Here is a map of our location. It begins with a tale of two lights. Cape Disappointment has the distinction of two lighthouses -- the Cape Disappointment Light on the Columbia River, and the North Head Light on the Pacific Ocean:
Or perhaps the tale ends with the lights. Perhaps it begins with a visit from Lewis and Clark in 1804, before they decided to winter at Fort Clatsop in Oregon. A plaque to their visit, on a several-day trek of exploration north, from their camp at Station Camp east of present-day Ilwaco, along the beach at present-day Long Beach, Washington, sits at McKenzie Head near our campground:
Cape Disappointment itself was named by Lewis and Clark; its name derived from their disappointment that they did not find any trading vessels plying the Northwest Pacific coast, as they had been led to expect, and thus they would not be resupplied for their journey back to St. Louis.
There are two dirty little secrets of all this Lewis and Clark stuff: first, neither state (Oregon nor Washington) wants to recognize -- and, so, possibly cede credit to -- the other state for being the location of Lewis and Clark's visit to the Pacific Ocean; and, second, no one seems to know the one true pronunciation (or spelling) for Sacagawea, the under-heralded single reason why that Corps of Discovery ever completed its journey of discovery.
More on that later.
Our morning began with a walk out to the beach by our campground:
We got our first view of the North Head Light, reflected in the wet beach at low tide:
This inspired us to head up to the North Head Lighthouse Trail and work our way out to the light. Before walking out to the lighthouse itself, we hiked out the Bell's View Trail. As we did, we first encountered a World War II bunker supporting gun emplacements around Cape Disappointment that were intended to protect the U.S. and its West Coast from attacks by the Axis Powers:
The bunkers are ubiquitous throughout the park, and we ran into them on every hike. Each of the bunkers, while huge compared to other gun emplacement bunkers we have seen in the U.S., has been overgrown. Some have trees growing from the ground above them. Others are surrounded by ferns, vines and coastal fir trees. Yet others are slowly being decorated by ivy from the encroaching forest:
From Bell's View point, we had an impressive view north along the beach at Long Beach, Washington, which, as we later learned, the Lewis and Clark explorers traversed as they documented the area. (On a more personal note, it might be worth noting that, when David was young, his family would visit his grandparents in Ocean Park, Washington and go clamming out on the beach you see in the photo below.)
Returning from Bell's View, we ventured out to the North Head Light, which is a beautiful specimen of a lighthouse!
The light is owned by the State of Washington and maintained by the Keepers of the North Head Lighthouse, an arm of the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. We learned this from two full-time RV'ers we met, who staff the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center in the Park. It was built in 1898, 42 years after the Cape Disappointment Light, which proved too small and ill-positioned to protect ships from the perils of Cape Disappointment. In this photo, looking south, you can see the beach leading out to Peacock Spit, which forms the northern boundary of the mouth of the Columbia River:
Boats that enter the Columbia River must cross the Columbia Bar, a treacherous narrows with unpredictable tides, currents and shallows that will confound even the canniest boat pilot.
David remembers that, when he was a boy, he went salmon fishing on a charter boat with his father and grandfather. The boat left the marina in Ilwaco and crossed the bar. David mainly remembers this as an occasion of queasiness, but he also remembers that the fearless crew caught their limit in salmon and traded their catch for a hoard of frozen, canned and smoked salmon to take home to the family.
We're sure the lighthouse keeper and his two assistants who manned the North Head Light would have also caught salmon for recreation or subsistence. In any event, the State of Washington kept them in comparative luxury, which you can verify when you see this gorgeous mansion of a house in which their families lived:
The light was automated and electrified in 1962, and at that point there was no further need for a lighthouse keeper (not to mention his assistants), or their families. Now, the residences are available for people to rent to stay for an unique experience. As we walked the grounds, we counted three vehicles and estimated that three sets of guests were occupying the three residential units originally occupied by that doughty keeper and his assistants and their kindred.
At the time of the keepers' residence, the point was not so wooded as it is today. As we walked, we could trace the concrete walks that were installed for their use. One of the walks stretched out through hedges toward the lighthouse, and we imagine that the lighthouse keeper had the same view we did to the light, which has a signature of two flashes every 30 seconds:
From the North Head Light, we ventured down to the earlier-built lighthouse, the Cape Disappointment Light. It was a longer hike out to that installation. Along the way, we passed Deadman's Cove -- so called because, it is reported, the bodies of dead seamen would wash up in the cove every time a ship wrecked upon the rocks of Cape Disappointment:
Toward the end of the point, near the lighthouse, we looked north across Deadman's Cove and spotted the Lewis & Clark Discovery Center, which we would be visiting later in the day:
The Discovery Center has a dramatic view of the ocean and the coves, as we discovered later. First, however, we needed to see the Cape Disappointment Light. And there it was:
We noticed immediately that it is not in nearly as good repair as the North Head Light. When we chatted with the RV couple at the Discovery Center, we learned that our guess was correct: the Cape Disappointment Light is still owned by the Coast Guard, which does not have enough funding to keep it in good repair. This seems a shame. Because the light sits on important property for the Coast Guard, it is probably impractical for the Coast Guard to surrender control to a private group. Still, we wished that perhaps a "Friends of the Cape Disappointment Light Association" could adopt the light and give it the care that the North Head Light has received.
Walking back from the Cape Disappointment Light, we turned up the trail to the Lewis and Clark Discovery Center. This includes a museum about Cape Disappointment and a visitor center for Lewis & Clark National Park, with a very well curated exhibit telling the story of Lewis and Clark's exploration of the western United States. It appears to have been constructed on the foundation of one of the old World War II bunkers; it was possible to explore the bunker underneath while strolling around outside the Interpretive Center.
We spent over an hour in the center, watching a video and following the chronology of the Corps of Discovery. After seeing all that it had to offer, we walked out to the viewpoint outside and had another look at the Cape Disappointment Light to the south --
-- and the North Jetty to the north:
This wasn't the end of our exploring. On our way back to our campsite, before the rains, we stopped at McKenzie Head and climbed it to get the view that Lewis and Clark did when they explored this area. Our view was of land that didn't exist when Lewis and Clark were here. When the jetties were built in 1962, they caused the shoreline to fill in and the headland to expand below McKenzie Head. What had been shallow ocean water is now a forested lowland with a trail for visitors:
With this, it started to rain and blow. Winds are expected to reach speeds of up to 35 mph in the next day or so. We plan to hunker down and enjoy a Ken Burns video on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Tomorrow, we visit Astoria, with possibly a blog report (or not). Stay tuned!
It's tomorrow now, October 16. The weather came in last night -- 35 mph winds and heavy rains as predicted. The RV rocked and rolled all night long. When we woke up this morning, the winds had moderated and the rain had slowed to a sprinkle.
We decided to take a coffee walk out to the beach to look at the ocean. We probably were standing just about where Captain Clark and his small party finally reached the Pacific Ocean as they ventured north from Station Camp. Our weather was probably just about the same as their weather had been. Now we realized: there were two reasons they called it Cape Disappointment; one was the lack of trading ships; the other was that miserable Pacific Northwest winter weather. Take a look at this video to see what we mean.
I'm sure that for Captain Clark, also, it was a "two cup day"!