In our rush to get from this place to that, it’s good to know that less traveled roadways are easy to find and one in particular is right off the doorstep of a major city.
So it is with the Columbia River Highway from Portland to the coast; a route that is often overlooked and perhaps that is part of its charm.
Completed in 1937, US Route 30 is an unassuming route between Portland and Astoria. While it may not be the fastest byway, that’s all right with me!
The green-bordered asphalt roadway skirts the southern shore of the mighty Columbia River and for over 70 miles it forces you to slow down a savor the sights.
The first stop on this adventure is the Sauvie Island Wildlife Area!
ODFW Assistant Manager Dan Marvin said that birds arrive from as far away as Alaska each fall. In turn, the waterfowl and raptors that follow draw more people to the area.
“Sauvie Island is a very critical area and we get a large number of bird watchers and wildlife viewers who come out to look. It’s quite the resource for that.”
A compelling species are the sandhill cranes that get my vote for size and colorful markings; with striking red masks they are an impressive sight!
So is their behavior: males dance with wings sky high - tossing bits of grass to make a match with a mate.
Further along, stop in at Trojan Pond and Wetlands near Rainier to watch the Tundra Swan families.
Sometimes called the “B-52’s of the waterfowl world,” Tundra swans fill the air on six-foot-wingspans and then glide to ground for a well-deserved break.
The byway tour gives you a break at Bradley State Scenic Viewpoint, just west of Rainier – the park sits atop a massive bluff overlooking the smooth Columbia River. If you stop in on a sunny day before the leaves have called it quits, enjoy a quiet picnic lunch and a stunning view.
But don’t linger here too long – the best is yet to come at the Twilight Eagle Sanctuary where Neal Maine likes to set up his camera and wait for just the right moment to capture the country’s national symbol.
Neal Maine is a wildlife photographer and a teacher who loves his neck of the woods and he has the photos to prove it.
"It’s the contrast of that majestic white head, he noted. “Wouldn’t everyone like to be king? They reign over all the other birds too…we like being in charge and being powerful and here’s our symbol.”
Twilight Sanctuary is more than 100 acres of protection and consists of the Wolf Bay Wetlands and nearby forestland that supports an array of wildlife.
The convenient, wheelchair friendly platform with easy access just off Burnside Road makes the viewing a snap:
“This is one view site that works almost all the time, added Maine. “The vista is outstanding; maybe one of the best in the lower river. There is always something going on with lots of waterfowl, herons and egrets cruising past and you can kind of count on owning it at least for a few minutes when you come here.”
Further, it’s end of the highway line in Astoria where a new “jaw-dropper” of a display has recently been put into place.
For nearly thirty years, the “Peacock” pilot boat shuttled bar pilots to water-based offshore offices aboard commercial cargo ships. The pilots are charged with safely guiding the huge ships across the most dangerous river bar in America.
Now, the Peacock has been retired to the Columbia River Maritime Museum and Dave Pearson said that it’s a wonderful addition to the museum’s collection.
“The Peacock truly is an icon and we thought what better place for it than to give it a position of honor to welcome everyone to the ‘Gateway of the Pacific.’ It’s one of those vessels you can’t miss when you’re driving down the road and we hope people will appreciate that.”
The crossing of the Peacock from river to shore side-parking area in front of the museum was no easy chore either.
It required two 300-ton cranes with massive booms that reached 95 feet to left and move the 100-ton pilot boat.
The new display is a fine compliment to the Columbia River Maritime Museum where visitors come face to face with compelling and uniquely Oregon stories ---indoors, where it’s safe and warm.
“We have over 18,000 photographs in our collection related to people related to maritime concerns,” noted museum curator Jeff Smith. “We have many boats in our collection – fishing and recreational - every piece has the potential to tell a story and so those are the pieces we’re actively trying to collect.”
The museum’s varied photos, exhibits and videos merge the past with the present and provide you a compelling place to see, touch and learn more about an important corner of Oregon.
It all adds up to a perfect cap to your day’s adventure along one of the least traveled routes to the Oregon coast.