Saturday, April 22, 2017

Oregon Beaches and Bar (not that kind of bar)

I don't think this post needs much text.  No one does beaches like Oregon.  Think of the crowds at our own beaches in New England (to be fair, it is spring, raining, and in the low 50's).  Here's where we've spent the past week.

Dogs are allowed off leash on most Oregon beaches, as long as you pick up after them and they are well behaved and under voice control.

Picture of the camper, to show how close to the beach we are.

Fort Stephens State Park

The wreck of the Peter Iredale at Fort Stephens State Park. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel  bark on route from Mexico to Portland that ran aground here in October of 1906. Depending on the shifting sands, more or less of the wreck is visible on the beach, more than 100 years later.

There is lots of drift wood on Oregon beaches, washed down from the forests. In fact, large logs rolling in the surf (a.k.a. growlers), are a major hazard to swimmers and surfers. People are reguarly killed by them. The cold doesn't help, either.

Mrs. Dr. V. hunts for agates.

You can drive on a lot of the beaches....for miles and miles.

Surf crashing on the South Jetty at the Columbia River Bar

The Columbia River Bar is where the Columbia River runs into the Pacific Ocean.  A bar is the shallow spot where a river dumps its sediment as it flows into an ocean, i.e., the mouth of the river.  The Columbia River Bar is the most dangerous bar crossing in North America, and also the location where the Coast Guard trains their rescue boatmen.  The reason the water is so violent is because the west coast's largest river, the Columbia, is running into the Pacific Ocean, which has 6,000 miles of open water to build up waves.  So, the huge volume of river water (265,000 cfs ((7,500 m^3/s)) average) is running into the huge waves of the Pacific.  The maximum recorded flow on the Columbia was 1,240,000 cfs, in June 1894 before the river was dammed up.  As a comparison, the Westfield River usually runs about 300-500 cfs.

According to information from the Columbia River Maritime Museum, over 2,000 vessels have sunk here, including 200 large ones.  The Coast Guard rescues 500 people here per year on average.  This is the only area in the country that the National Transportation Safety Board has designated as a "specially hazardous area," out of 88,533 miles of US coastline.  You should watch this video of the coast guard training at the Columbia River Bar to get an appreciation of the size of the waves.  You can also view a webcam at the Cape Disappointment (Cape D. Col. Riv)

Squall blowing across the bar.

View of the sunset illuminating the dunes at Fort Stephens, looking south across the bar, with the coast mountains in the background.

A 600 foot bulk freighter carrying logs takes one in the teeth as it crosses the bar.  That black line is the jetty on the south side of the bar crossing.  This is actually quite a calm day on the bar.

And again, a little further out toward sea.  In looking online, I learned that the size of the biggest waves on both the Atlantic and Pacific has been increasing (about 10 feet) since the early 1970's in response to global warming, sea level rise, and El Nino events.  Off the Columbia River bar, the largest wave measured was 54 feet, at which time the recording buoy stopped working. 

This is a car carrier, heading out empty.  It's also about 600 feet long and holds 5,000-8,000 cars.  It didn't have nearly as much trouble.  Each boat crossing the bar has a bar pilot - a specially trained, capable, and experienced captain who knows the bar intimately, and can safely pilot ships through the crossing.  When at sea, the pilots are carried out to ships by a special bar pilot boat, or by helicopter.   Once safely in the river by Astoria, the bar pilot gets off, and a river pilot gets on to pilot the ship on up the river to her berth.  For ships going downstream, the process is reversed.

Cape Disappointment beach at sunset, with a nesting colony of cormorants going for their evening flight.  This is one of my favorite spots on earth.

Arcata beach.

Sunset from Astoria looking down the Columbia toward the bar crossing.  This is four mile long Megler Bridge.  On the left is Astoria Oregon, and to the right is Washington State.

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