Island of the Swallows

22 June 2020: Aldrich Point

The Lewis & Clark National Wildlife Refuge is on the lower Columbia where the river widens around many low grassy islands. Svensen, Knappa, and Autio’s Ramp, are among the places I have launched on the Oregon side, but Aldrich Point is the easiest way to get into the middle of these islands. A close look at Google’s satellite map revealed cabins in the water near two of these islands, and those are what I wanted to see today.

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These are Ilwaco-centric posts. Aldrich Point is an hour away.
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A USWFS map with the cabins of mystery marked.
It’s a slow bucolic 5 mile drive through dairy farms and low hills from Hwy 30.
Some people collect unusual plants. This family apparently collects unusual animals.

Brownsmead prairie has many waterways if you are willing to pull off the road and trespass to use a steep bank. I found access by portaging over a dike near Autio’s ramp.

Father and son fishing

Aldrich Point has a good size parking lot, a dock with a rough concrete ramp next to a rocky beach and a small sandy beach nearby. Today I had the heavy sea kayak fitted to deal with the predicted 15 mph sideways breeze and choppy water. It would be blowing from the side for easier paddling and the tide would be incoming.


The islands’ protection helps to reduce the wind and smooth the water. The incoming tide today seemed to balance the river’s outgoing current.

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A tandem kayak was just pulling out on the right.
Ahead I soon sighted a gap at the end of Tronson Island.
As I neared the cabins the Federal Illinois bulk carrier was heading upstream.

I looked it up two days later on and found it had moored near Vancouver.

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The green bulls eye marks the Federal Illinois. Clicking the other dots reveals the other ships’ information.

A dozen floating cabins float in a protected reserve a mile and a half from the launch.  Best information I can find is they are vacation homes for recreational fishermen or at least boaters. They were grandfathered in when the refuge was created in 1972. The cabin to the right is partially sunk with a broken deck. Repair parts aren’t easy to come by.

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Actually looking at the cabins wasn’t really what I remembered when I got home. They were more interesting than suburbia, but still plain.

No one was home today, anywhere.


The Sheriff showed up to enforce the no wake zone (or maybe noise control)?

I got brave and paddled through the cabins’ shared back yard and watched an active bird nest in a piling.

Between the waves and the wind drift, well, here’s one of the few pictures that turned out.
Just across the channel this cabin had broken free and it had also broken up.
Surely no one would mind if I took a closer look.


I tied up on their landscaped dock and quietly went inside.
Good news, the dishes were dry.

I stayed still while the swallows resumed their personal housekeeping chores, leaving it to someone else to tidy up the rest of the house.

Then I headed downstream towards where I had once paddled out from Blind Slough. A highlight of that trip (lowlight?) was that I spent an hour accidentally trying to return on the wrong slough. Besides a sealed paper map, a compass, a phone map app, I now also use a small Garmin GPS loaded with nautical charts that marks my route home.

The shore is rather geographically featureless.

Here’s a short 25 sec. video as I was traveling about 6mph downstream:

A microphone with better wind noise cancellation is on order but the extra wind noise does add a gale type excitement.

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More cabins ahead on Marsh Island.
Similar but different. Little wildlife.

The weather being good, I continued around Marsh Island to the Columbia’s main channel towards home.

A chorus of birds really liked these trees. I looped around several times.
Across the channel this looked like a blind for hunters who really like birds too.

The African Jay bulk carrier was passing by on the main channel. According to it left for New Zealand the next day. The site also has photos taken by ship spotters around the world. There is one of this ship loading logs in Port Chamlers, New Zealand. A long trip for logs.

The African Jay heading upstream.

Just across the river, at the end of a 10 mile dead end road lies the ghost town of Altoona founded in 1903. It was only accessible by river until the early 1950’s. Here is the Pillar Rock Salmon Cannery, looking a little in need of repair. There are also three isolated B&Bs close by.

The old Pillar Rock Salmon Cannery.

Just upstream is the razed site of Brookfield and its cannery. Its dunes and harbor are a popular recreation spot accessed down a long dirt road. I’ve seen remnants of the garden planted at the site of the Megler mansion. The ski boats returned from there.

The mansion in 1940? – 1949?
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Clear enough to see the ships anchored at Astoria.

A very well done illustrated trip across the river to Pillar Rock and back to Aldrich Point by a group of kayakers from the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership can be found here.

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Back into the slough from the rougher Columbia side and past the cabin of swallows (and other cabins too).

Then my route went around the north of Tronson Island because I just wanted  more time out on the water.

I watched carefully for activity around the large nest in the tree but it was quiet.

Then it was back to civilization and a curious wet dog.


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The faint red stars to the left and on top show the cabins’ locations.
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The phone’s Map My Tracks app recorded the route and data.
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13.7 miles traveled in 4 hours and 18 minutes (including stops) with a maximum speed of 11.2 mph averaging 3.2 mph.



12 thoughts on “Island of the Swallows

  1. It would be easy to get turned around in the maze. But what a great paddle challenge. I know I would still be out there circling tiny islands looking for a way home. Still, there were enough people out there that maybe that would help. I enjoyed the swallows abode. My favorite description is your description of the landscaped dock in front of the disintegrating cabin. Great first post-pandemic paddle, Allan. I look forward to the next one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t mind a few people around for the mutual safety factor as you point out. I carry a little marine radio too and listen in. The link in the blog to the lower estuary people is really a rabbit hole of good pictures and descriptions of their activities.


  2. Thanks for sharing another great boating adventure, Allan! Looks like you had great weather, and beautiful scenery. I loved the sound of the water and the wind in the video clip. You didn’t stay to tidy up the cabin?! Glad you had a fun day back on the water.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tour and beautiful scenery! Thanks for taking us with you. Old abandoned buildings and houses have held an interest for me every since I was a child. They have stories to tell. I also love those unusual animals you got a good shot of, but I do dearly hate jet skis!


    1. Thank you Sandy. I stopped both directions to admire the animals but didn’t get out. One truck I let by loudly honked. Not sure tourists are appreciated anymore but I only took pictures, left no trace (or $)…and didn’t touch stuff. Jet skis get others on the water but like trail motorcycles, the irritating noise travels far, and ruined some videos too.


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