Orienting yourself at the Astoria Column
Orienting yourself at the Astoria Column

Perched high on a hill above Astoria, Oregon is a beautiful and intricate memorial built in 1925. It is the westernmost and last of a series of historical markers commemorating the westward migration of American pioneers. Like a lighthouse, you can climb to the top of it through a spiral staircase inside and enjoy the view.

The-Astoria-Column
The Astoria Column has intricate scenes carved on it commemorating historic milestones for westward migration

Sandy started the 164 steps to the top as I went to pay $2 parking fee. After the lady in the gift shop presented me with my ticket, she continued to assemble little balsa wood airplanes, like the ones I remembered from my youth. They simply slide together without glue, and have a small weight in the nose.

When I questioned her about she was doing, she pointed to a huge box filled with dozens of assembled planes. They sell them for $1 each for people to throw off the top of the column.

Inventory of planes at Astoria Column
Inventory of planes at Astoria Column

“Wait a minute, you let people throw them from the top?” I asked. I’ve never been any place where they willingly let you throw things off a building. Much less provide you with something to throw off.

While admiring the view, I found myself looking for little balsa wood planes on the grounds. It wasn’t long before I had found the remains of many, on the grass and tucked into the hedges.

A downed balsa wood plane
A downed balsa wood plane

Once they introduced the planes, they noticed that the litter around the park was less. Why would you chunk a piece of wadded-up paper over the edge when you can watch your little plane fly from this high point and glide for 125 feet or more before returning to the ground. They are biodegradable so they just rot and return to the earth.

Balsa plane in the bushes
Balsa plane in the bushes

So the next time you find yourself in Astoria, drive up the “San Francisco” steep roads to the top of Coxcomb Hill (elevation 600 feet) and see how far your balsa glider can go. For a few dollars, the view is spectacular, and watching your glider soaring across the landscape will be priceless.

View from the top of the Astoria Column
View from the top of the Astoria Column

I don’t believe that there’s any rule against retrieving your plane, climbing back to the top and launching another flight. So if your knees and legs are up to it, feel free!

Learn more about the Astoria Column

Looking north at the Columbia River from the Astoria Column
Looking north at the Columbia River from the Astoria Column
Looking west towards the Pacific Ocean and Fort Clatsop
Looking west towards the Pacific Ocean and Fort Clatsop
Looking south towards the mountains
Looking south towards the mountains
Looking east towards the mountains
Looking east towards the mountains