Narrative River Tour
The Columbia River was discovered in 1792 by Boston fur trader Captain Robert Gray. He named the river after his ship “Columbia”. Originating in British Columbia the 1200 mile river flows through Eastern Washington and is joined by the Snake River before beginning its westward course. Forming most of the Oregon and Washington border, the natural beauty of the river and surrounding terrain provide dramatic scenery along the entire route.
As the largest river west of the Mississippi, it plays a crucial role in Northwest commerce as the transportation artery for both ocean-going merchant ships and barge traffic. The ports of Longview, Kalama, Vancouver and Portland export more grain and forest products than any other port on the West Coast.
River Mile 0 (Sea Buoy)
A transit up the Columbia River begins at the sea buoy which marks the official entrance to the mouth of the river. This buoy, which replaced the last manned lightship in the United States in 1978, not only serves as an aid to navigation but also transmits sea and weather conditions to the National Weather Service. The Columbia River bar is dredged to maintain a depth of 55 feet. The Columbia River Bar Pilots board vessel outside the bar and guide them into the Port of Astoria where the Columbia River Pilots take over for the remainder of the transit to up river ports.
River Mile 12 (Port of Astoria)
About twelve miles inland from the bar is Astoria, which was named for John Jacob Astor. Astor had made his fortune on the East Coast in the fur trade and organized the Pacific Fur Co. in New York for the purpose of sending an expedition around Cape Horn to establish a fur trading post. In 1811 his party reached this location in what is now the business center of Astoria. Prior to Astor’s arrival, the Lewis and Clark expedition completed their westward journey to the Pacific here. They built Fort Clatsop and spent the winter of 1805-06 there. It was through their exploration and descriptions of this territory that the importance of the Pacific Northwest became recognized by both the government and eastern business interests. The first port office west of the Rockies opened in Astoria in 1847 and in 1852 the first federal building in the West was opened to house the customs office. The salmon packing business, which was to become the primary industry, was established in 1866 when the first cannery began operating. Linking Oregon and Washington the Astoria Megler Bridge was completed in 1966 at a cost of more than $24 million and stretches over four miles over the river. The main ship channel span, combined with the two end spans, form a continuous truss of almost a half-mile and is believed to be the longest truss series in the world. The clearance between the concrete piers is 1070 feet and the air draft is 208 feet.
River Mile 33 (Skamokawa)
Named by Native Americans, Skamokawa (pronounced ‘Ska-MOK-a-way’) means “smokey waters” because of the fog common to this section of the river.
River Mile 40 (Bugby Hole)
The tight, 43 degree turn at Bugby Hole requires one of the most drastic course changes on the entire transit. On the cliff above here is a bare spot caused by a slide that occurred in 1962. It washed out the railroad tracks and sent a wave across the river to Puget Island on the Washington side that destroyed a house and drowned a man.
River Mile 42 (Wauna)
The Clatsop Indians called this area Wauna, meaning “white water”. In the early 1900’s a lumber mill and company town were built where the pulp and paper mill now stand. Timbers from this mill were used for new masts of the USS Constitution, “Old Ironsides”, when she was refitted. The current Wauna mill complex was the largest capital project in Crown Zellerbach’s history represented an investment of $110 million. The mill is now owned by Georgia Pacific.
River Mile 65 (Port of Longview)
Longview Washington is located at the confluence of the Cowlitz and Columbia Rivers. As the first deep-water port above Astoria it provides facilities for large wood products plants, log exporting, bulk commodities and wind tower imports. The Longview Bridge spans the river to Rainier, Oregon with an 1100 foot horizontal and a 195 foot vertical clearance. When Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980 ash and mud flows down the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers pushed out into the ship channel of the Columbia, blocking navigation and stranding ships up stream for three days. One inbound ship, unaware of the blockage, slid to an abrupt stop in the middle of the river, grounded by the debris that had washed down.
River Mile 75 (Port of Kalama)
Grain has been exported from Kalama since 1830. The Kalama Export elevator was built in 1983 and is the fastest loading, most modern facility on the West Coast. The United-Harvest elevator was built in 1962. The Port of St. Helens: river mile 85 The most notable landmark in the city of St. Helens is the large clock atop the Columbia County court house. Each of its four faces has a separate clockworks and according to river lore is accurate enough for river pilots to set their watches.
River Mile 87 (Warrior Rock and Sauvie Island)
Sauvie Island discovered in 1798 by Lt. William Broughton from British Navy Capt. George Vancouver’s expedition. As Broughton’s party approached the lower end of the island, they saw 23 Indian canoes with 150 natives drawn up in war-like formation. Broughton sent gifts ahead to indicate their peaceful intentions and his party was allowed to continue up river. Lt. Broughton named this location Pt. Warrior, which is near the present day lighthouse on Warrior Rock. 15 miles long and 4.5 miles wide at the widest point, Sauvie Island was first settled in 1834 and in 1838 the Hudson’s Bay Co. established diary farms to supply butter for export to Alaska. The operation was run by a French Canadian named Sauve; hece, the island became known as Sauvie’s Island.
River Mile 105 (Port of Vancouver)
Vancouver, Washington marks the upper most port for deep-water vessels. This port has facilities for grain export with United-Harvest’s elevator; scrap metal and copper concentrate export; and automobile, steel, automobile and petroleum imports.
Willamette River (Port of Portland)
At the upper end of Sauvie Island is the confluence of the Willamette. The Willamette River is the largest river in the country that flows in a northerly direction and drains much of NW Oregon and all of the Willamette Valley. and Columbia Rivers. The Port of Portland’s Terminal 6 auto and container docks are just above this point on the Columbia. Just inside the mouth of the Willamette is the Port of Portland’s Terminal 5 which hosts the Columbia Grain elevator and the Kinder-Morgan potash export dock. Downstream from the St. Johns highway bridge is the Port of Portland’s Terminal 4 facility which includes Kinder-Morgan’s soda ash export slip and a floating dock for automobile imports. The floating dock, here and at Terminal 6, allow the ramps from car ships to remain at a constant level, regardless of the river stage and tide. Portland has been an auto import center since 1953 when the first Volkswagen beetle arrived. The ports of Portland and Vancouver auto import and distribution facilities serve more states than any other port on the West Coast and are second only to LA/Long Beach in total number of cars handled. Some American-made Hondas have been exported from Portland for shipment to Japan.
Willamette River Mile 7 (St. Johns)
The St. Johns highway bridge has a vertical clearance of 206 feet and is noted as one of the seven most beautiful bridges in the world. Just above the highway bridge is the Doane Point railroad bridge (also known as Willbridge), which is one of the longest railroad lift spans in the country. Prior to its installation in 1989 the span swung open for river traffic on a mid-stream pedestal. The old channel was only 230 wide on each side of the swing span which meant that a supertanker with a beam of 178 feet had to squeeze through with less than 52 feet of clearance. Above the railroad bridge on the east bank of the river is the Swan Island Ship Repair Yard operated by Cascade-General. Other facilities in the upper Willamette include petroleum docks, a barge and rail car fabrication plant, the Port of Portland’s Terminal 2, bulk cement import facilities and two grain elevators operated by Cargill-Louis Dreyfus Co.
Willamette River Mile 12 (Portland)
Even though Portland is about 85 miles upriver from Astoria, it is still affected by tidal influences that usually results in a two foot rise and fall. The Seawall in downtown Portland hosts the US Navy’s Rose Festival Fleet and the occasional cruise ship. Portland had its beginnings in 1845 when two early pioneers, Francis Pettygrove and Asa Lovejoy flipped a coin to determine the name of the fledgling city. Lovejoy was from Boston, Massachusetts and Pettygrove was from Portland, Maine- obviously Pettygrove won.