West Coast In Flames
Seems like maybe I had jinx the west coast fire season. Just a few days before the news cycle became inundated with tragic headlines for entire towns disappearing in flames, I had mentioned to Theresa that I thought we had gotten off easy this year in regards to our fire season. I had little reason to believe we’d be hiding from the smoke it Fort Clatsop.
In a matter of days, the entire west coast seemed to be one large continuous line of fires. Dry conditions and gusty winds fueled these historic mega-fires which burned 8.2 million acres of land, mobilized tens of thousands of firefighters, razed over ten thousand buildings, and killed at least 37 people.
Those of use not impacted by the flames directly still had to contend with ‘extremely unhealthy‘ air quality. The normally clear blue skies of Seattle seemed more reminiscent of the 1970’s Los Angeles smog. It was actually painful to spend any time outdoors.
I had some free time between contracts so I started looking around to find a campground that might spare us the wildfire smoke. Of the handful of candidate sites, we settled on Fort Stevens on the Oregon side of the Columbia River.
We had camped there once before when I did the live feed of the solar eclipse for The Daily Astorian. It’s a large, well-managed campground and is surrounded by both beautiful and historically significate sites.
Turns out with a prevailing SW wind my hopes for a bit of clean air came true. In fact, when you looked at the Air Quality maps during this time, the small thumb of land jutting out into the Pacific which holds the campground was the only spot represented in green.
In contrast, there were people to the east of us in Portland who were having the smoke alarms going off due to the thickness of smoke inundating the city. Later in the week, we found out that many of our neighbors were in fact ‘refugees’ from the conditions in Portland.
One of the upsides of our own escape from the smoke was that this afforded us the perfect opportunity to visit Fort Clatsop. We had visited many of the Lewis & Clark exhibits on the Washington side of the Columbia River and even an Interpretive Center in Montana. However, it seemed we were always just passing through this area on to other adventures so I welcomed the chance to see the winter quarters of the Corp of Discovery.
Fort Clatsop was the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806.
In late November 1805, after spending a number of days in what is today the state of Washington, Lewis and Clark proposed that the Corps of Discovery move to a location along the Columbia River, based on a recommendation of the local Clatsop Indians. The group decided to vote on the matter, with everyone, including the young Native American female Sacagawea and African American slave York, participating. The group was given three choices: stay on the Washington side of the Columbia River, and be subjected to diets of fish and rainy weather, move upriver, or take the advice of the Clatsop Indians and explore the area to the south of the River. The expedition overwhelmingly decided to take the advice of the local Indians to explore the idea of spending the winter on the southern shore of the River.