The Columbia River Bar is called the “Graveyard of the Pacific” for good reason: it has a horrible history of more than 2,000 ships that have floundered and sunk on this shallow shoal, characterized by a crosshatching of currents, eddies, and whirlpools.

But the danger and the record of disasters belies a getaway that will keep you coming back many times, as I have – especially to visit a place that tells the Columbia River’s powerful story of untamed nature.

The Columbia River Maritime Museum (CRMM) in Astoria puts you in touch with danger; a place where respect for nature runs deep and the history of the region comes to life in unique and exciting ways.

Ocean swells coming down from the Bering Sea are caught by a near-shore sandbar that helps create huge waves. In winter especially, these waves and their breakers can occur in gale-force conditions and challenge the most experienced mariners in the largest ships.

It’s the mouth of the river that runs through the heart of the Pacific Northwest and at this Astoria landmark you will find many intriguing swirling stories. We’ve shown you the fascinating power and fickle nature of the Columbia River first hand in previous getaways – in fact, just last summer, on a fishing trip to the famous Buoy 10 salmon fishing grounds where dense fog nearly cost us as a two-hundred foot long ship showed up out of nowhere. And, last fall, we joined lifelong local fisherman, Steve Fick, on a Dungeness crabbing adventure. He showed us a new respect for the power of the river and the bar.

The people who work on the water know this danger well and they accept the risk. For example, U.S. Coast Guard personnel put their lives on the line each day to help folks who get into trouble. Their story is told at the CRMM through a dramatic blending of photos, equipment, video and a full sized motor lifeboat. Curator Jeff Smith noted that visitors to the Maritime Museum come face to face with all of these stories – but in winter, it’s all indoors, where it’s warm and safe. He noted that the varied photos, exhibits and video displays merge the past with the present and provide you with a compelling place to see, touch and learn more about an important corner of Oregon.

Editor’s Note: Grant’s Getaways is a production of Travel Oregon brought to you in association with Oregon State Parks, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and Oregon State Marine Board. Episodes air Fridays and Saturdays on KGW Newschannel 8 and Saturdays on Northwest Cable News Network.

about author Grant McOmie

Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.

In this Grant’s Getaway

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  1. Steve Marquez says…

    Thank You for the wonderful quality of your GetAway Adventures, I look forward to each new episode!

    Written on February 4th, 2010 / Flag this Comment
  2. Astoria is Cool | Travel Oregon Blog says…

    [...] Grant’s Getaways: Most Dangerous Bar [...]

    Written on January 14th, 2011 / Flag this Comment
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