Bothell history.
 I’ve been adding to this blog since 2008, but for the last several years the posts have been pretty sparse. I try not to include a lot of personal information in my posts, but today I feel compelled to explain and share. Back in 2013 my wife and I moved from Washington to California to care for my aging parents. It was there that I started teaching high school. The job and personal issues kept me both busy and out of the frame of mind to write a whole lot. As it turns out, teaching high school and I were not completely compatible (more about that at a later date) and the pandemic only made things worse. My parents had both passed, so Sheila and I asked, “What are we doing here?”

 The answer to that question was basically just putting up with a place we didn’t want to live in and a job that I didn’t really enjoy. Why not live where we want to live and do what we want to do? So, as we are known to do, we made a change. First, we moved back to the Puget Sound area which we consider our home, having lived in the area off and on for over twenty years. We chose the suburb of Bothell, just to the northeast of Seattle. We’ve been here three weeks now and just love it.

 The second part of the question is what will I do now that I’m not teaching. That’s easy. I’m going to rededicate myself to a couple of writing projects. It is exciting to see the positive reviews of our first project, The Boldest Plan is the Best: The Combat History of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion during WWII. Moreover, I can’t tell you how honored I have been to be contacted by family members after the publication of the book. With the 509th PIB being the first unit to parachute into combat in the European Theater, I had started a project on the 503rd Parachute Infantry, which was the first unit to jump into combat in the Pacific Theater. Now I have the time and inspiration to complete it. Additionally, I think I’ll try my hand at some historical fiction, inspired by the events surrounding these two very special units.

All History is Local

 One of the benefits of our new home is the proximity of great walking and biking paths. I have already fallen into a morning routine of walking with Elvis the Corgi in pursuit of another, more typical, New Year’s resolution. Most mornings we are out at sunrise, easily seen behind the rain clouds, walking on either the Samammish River Trail toward Woodinville or on the Burke-Gilman Trail in the direction of Kenmore.

 This morning we were headed west toward Kenmore and we ran into the “Red Brick Road” park. (See a Video) Today SR-522 (Bothell Way) is a very busy four-lane arterial that will take you into the north end of Seattle. But that route basically started as a logging road which was first paved in 1913. (This is where you should probably be listening to “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits.) The method of paving? You guessed it: red bricks! When Bothell Way was paved with concrete and straightened, a part of the red brick road was left exposed at a place called the Wayne Curve (Bothell Way at 96th Avenue NE). Some forward-thinking people created a “pocket park” and monument that includes about two-tenths of a mile of red brick paving, from the four-mile stretch running west from Bothell to the suburb of Lake Forest Park.

 I really enjoy these kinds of surprises. I know most people won’t be impressed by a few yards of red bricks. But it’s what it represents. First, it gives you a glimpse into what this area, mostly covered with modern houses and high rise apartments, used to be. That is a small, fairly remote, logging town. Second, it is just another example of the fact that all history is local history.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Book Review: To Wake The Giant

Book R&R: "To Wake The Giant: A Novel of Pearl Harbor" by Jeff Shaara

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Jeff Shaara fan. I have read every book he has written, as soon as they become available. When I heard that he was going to revisit World War II and specifically Pearl Harbor, it went straight to the top of the reading pile. Besides, with the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII upon us, the subject is very appropriate.

"To Wake the Giant" begins approximately one year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the usual Jeff Shaara formula, he tells the story of the event by following major historical characters who played a role in decision making and examples of "regular people" who were greatly affected by the event. In the case of "Wake the Giant," Shaara provides the perspective of the United States' chief negotiator with Japan, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, the architect of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and a new enlistee to the U.S. Navy named Tommy Biggs, who gets assigned to the USS Arizona.

Of course, we hear the voices of other characters who are part of the multitude that made or were affected by this pivotal event in World history. Secretary of State Hull, of course, meets with President Roosevelt and Secretary of War Stimson among others that include Japanese Ambassador Nomura. These meetings let the reader know what the American government knew leading up to the war. Dialog between Yamamoto, his staff and other admirals, show us the planning for the attack. And in Hawaii, we see the preparations for war through the viewpoint of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and his staff. Finally, Tommy Biggs and his shipmates show us what life was like for a battleship sailor in the weeks before the war and the horrific battle on December 7, 1941.

"To Wake the Giant" is a page-turner. I was never bored or distracted. Like all Shaara novels, the book is well researched and very readable. To me, this author writes the epitome of factual historical fiction, which as I've said many times is a great way to learn details of an event. And if you're not careful, you might even become a fan of history. So put this book on your summer reading list.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Midway: A battle, a book, and two movies

I miss the old movies from the 60s and early 70s. My dad loved them, we'd watch them together and I actually learned a lot of military history from watching those Saturday reruns (some of that history I admit had to be corrected). One of those was the 1976 movie Midway with Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda. This was on our list of classic war movies, so I bought a copy on DVD for my dad a few years ago. When the new version of Midway came out in 2019 with Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz, I had to see how it compared, so I added a copy of that version to my collection.

Which version is better you ask? Tough question. Right off the top, I’ll tell you I liked the older version better. But for the life of my I couldn’t figure out why. Is it because the Charlton Heston version used real aircraft and historical footage? (the onboard carrier scenes were filmed on the USS Lexington.) Maybe the computer-generated battle scenes in the 2019 version were a turnoff. That and a bit of overacting? Maybe? Just a little? Amazon customers couldn’t help. Both movies are well received with thousands of reviews. Well, maybe we should ask which one was more historically accurate. And that’s where the book comes in.

I admit that I am not nearly as familiar with WWII naval history as I am with the land-based battles. I did not know a great deal about the Battle of Midway. When I don’t know about something, I can’t just take Wikipedia’s word for it. I have to go find a book. No disrespect to Wikipedia, it’s a great resource for background information. I just have to have a book. I chose “The Battle of Midway” by Craig L. Symonds. The book was really good. I’m not the only one who thinks so, it has 4.7 stars on 590 reviews. The book begins with Admiral Chester Nimitz taking over as CincPac in the days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. We’re given all of the background we need that leads us up to the battle, including the Battle of the Coral Sea, the breaking of Japanese codes, and the Doolittle Raid. The book then provides a blow by blow telling of the Battle of Midway that occurred just six months after Pearl Harbor. I enjoyed reading it.

Which movie was more historically accurate? First, ignore the storyline in the first movie involving Heston’s fictional character and his son. Then I would say with the broad-brush strokes they are both historically accurate. But I have to admit that when it comes to details and character portrayals, the 2019 Woody Harrelson version beats out the 1976 version. For example, Joe Rochefort, the officer in charge of breaking one of the Japanese codes that were so instrumental in the American victory was portrayed in the 1976 movie as eccentric and unconventional. That is not a true description of this brilliant officer, and he was more accurately depicted in the 2019 movie. As it turns out, the 2019 movie did a much better job of showing the real men who played integral parts in the battle. McClusky really did damage his lungs with a faulty air tank, and Admiral Yamaguchi did, in fact, choose to go down with the Hiryū. As it turns out, it seemed like the 2019 movie of Midway was based on Symonds’ book.

I know I haven’t helped you choose just one of these. But hey, while you are socially distancing yourself you’ve got time to enjoy all three. My recommendation, as always, is to read the book first. 😉

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Write it down: Your Covid-19 Journal

Image from the Library of Congress
First: An Update on Our Coronavirus Staycation.
There are occasions when you find you have some time on your hands. Then you realize how long it has been since you did certain things. Like, write in your blog. Everyone has the pandemic on their mind so I might as well tell you my story so far.

This January I started a new teaching job with an alternative education high school that partners with a nonprofit organization that provides flight instruction to the students. More about that later, but in summary, I teach high school level history, math, and aviation science (which is basically private pilot ground school). Since February we’ve been telling our students about the approaching pandemic and personal precautions to take. We stopped our ritual of shaking hands with each student every morning and opted instead for fist and elbow bumps. At the end of my unit on the First World War, I taught a class on the 1918 Flu Pandemic that included showing the American Experience documentary. New info for most; I can honestly say I had their attention on that one.

On Friday, March 13th we were off for the end of the quarter when my principal contacted me and said there would be no students the following week and that we would come in and figure out how we were going to teach online for the next couple of weeks. Before the weekend was over, I was told that teachers would be required to stay home as well. Now we are planning lessons to be provided online and provide work to be assigned through Google Classroom. We haven’t implemented yet, because now we must figure out how to get a computer and Internet access to every student. Except for trips to the grocery store and taking Elvis the corgi for a walk, we’ve been staying home since the 13th. More to follow.

Write Down Your Story.
I don’t know if being well versed in history is good or bad. Because now we’re wondering just how bad this pandemic is really going to be or the economic situation that will follow. And we have some events in our history that we can use as a cautionary tale. Sheila and I both agreed that we thought we’d never live to see a cataclysmic event like the 1918 Influenza Pandemic or the Great Depression. Now I’m wondering if I might see something similar to both. Then I realized that we have seen some major things in our lifetime. Two I can think of are the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. We got past those and others. They are now in our memory, in some cases like it happened yesterday, and as if it were ancient history to younger generations.

I can tell you one thing. As a reader, researcher, and writer of history, I thank the people who recorded their experiences during challenging times. Like the University of Virginia history professor Herbert Braun says, “We do not write alone.” For me, it means that writers of history need your help. Future generations will want to know the personal, emotional toll that this event had on you and your friends and family. Even more basic is what was it like in your local area? What did you do to stay safe and sane?

Please, write your stories down. Keep a journal. Record a video. Get the kids involved too. If they are young, they can draw pictures. No detail is too mundane. Don’t lose your thoughts to social media. Keep copies of what you post in your own files. Some day they are going to be gold to your descendants. And to someone like me.

P.S. If you need a good book recommendation, a few years ago I read “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History” by John M. Barry. It stuck with me and a good read considering our current times.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our Oregon Field Trip: Fort Clatsop

Map image from NPS
There's a number of reasons to visit Astoria, Oregon. Beautiful scenery, the Columbia River Maritime Museum, maybe go on a Goonies hunt. But for me, a big Lewis and Clark groupie, there are three historic sites to see when you go there. The first is the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Cape Disappointment State Park on the Washington side of the Columbia River. There is also the Lewis & Clark Salt Cairn Historic Monument in nearby Seaside, Oregon. And the third location is, of course, Fort Clatsop just outside of Astoria and part of the Lewis & Clark National Historic Park.

Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment of the Lewis & Clark expedition from December 1805 to March 1806. The Corps of Discovery, as the expedition was called, first sighted the Pacific Ocean from Cape Disappointment. However, the explorers thought they would have better weather on the Oregon side of the river. It was here that they built a small fort. The National Park Service has built a replica fort on the site. The members of the expedition hiked from this location to the beach in today's city of Seaside to obtain salt from sea water. Today, if you are feeling adventurous, you can hike the same trail from Fort Clatsop to the monument in Seaside.

When you visit, come early in the day as this is a popular destination. There is a nice little museum and gift shop in the visitor's center. Bring a jacket, even in the summer. Because Astoria gets on average 86 inches of rain a year, even in June we had a light drizzle in the morning. Also, it is a short walk from the visitor's center to the fort. At the fort you will find docents in period costume to answer questions and give short presentations throughout the day.

The history of the Lewis & Clark expedition is well known and readily available, so I won't duplicate that here. But before you make a pilgrimage, you might want to bone up a little bit. I would of course recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose for a thorough and enjoyable background. And check out the Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society, for some related articles and historical records online

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The Whalers Cabin at Point Lobos

Welcome to Monterey Bay!

We tried retirement, it just didn't stick. In reality, I just took the summer and fall off. That was long enough to get me back to work. Since January, Sheila and I have been living on Monterey Bay in the central California coast. I'm back to teaching alt ed high school, currently at a county juvenile hall. When you mention this area, most people probably think of beautiful views of a rocky coastline, Big Sur, or Cannery Row. But there is no doubt that there is a lot of history here in the Monterey - Salinas area too, especially compared to the rest of California. I wanted to share with you a hidden gem where you can get both scenic beauty and a little dose of history: Whalers Cove at Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.

Point Lobos SNR is just a short ten mile drive south on Pacific Coast Highway (Hwy 1) from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Traveling south on Hwy 1, about a mile or two outside of Carmel you will make a right turn into the reserve. It costs ten dollars per car to get in, but totally worth it. Come early (the reserve opens to vehicles at 8 am), because this can be a popular place. I know I said it is a hidden gem, but that doesn't mean that the locals don't know about it. The ranger at the main gate can give you a map and directions, but it is a short drive to the parking lot at Whalers Cove. From there, you take a short walk back up the road to the Whalers Cabin museum that you drove by on your way in.

Take a break from the scenery and check out the long history of Point Lobos. The area has been occupied by non-native Americans since the 1850s. Until 1879, this spot was one of seven whaling stations along the California coast. Portuguese immigrants started shore-based whaling at this location. Crews would row out of the calmness of the small cove and past the breaking waves to hunt the grey whales that migrate up and down the California coast. You can still spot these giants as they pass by on their way south from Alaska to their breeding and calving lagoons in Baja during December through January. Or you might spot them as they return to their feeding grounds in the north, passing Monterey Bay from March through May. Of course there is more to the history of this particular spot. A community of Asian fishermen hunted abalone and canned the product here. There was a granite quarry here. The cove was used as the shipping point for a nearby coal mine. And troops trained here for specific missions during World War II. See artifacts and pictures of each of these periods in the small museum located in the Whalers Cabin.

Luckily, Point Lobos was never developed as any kind of residential property. Ownership eventually passed to the state of California, and the site was made into an ecological reserve in 1973. That also includes 775 acres of underwater reserve, the first designated in the United States. That's good for us normal folks because the real treat here is the views of plants and animals and rocky California coast. On the day that we went, we saw sea lions, an otter, and plenty of birds. The best way to see it all is to walk. Hiking trails honeycomb the shoreline around the point. There are three main parking areas, so you'd never have to walk more than a mile from your car. Or you can leave the car where it is and walk the whole point and probably not log more than five miles.

When you vacation to Monterey, take the opportunity to visit Point Lobos. It is very accessible and worth the time to stop. If I haven't sold you on visiting, then take a look at the Whalers Cove Live Stream, or take a virtual hike with Google street view. When you do come, bring a light jacket or sweatshirt as the coast here gets a marine layer at times that can be a bit chilly, especially if you just left the warmer interior.

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