Extreme Northwest Oregon

On Tuesday and Wednesday I visited various parts of Fort Stevens State Park, which is as far north and west as one can travel in the state of Oregon.  There was a large wooden viewing platform at one of the parking areas which gave a great view of the ocean and of the “south jetty” which was constructed by the US Army Corp of Engineers to protect the “mouth” of the Columbia River as it dumps into the Pacific Ocean.

This is looking south:


And this is looking north, along the jetty:


Those were both taken at relatively low tide.

Next I went to another parking area, this time overlooking the first few miles of the Columbia River.  Washington state is on the other side of the river.



And lo and below, across the river was another US Coast Guard helicopter which appeared to be involved in a training exercise – hovering low over the water.  I didn’t see any divers being raised or lowered as I did further down the coast about a week and a half ago.  From when I first noticed it until it left the area probably close to 45 minutes had elapsed.




At one point the helicopter raised up and made a slow counter-clockwise loop before resuming it’s hovering stance low over the water.



I presume this was a training exercise.  Pilots can train on flight simulators all day long but there is no substitute for practice under real-life conditions, especially given the effect that strong and sometimes variable winds near the water can have on an aircraft.

One last stop in Fort Stevens State Park, which I didn’t do until Wednesday because it had gotten so windy the day before, was to another parking area further south in the park, overlooking the ocean.  Unfortunately I wasn’t affected by wind but by fog:



And the thing you see on the left hand side of the bottom photo is part of an old shipwreck.  The ship Peter Iredale ran aground here on October 25, 1906 while attempting to enter the Columbia River.  The ship remained largely intact and all the people on board were successfully removed from it but before it could be pulled back to sea it listed to one side and started to break up with the forces of the ocean acting upon it.

This is all that remains:



Columbia River Bar

No, this isn’t a place to hang out with friends after work.  This is an area where the Columbia River (which flows east to west and runs between Washington state to it’s north and Oregon to it’s south) dumps into the Pacific Ocean.

The area off the coast where the western flowing water of the river meets the eastern flowing water of the ocean can create treacherous and sometimes deadly conditions.  This area, about 3 miles wide and 6 miles long, is called the Columbia Bar.  I read this on a sign while I was in Astoria, Oregon on Thursday morning: “The Columbia River Bar is considered by professional mariners to be the most dangerous bar crossing on the planet”.  Since 1792 approximately 2,000 large ships have sunk in this area, often called the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.  I read that conditions along the bar can change from calm to life-threatening in a matter of minutes, depending on the wind and the size of the waves.

For this reason, professionals called “pilots” are made available to board large cargo and cruise ships which enter and leave the Columbia River and they assume navigational control of the ships.  All large vessels crossing the Columbia Bar are required to utilize a trained pilot.  In favorable conditions, these pilots will board the vessel via a small boat which is attached to another “escort” boat.  The escort will either take the pilot to incoming ships while at sea and accompany them in or will escort the large ships out to sea and then bring the pilots back to port.  In bad weather the pilots board the large ships via helicopter.  There are currently 16 trained “pilots” and they supposedly make close to $180,000 per year.

Here is a pilot boat, the Astoria,  I saw in action on Wednesday:


It appeared to be escorting this cargo ship, the GH Fortune, out to sea:




I saw another pilot boat while I was in Astoria, this one on land.  This is the Peacock:


The Peacock was first used in 1967 and over the next 33 years helped pilots board and escort over 120,000 ships.

Columbia River Maritime Museum

Thursday as I traveled from near Seaside, Oregon to Portland (which is inland quite a ways and southeast) I first headed northeast to the town of Astoria, which is along the mighty Columbia River.  I had seen parts of the Columbia River Gorge east of here during my trip last year (search for “Columbia River” on the Home page or use the calendar grid there to look at posts dated 7/30/17 and 8/9/17) but this was my first time seeing the extreme western part of the river.

One of the things I stopped at in Astoria was the Maritime Museum.  I didn’t go inside but will probably do that when I pass through Astoria again on Monday on my way up to Washington state.  Here are some photos I took outside the museum:



There were two large Coast Guard ships docked in Astoria, the “Steadfast”…


… and the “Alert”


Because of the length of the dock I could only get to the front of one and the back of the other.

There was also this huge paddleboat, patiently waiting for customers to board for a trip on the river:


And from the museum I could look west and see part of the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which I will cross on Monday as Highway 101 takes me north into Washington state.

Portland International Raceway

This was a pleasant surprise when I arrived in northern Portland on Thursday morning.  When I was at the Staples store where I had reserved my new laptop computer I saw this facility sitting just to the west of Interstate 5.  I later saw a guy who was working at the track as a volunteer official for a series of SCCA races being held there this weekend!

SCCA is the Sports Car Club of America (whose former president was a guy named Jeff Dahnert – maybe not a direct relative but certainly an indirect one, as there aren’t that many of us in the United States).  Many years ago I worked for a friend of mine when I lived in Pennsylvania and we went to all the SCCA races in the Northeast Region (he raced an open cockpit Porsche speedster), and later to the “Runoffs” which are races for the leaders of their respective regions around the country to compete against each other.  I spent over a year doing that (no direct pay but I had many meals at his house and he paid my room and board when we were on the road at distant races) and we went to events exactly like the one currently being held here in Portland this weekend.  I will post more about that some other day.

Friday I went to the track and after signing a waiver, roamed around the paddock area looking at the various race cars and the work being done on them.   PIR is a relatively small (in the grand scheme of things) road course.



As you will see, all kinds of cars will be competing, some were specifically designed for competition and some are street-legal and can be actually driven to (and hopefully from) the track.  Accidents do happen and there are safety personnel and ambulances scattered at strategic locations around the course.



Here is the Pace Car, positioned at pit-exit on the main straightaway.  It is always ready to go on the track, if necessary, to slow the cars in the unlikely event of a major accident, and is generally used just to control the field at the start of each race.  SCCA races are usually only 20-30 minutes long and there are multiple “classes” of cars on the track at the same time.


The letters and small numbers on the cars indicate which class they are competing in at this event (for example SRF3 on the red and white car two photos above).  There are usually 7 or 8 actual races (1 for each group) as well as practice sessions for each race group scattered throughout the day, and there are usually races and practice sessions on both Saturday and Sunday.   Friday is usually just to get track time and for the drivers to get oriented on each track’s setup.  Every track they go to is slightly different.


Some people race multiple cars (one at a time, of course!).  This driver has both a modern Nissan, on the left, and a rather old Datsun (which Nissan’s were called many years ago).  IMG_20180810_124425204

My friend in Pennsylvania (a radiologist who lived just down the road from my boss, who is the one who introduced us) raced a 1956 Porsche speedster.  I found this picture online:

Helmick Speedster

(Photo credit & copyright: Mark Windecker)

Our car number was usually 43, but for this race, held in 1987 at Mid-Ohio race course in Mansfield, Ohio, there was evidently a number 43 already registered in EP (E Production, a class determined by engine size, to keep various makes competitive) so he had to remove the 3 and add an 8, making his number for this event 84.

In addition to the road course at Portland International Raceway there is also a dragstrip for that type of racing and a dirt Motocross course for motorcycles.  This is a 3-shot, left to right panorama of it:




In the last shot you are looking at the “starter stand” and the motorcycles line up on both the left and right side behind the red bars (which are raised up off the ground facing where I was standing).  Those bars prevent anyone from getting a “jump start” and are lowered simultaneously when the starter waves the green flag.  Unlike other race tracks, the bikers leave from here but never return during the race.  Once they are on the track they will cross over this area from left to right (in the center of the photo), around a series of turns and up and down hills, until the checkered flag is waved at the designated Finish line.  The rest of the track isn’t nearly this wide.

As I was leaving PIR on Friday, and had walked over the pedestrian bridge above the track, this race group of “Formula” cars had just been released by the pace car and was coming up to speed going on to the main straightaway.


I am posting this at 845am local time Saturday morning and am getting ready to shower and head for the track!