Yesterday, I decided to take a weekday journey down to the northern Oregon coast. The place was Sunset beach and the trail was the Fort to Sea trail, a 6.2 mile trail stretching from Sunset beach, just north of Gearhart, Or to Fort Clatsop, where famed American western explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark wintered in 1805 with the corps of discovery, which we all know now as the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
The fort, named for the local Native Americans of the area, the Clatsop’s, was constructed by the corps of discovery, during their time on the pacific coast, they gathered scientific specimens, flora, fauna and made detailed maps of the Columbia river and surrounding estuaries.
Today, Fort Clatsop is a national historic park, just south of the town of Warrenton, Or. The fort is a replica of the original built by the corps of discovery, and there is a tourist center in which you pay a fee to enter the fort area, where interpreters put on displays and show what life was like for the corps of discovery.
After starting out on the trail, I crossed a large dune area, and ran into some deer. The deer are not all that uncommon, but with the proximity to Camp Rilea, a national guard training facility, it is somewhat surprising to see animals in the proximity of a live fire training area.
Once you pass through a series of cow pastures, you cut under hwy 101, and proceed into the temperate rainforest, during this hike, you get to see all kinds of trees and plants, namely the spruce and Douglas fir, there is also Oregon Grape and a variety of ferns.
Most of the forest understory, as much of the pacific northwest coast is know for, is a solid wall of vegetation, we call it brush. The distant views are obscured by dark, wet forest and many sheer cliffs and ridges, signs of the volcanic past of our area.
Close to the fort, you come out on a overlook, which is the top of Clatsop ridge, on a good day, you would be able to see the ocean and surrounding features, unfortunately, there was remnants of a storm that had not quite cleared out. So the view was less than perfect, none the less it does give one a good idea of how high they have climbed from the beach.
After summiting, it is fairly downhill to the fort, along the way, you enter more of a classic northwest canopy of trees, and the trail is very well maintained. One across the main road that takes vehicles to fort Clatsop, you enter the actual fort site. there is a covered picnic area with trashcans and restrooms to use.
After having a quick snack, I returned to the trail to start back for the beach. On the way back I ran into a herd of Roosevelt Elk, an icon of the coast ranges of Oregon and Washington.
After a 10 minute stare down with two of the cows, I was able to proceed through the cow pastures and back to the trailhead.
I wondered, as I sat back at the trailhead, what did Lewis and Clark see? Obviously their journals give detailed accounts of their time at this location, but what was it like then? What did a Lower Chinook long house smell like? How was it to attempt translation through so many interpreters and how did they survive the cold, driving rains, gale force winds and constant hunger. It only misted and blew yesterday. Likewise, could the local natives see their demise coming with the arrival of the early Europeans? Never had they before seen white people come from upriver and what was the first impression? So many questions lost to the folds of time, yet it seems all lived hard and challenging lives of which we will only theorize.
The fort to sea trail is a great way to get a small glimpse of what early 19th century explorers traversed in an effort to explore the vast, western frontier.