Last week we started talking about great ways to “theme” your spring RV trip around some of the most fascinating historical sites in our state. We spent part one of this blog east of the Cascades in Oregon’s “Old West.” This week we’re looking at what happened west of the Cascades, around the themes of Lewis and Clark and early pioneers.
Lewis & Clark Meet the Pacific Ocean
Lewis and Clark’s Oregon story started on our eastern border and followed the Columbia River west, so again the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center and Museum is a great place to start on this RV trip. The Corps of Discovery came by canoe and on foot down the Columbia, past Celilo Falls and what is now Portland. Facing a wicked winter on the coast, they constructed Fort Clatsop in late 1805 and early 1806. Today, you can visit a replica of the fort at the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park. Rangers in buckskins give demonstrations about weaponry from the time, including flintlock guns. You can also learn about hide tanning, candle making and other skills that the Corps needed to survive. One of the fascinating spots to visit in the park is the Salt Works. Most of the time that the Corps was at Fort Clatsop, they were gathering enough provisions to make the trip home. They had long since run out of salt for preserving and seasoning food, so they were pretty excited when they found a site southwest of the fort where not only was there salt, but also local Clatsop and Tillamook Indians who could help them. If you’re ready to get out of the RV for a bit of a longer walk, you can also enjoy one of the nearby trails and put your feet on the same ground that the Corps of Discovery walked.
Also just north of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park is Fort Stevens State Park. Here you’ll find wonderful beaches to explore and great places to camp with your RV, but also some amazing history. When the Corps of Discovery found that salt they so badly needed, they also found a busy Clatsop village at the mouth of the river. Fort Stevens now marks that spot where the village once stood, and later where the U.S. government built a fort and a series of bunkers, many of which you can still see today. From the Civil War through WWII, Fort Stevens was an active military fort. Now it’s a wonderful historical site that you shouldn’t miss on your tour of historical Oregon.
The Santiam Wagon Road: Cattle and Car Races
A lot of the early roads on our western side of the state were built to bring immigrants into our own Willamette Valley, but once these immigrants had gotten farms over here in the far west, they needed to get their cattle back to Eastern Oregon and Idaho, where the wide grasslands and cattle markets were. The Santiam Wagon Road was built in the 1860s to make a way for livestock, troops and freight to go west to east and back again. It operated as a toll road until 1914 and included bridges, road houses and toll gates.
In 1905, the first transcontinental automobile race (from New York City to the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland) utilized the Santiam Wagon Road for this western stretch of the race. On June 20, Dwight Huss was the first one across the Santiam Pass, driving his 7-horsepower Curved Dash Olds Runabout called “Old Scout”. To come down the mountain, he used a tree as a drag, just as the covered wagons did, to add braking power.
Today, remnants of the Santiam Wagon Road are still accessible in the Willamette National Forest and are the longest stretches of any wagon road in western Oregon. In the spring, they’ll still be damp but very accessible, and the wildflowers will be in full bloom. Put on a pair of favorite boots and spend a little time walking where pioneers and race car drivers went before you.
The state parks in the Willamette National Forest don’t tend to open until May 1, but there are good RV park options in both Sweet Home and in Sisters.
Oregon has a lot to see for the intrepid RVer, and spring is one of the best times to do it. Spend a little time this year checking out our state history. Maybe we’ll see you at one of these great sites! Don’t hesitate to give us a call or come by Guaranty RV in Junction City if you have any questions or we can lend a hand with any RV needs.
Photo: Don Graham