FORT STEVENS - My husband and I found Fort Stevens on our first visit to Astoria.

We flew into Portland from Virginia, picked up a rental camper, and headed west on U.S. Highway 30. Once we were settled in the campground, we went to see the Peter Iredale and visited the South Jetty viewing platform. We could see a container ship just entering the Columbia River. "Do you think we can get close to that ship? What if we turned left down the road?" We looked at each other and raced for the camper. We found Area D, the Wildlife Viewing Area, the end of the road, sand dunes, beach grass, and the ship, passing so close we felt we could touch it.

Now that we live here, we still race to Area D to see if we can time a ship's passage into the Columbia.

We go there to eat lunch, to watch people fish, to sketch, to take photographs, to walk the beach, to see the eagles, to put our kayak into the bay and paddle into the grasses. Every bike ride begins and ends at Area D, and we strive to find every path we can to lengthen the ride. We go there in sun and in wind and in rain. Every sighting of an eagle is as exciting as the first.

We go there to walk the beach back to the South Jetty, and we've learned to keep a tide table handy. The day we got caught at the South Jetty with a rapidly rising tide driving us up into the grasses taught us much: This wild stretch of beach commands respect.

We still go see the Peter Iredale, and we've been around Coffenbury Lake many times by kayak and on foot, but it is Area D we go to for special occasions.

We were there the day the U.S.S. Missouri was towed into the Colum-bia River, visiting As-toria for a final good bye before the World War II ship left for its final berth in Hawaii.

We were there on Christmas Day, 2002, with our new toy, a Brunton Sherpa wind meter, reading the winds: 19 mph on the Columbia River side, 33 mph on the Trestle Bay side.

We've spent birthdays and wedding an-niversaries and many average days in Area D. We've taken photographs from every angle and in every mood. We've walked on its beaches in every kind of mud and every kind of weather. We invite you to do the same. But keep some common sense safety tips in mind: Be aware of the tides, never turn your back on the ocean and stay off the logs.

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