Vacation Destination: Portland Oregon

The first destination of my vacation was the Portland, Oregon area. This area has a wide variety of activities and scenery, from the Oregon coast at Astoria where the Columbia river enters the Pacific to the snow capped summit of Mt. Hood. From the science exhibits of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to the wildlife of the Oregon Zoo.

My first stop was to the Columbia River Maritime Museum in Astoria (, unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperating that day so I didn’t go aboard the lightship Columbia. Also the weather prevented from me from getting any good photos of the “Graveyard of the Pacific”, the Columbia Bar.

Since 1792 around 2,000 ships have sunk where the Columbia meets the Pacific and it is considered today as one of the most dangerous waterways in the world. Whats amazing is that the port of Portland lies miles down the Columbia and each year hundreds to thousands of ships visit that port with out a ship sinking. The reason for that is the 16 men/women who are the Columbia Bar pilots. These pilots spent years learning the Bar and what it can and can’t do and every ship that enters the Columbia river has one come aboard to taken them “cross the bar”.

I have myself been over that bar in 1989 when I was stationed on the USNS Navasota and we were on our way to Swan Island Shipyard in Portland for drydock work. The night before we entered the river we had to anchor off the coast due to fog and rain (Ships do not cross the bar at night in bad weather). At 3 am I was awoken from my rack because the ship had lost its last operating radar set (the other set was not operational due to cracks in the waveguide and one of the reasons we were heading into drydock for overhaul). Without a functioning radar in a fog bank in the area known as the Graveyard of the Pacific was no fun and to top it off, if the set wasn’t working come 6am when we were due to cross the bar, the Bar Pilot would have declared us unsafe for navigation and we would have been stuck anchored out until such time we had a functioning set. To make a long story short another ET and myself got the set working by 5:30 am and we made the transit uneventfully from there.

Well on the day we visited the museum there was rain and fog obscuring the bar from view so all the photos I took from there are from the inside of the museum, where you learn the history of the Bar, the evolution of the rescue service into the US Coast Guard and some of the legendary rescues.

In these pictures above you see the original British designed 36′ rescue boat operated by the US Coast Guard up until very recently, where it was replaced by a larger American designed one. The boat in the picture is the actual original boat that the Coast Guard received, tested, used operationally, and as a teaching boat at the Cape Disappointment Coast Guard Station. The station is also the home of the National Motor Lifeboat School. This school is where the train the people you see operating the rescue boats all around the US, so if you are in trouble and you see a Coast Guard MLB hove into view to help, rest assured they have been through training in some of the worst conditions imaginable. Also of note the Coast Guard has only lost one of these 36′ MLB’s at sea and it was to the Columbia Bar. The angle you see the ship in is the angle the ship is on display inside the Museum and it is to show you how rough and big the seas around the bar get.

You also get to learn about the history of how the Columbia River and the way it has been changed over the years has played a crucial role in the development of the Pacific Northwest. There is many artifacts on display as well as many videos, films and audio recordings about events that happened at the Bar.

From the maritime museum we traveled down the coast to the Seaside Aquarium ( in Seaside, Oregon. This aquarium sits right on the beach (to get to the entrance you have to walk down to the beach) and it is one of the oldest aquariums on the west coast. When you first enter the building on your immediate left is a big tank where the aquarium’s Harbor Seals come out and do antics trying to get your attention (watch out one of them likes to splash the unwary!). At the ticket booth you can buy some raw fish to give to the seals before heading into the back where the tanks are that contain different fish and coral species. From there we concluded the day driving back to our hotel through the forests in the surrounding mountains.

On day two we visited Downtown Portland and proceeded to take rides on both their street car system but their light rail system as well. Our first stop was to the sky tram that runs between downtown Portland and the medical center that is part of Oregon State University. The medical center sits on top of a large hill and gives good views over the city of Portland, on clear days you can see Mt. Hood in the distance.

As you can see the day I was there was not clear enough to see Mt. Hood but across the river from the sky tram is OMSI where they have an old, post WWII, diesel-electric sub on display and you can see it sitting in the river

From there we visited Powell’s City of Books, which is the worlds largest independent bookstore covering an entire city block and has over 1.5 acres of retail space.’s_Books

Powell’s City of Books is a book lover’s paradise, the largest used and new bookstore in the world. Located in downtown Portland, Oregon, and occupying an entire city block, the City stocks more than a million new and used books. Nine color coded rooms house over 3,500 different sections, offering something for every interest, including an incredible selection of out-of-print and hard-to-find titles.

If you are in the Portland area and there is a book you have been looking for but haven’t found anywhere else go to Powell’s, they sell used as well as the latest and greatest in books and I was able to find copies of three books I had been looking for: Anne Mcafferty’s “The Ship Who Sang” and the middle two books from Mercedes Lackey’s Bardic Voices series. You can also shop Powell’s via the web at:

Here is some facts about Powell’s:

A few facts about the City of Books:

 • 68,000 square feet packed with books.
 • We buy 3,000 used books over the counter every day.
 • Approximately 3,000 people walk in and buy something every day.
 • Another 3,000 people just browse and drink coffee.
 • Our parking garage provides space for 40 cars (ok, so there are bigger parking garages).
 • We stock 122 major subject areas and more than 3,500 subsections.
 • You’ll find more than 1,000,000 volumes on our shelves.
 • Approximately 80,000 book lovers browse the City’s shelves every day in Portland and via the Internet.

As you can probably figure out I am an avid book reader and Powells is the promised land to avid book readers.

From there we headed out to Washington Park and the Oregon Zoo. The Zoo has exbits of native species to the Northwest such as the Black Bear and the Bobcat

To the more exotic animals such as the Serval

The Oregon Zoo also has a baby Indian elephant at the moment and can be seen with it’s mother

The Oregon Zoo has a very good track record of breeding asian elephants in captivity and you can find out more about them at:

Day three of our time in the Portland area was at OMSI and their exhibits, Half Dome IMAX theater and tour of the submarine. The most impressive things I experienced at OMSI was a viewing of “Hubble” in their IMAX theather and their up to dat Projection grapics of earthquakes onto a globe. OMSI’s IMAX theather is not your standard one, instead of a 6 story tall screen they have a Half dome that looks to centered around a 45° angle. With the way the seating is the IMAX films make it seem that you are not just watching a film but are really there. If you have seen the Hubble film just imagine those shots of the nebulas and star fields as they wrap around you. You not only see them straight ahead but because of the dome it is in your perphial vision as well as up and below you. They also have grapics simialr to what you get from the USGS website of up to date earthquakes but what makes this different is that they run it as a time elapse loop not as a static display, so as time expires you see the quakes pop up on the projection. Also you can’t see the entire thing from one side, you have to walk around it to get the full effect since the globe they project on is at least 15′ across. they have benches you can get up on so you can see the earthquakes that happen at the more northern latitudes. The submarine tour was more of a nostalgia tour then an information tour for myself since I had the background of having spent time at an operating mock up of the power plant used inside of a Submarine (6 months). I had also spent time inside a sister boat of the one on display when I was stationed in Sasebo when I visited it to help the crew with an electronics problem. For those that have never experienced Navy life what you see is shocking, from the 3′ tall hatchways you have to transverse to the small racks you sleep in, from the lack of privacy to how to take a “Navy” shower, trust me people it’s no fun taking a “Navy” shower. A Navy Shower consists of you getting in the shower, turning the water on, getting wet, turning the water off, shampooing and soaping up, turning the water on and rinsing off, turning the water off and exiting the shower. If you took longer then the time it took me to type that sentence you took too long in the shower and used too much water. When I said get wet that is what I meant literally, as soon as your body and hair is wet you turn the water off, you DO NOT soak or linger in the spray. A Navy Shower lasts about 2 minutes tops:

A navy shower (or “sea shower”) is a method of showering that allows for significant conservation of water and energy. The total time for the water being on is typically under two minutes.

Navy showers originated on naval ships, where supplies of fresh water were often scarce. Using this method, crew members were able to stay clean, while conserving their limited water supply. The idea has been adopted by many people who wish to conserve water and the energy needed to heat the water, for both environmental and economic reasons. Maritime cruisers often take navy showers when they are not in a port with easy access to fresh water. A ten-minute shower takes as much as 230 L (60 U.S. gallons) of water, while a navy shower usually takes as little as 11 L (3 U.S. gallons); one person can save 56,000 L (15,000 U.S. gallons) per year.[1]

The United States Navy phrase Hollywood shower contrasts with navy shower, and refers to long lavish showers without limits on water usage.[2][3]

I didn’t take alot of pictures from inside the sub (be lucky I took the one I did, every time I went to take one the old pavlovian response of military secrey reared it’s head and I just couldn’t take one)

I did take a couple of it sitting in the river

you can find out more about OMSI here:

and its IMAX here:

The fourth day in the Portland area was devoted to visiting the Mt Hood area, which wasue to the fact it was the best day, weather wise, of the time we were there. There is a scenic by way that runs around Mt. Hood that takes you to such things as the Pioneer Woman memorial and to such historic buildings/sites as Timerline lodge. The day we made the trek around the mountain was warm and clear and at various places around the trek you could even see Mt. Baker off in the distance over in Washington.

As you can clearly see from the following pictures Timberline lodge and ski resort was still open as of June 5th of this year (it’s still open as of the posting of this article) with plenty of snow not only at it’s highest elevations but quite a ways down the mountain.

We got lucky with the break in the weather, the previous few days (when we went to the coast and spent time in downtown Portland) and the entire week before the Mt. Hood area was getting nothing but rain and snow. We sure could have used some of that Global Warming when we were there. For more on Mt. Hood and the surronding National Forest visit here:

The last day in the Portland area was also a travel day to the Seattle area, so the planned activity for that day was a trip to Mt. St. Helens which is just off I-5 on your way from Portland to Seattle. For most of that day the weather was not very encourging ie: their was rain and low over cast clouds. Luckily we decided to stop in at the visitor center near I-5 and take a look at their displays, they just so happened to have a web cam with shots from the Johnston Observatory and a Ranger that has just made the 79 mile trip down from there. From what the Ranger said and from the webcam the weather was better at St. Helen’s then down at I-5 (You could see the mountain, not the most clear view, but completely recognizable). So we made the trek and took in the exhibits and got these photos:

Near the parking lot below the observatory they haven’t cleaned up the trees that were destroyed in the 1980 eruption like you see along the road up to it as can be seen in these photos:

Those trees were situated on the side of a ridge 8 miles from the volcano facing away from it ie, the ridge was between them and the volcano and it was 8 miles away. From what you learn at the Observatory flows from the volcano covered that 8 mile distance, went up and over that ridege where the observatory is now sitting and into the next valley. You can still see the flow deposits in the river valleys near the volcano even 30 years later:

To learn more about Mt. St. Helens visit here: and you can get live images from the Johnstone Observatory here:

The next Vacation Destination post will be on our stay in the Seattle area


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