Monday, April 18, 2011

Travels with Chili: The Water is Wide

Grass needing mowing? Untilled garden? Ring around the bathtub? There was nothing we couldn't ignore for another day considering the long-awaited, prayed-for, highly anticipated sun that was forecast for Sunday. In other words, it was high time to vacate Dodge and head out in Chili for a little R&R.

View Portland to Astoria via the Wahkiakum Ferry in a larger map.

One of the blessings of living in Portland is that the ocean is less than a couple of hours away, so taking a meandering route is totally do-able in for a day trip. So with Rosey and Walker piled in the back, we decided to head to the beach with a stop in Astoria for lunch.

As you might expect, we prefer backroads to freeways and mapped a route out Highway 30 through St. Helens and Rainier. Just beyond Clatskanie* is the town of Westport and the (to us) irresistible lure of the little Wahkiakum* Ferry (right and at top—note Walker peering out the back window). It's been in daily operation since 1962 transporting passengers across the Columbia River between Westport and the town of Cathlamet* in Washington. The dollar-to-pleasure ratio makes the five-buck fare for the 15-minutes spent crossing the river seem like the deal of the century, with passengers getting out of their cars and oohing and aahing at the bald eagles in the trees along the banks.

The road from the ferry landing on Puget Island winds through the town of Cathlamet and up into the hills above the river before dropping down to the Astoria-Megler Bridge. The small towns along the way to the span are dotted with pioneer cemeteries, historic bridges and some promising-looking bed and breakfasts, but we were too hungry for side trips this time.

Though we love the beer at Fort George, we opted instead for the view looking out over the mouth of the Columbia from the Wet Dog Café (left), home to Astoria Brewing Company. Serenaded by All That Jazz, a local brass band (trombones, drums, keyboard and, yes, a tuba) raising money for scholarships for high school music students, we ordered two amber ales to sip while we perused the menues.

The food here is good, basic pub fare, and you've got a choice of cod, salmon, halibut and albacore for their English-style, beer battered fish'n'chips. The order comes with decent plank fries and coleslaw, though I could have done without the spicy salt on the fries, but it was a small annoyance. After scarfing down our lunch and tipping the band, we headed about five miles west to the beach to reward the dogs for being such patient travelers.

Del Rey Beach is one of those very unusual beaches on Oregon's coast where motorized vehicles are allowed, and watching them zooming up and down the beach made me wish for a sneaker wave or sand pit (with or without giant sand worms). On the next trip we'll head to the beach at Gearhart and stop at the to-die-for Pacific Way Bakery and Café.

But there weren't too many of the obnoxious machines, fortunately, and the dogs were oblivious. It was totally worth it to watch Rosey (right), our twelve-year-old, shed years as she ran after birds in the shallows, then fall sound asleep on the trip home.

It was a successful day all around, and we didn't even notice that the grass had grown that much longer while we were away.

* Pronunciation guide:
  • Clatskanie: KLAT-skuh-nye
  • Wahkiakum: wuh-KYE-uh-kum
  • Cathlamet: kath-LAM-uht


John said...

Great post! Never knew about the Wahkiakum Ferry. On the list for this summer's day trips.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Great drive, fun option of going to Astoria or Long Beach. Let me know what you think!

double garage said...

Autos are also allowed on the beach at Gearhart.

Kathleen Bauer said...

Really? Gosh, I never noticed them there…too bad. Guess I'll have to do some checking next time!