These words were written in Captain William Clark's journal upon taking his first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
|Guess where I went?|
The most famous journey in American history, the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled over 4,000 miles across the North American continent exploring a huge unknown territory west of the Mississippi River. Their group spent the winter of 1805-06 near the Oregon coast at a place they named "Fort Clatsop."
|A replica of the original fort|
In my recent coastal jaunts, I've come within close proximity of the old fort site, now a National Historic Park. After a couple of readers inquired about it's location, I decided it was time for a visit.
|Enlisted men's quarters|
On the day of my trip, a huge "pineapple express" rainstorm battered western Oregon. These warm, extremely wet weather patterns wreak havoc for skiers, as they produce torrential rain, instead of snow, in the mountains. Although I love skiing, I draw the line at doing it in the rain. With no trip to the mountains on the agenda, I had to think of somewhere else to go. That's how I ended up at the coast.
|The rain barrels were full!|
Throughout my drive west, the rain came down in sheets. More than once I questioned the wisdom of traveling to the coast on such a stormy day. Arriving at the fort, the deluge wasn't letting up in the least. Although these dismal conditions gave a very good picture of what Lewis and Clark endured, I would've welcomed a little less of the wet stuff.
|Lewis and Clark's quarters|
One benefit of bad weather - I'd have the place to myself. Pulling my car into a nearly empty lot, I congratulated myself for such good planning.
|Thick forest beyond the fort|
But, when I stepped into the visitor center, I was surprised to find it full of teenagers. Two busloads of kids from a nearby school happened to be visiting on the same day as I. So much for having the place to myself....
|Looking out one of the rooms|
Still, I'd traveled here specifically to see the fort, and told myself to make the best of it. After one group of rain poncho-clad kids had exited the visitor's center, I was able to pay my admission and get some maps and literature. The ladies working here were exceptional. They were very much into the history of this place, and full of knowledge that they freely shared. One women, seeing my camera, directed me to a barrel of loaner umbrellas, specifically for use on days such as today.
|River view through the trees|
Out the visitor center's back door, signs directed me to the fort. Although no one knows the exact location where Lewis and Clark spent the winter, historians believe the park is within very close proximity.
A short (and very wet) walk from the visitor center, and there it was, the fort itself. Built from drawings in Clark's journal, this replica is thought to closely resemble the original Fort Clatsop. An amazing bit of historic recreation, I felt as if I was going back in time as I passed through it's gates.
|Lewis and Clark's room|
The fort consisted of two rows of log buildings. One side had three rooms, and was where most of the men stayed. The other side housed the storeroom, and two separate rooms, one for Lewis and Clark, and the other for Sacagawea, her husband, and infant son. A thick log wall surrounded both buildings, with a sturdy gate, which was closed each night.
|Thick log structures|
I wandered through the buildings, marveling at how dark and cold they were. I couldn't imagine how dreary it must've been to live here all winter. One of the rooms was packed full of schoolkids, and a lady dressed in period clothing was giving a talk about the fort. I stood by the doorway and eavesdropped for awhile. This lady was an excellent speaker. I wish I could remember all the facts she was throwing out - living the way these men did, how hard they worked, and how much food they had to harvest to feed themselves. These people were tough! We modern folk, in comparison, are a bunch of weenies.
|Lewis and Clark River|
After listening to the park volunteer for several minutes, I exited the fort and began to explore the surrounding woods. A trail led to the nearby river (originally called the Netul, it's been renamed the Lewis and Clark River). Lewis and Clark paddled their canoes up this very river in search of a winter encampment site.
|Dugout canoe replica|
Wooden boardwalks led visitors to several river viewpoints, and past a dugout canoe replica. The forest here was thick and lush, with some enormous trees. Despite the rain, a most beautiful setting!
|The fort's back entrance|
Some interesting facts about Fort Clatsop: Lewis and Clark's men built the original fort in 3 1/2 weeks. The first replica, built in 1955, took 18 months to erect. It lasted until October 3, 2005, when a fire destroyed the entire structure. A second replica was finished in 2006, and now features a fire detection system (a necessary modern deviation from the original).
|Boardwalk near river's edge|
As I walked from the river landing back to the fort, I noticed the rain had stopped. The only water falling was dripping from tree branches. Wishing to ditch the umbrella, I made a side trip to the visitor center.
|Park volunteers demonstrate a black powder rifle|
Now that it wasn't raining, I headed back to the fort in hopes of capturing some better images. Nearing the structure, I noticed a large group of the schoolkids gathered in a nearby clearing. One of the adult chaperones told me there was going to be a black powder rifle demonstration very soon. Curious, I decided to stick around.
The same lady who'd given the terrific talk in the fort demonstrated how a black powder rifle worked. She held the kid's attention well. I guess the subject was mighty interesting - who doesn't want to see someone shoot off a gun? I whipped out my GoPro and captured a short video of the event.
After the demonstration, as the kids dispersed, I wandered back into the fort with my GoPro for one last look around. The wonderful park lady who'd given such good talks, invited me in to the captain's quarters, and I got a brief bit of footage before my battery died. The lady explained that this room was normally only open for groups, so it was lucky I'd chosen my visit to coincide with a scheduled tour. Same with the black powder demonstration - now I was glad those schoolkids were here!
A very interesting look into a huge event in our nation's history. During summer weekends, Fort Clatsop features costumed reenactments and more ranger-led programs. A good reason to return! However, it felt much more authentic to visit this place on a rainy, winter's day.
Sharing with: Our World Tuesday