Cape Disappointment State Park

Fort Canby Travel Blog

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Looking straight up at the Firs

From Long Beach, we drove south to Ilwaco and then out west a few minutes to the coast to the Cape Disappointment State Park.  There are two light houses here, the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse which stands guard over the Columbia River bar built in 1856, and the North Head Lighthouse, built in 1898, on the headland just north of the other lighthouse.    We stopped at the North Head Lighthouse first and did a short hike into see it.  The hike was beautiful in the misty morning.  Tall firs, patches of alderwood and lots of ferns covered the hillside.  The lighthouse is supposed to be open for public tours; however it was closed that morning.

North Head Lighthouse
  We did get a great view of the coast from this vantage point.  We also saw the old lighthouse keepers' houses, which have been refurbished with bright red metal roofing and are available for vacation rentals.  I read that the original lighthouses were all lit with whale oil and that the keepers had to haul the whale oil up to the lights by hand throughout the early period.  Sounds like a lot of work!  They also had to grow their own food near their homes, as the visits from mainland were few and far between.

Our next stop was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.  It is in a magnificent setting overlooking the mouth of the Columbia River as it pours into the Pacific.  The exhibits detail the trip from St. Louis through to this point on the globe.

Glass Prism Lens for Lighthouse Manufactured in France in the 1850's
  There are a number of interesting things to do and see in the Center -- from reading excerpts from the explorer's journals to learning how to stack supplies in a dugout canoe to keep it from tipping over in the river.  It also has the original prism lens from the one of the major lighthouses here -- a huge bell shaped glass prism that was made in France and shipped to the US for use in the lighthouse.  It is truly an engineering feat of it's time.  Evidently, the original prism lens was lost at sea as the ship it was carried on was lost right as it came into the Columbia River to unload!  They say it definitely pointed out the danger of this area and the need for a lighthouse!  There was no time to get another one from France -- and so a light house in New Jersey sent it's prism lens to Cape Disappointment, and it is the one that is now on display in the center.
Cape Disappoinment Lighthouse

The exhibit has the flags of the five nations that have controlled this territory -- Russia, Spain, Britain, France and the USA.  It also has a lot of information about native species and native peoples.

I really liked the exhibit -- it brought back a lot of memories for me of studying the Lewis and Clark Expedition in junior high back in Wyoming History Class -- particularly the part about joining up with Sacagawea!

Outside the Center there is a lot to see.  The Columbia River pouring into the Pacific is amazing.  You can see the bar, the jetty's and both lighthouses.  You can also see sea lions in the waters below, deer on the hillside, bald eagles soaring above, and lots of bird colonies on the rocks below.  There is even a sign about the odor of the Cormorant Bird Colony entitled "What's that Smell?"  Evidently it is a question the park rangers were asked a lot!!  It is a nature lover's paradise!  Lots of greenery and plants in bloom too.

Cormorants

The waters here are supposedly some of the most dangerous in the world -- and many fishermen and boats are lost here each year.  It has the nickname of the "Graveyard of the Pacific" due to the dangers lurking here.  The danger is enhanced by the rivers volume, the ebb tide, and dangerous rogue waves that occur here.  I read that over the past couple hundred years, nearly 2,000 vessels and 700 lives have been claimed by the waters here.  Hence the reason for the lighthouses -- but also for the Cape Disappoinment Coast Guard Station and the US Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat School. 

 

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Looking straight up at the Firs
Looking straight up at the Firs
North Head Lighthouse
North Head Lighthouse
Glass Prism Lens for Lighthouse Ma…
Glass Prism Lens for Lighthouse M…
Cape Disappoinment Lighthouse
Cape Disappoinment Lighthouse
Cormorants
Cormorants
Tall Fir Trees
Tall Fir Trees
More Fir Trees
More Fir Trees
Ferns along the hiking path
Ferns along the hiking path
Former Home of Head Lighthouse Kee…
Former Home of Head Lighthouse Ke…
Waikiki Beach at North Head
Waikiki Beach at North Head
View down the beach from North Head
View down the beach from North Head
View from North Head
View from North Head
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in …
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in…
Sitting on a pile of driftwood
Sitting on a pile of driftwood
Driftwood near North Head
Driftwood near North Head
Markers to Coast Guard Station and…
Markers to Coast Guard Station an…
Oleanders in bloom
Oleanders in bloom
Marker for Edge of the North Ameri…
Marker for Edge of the North Amer…
Whats that smell?  Guano from the…
What's that smell? Guano from th…
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Paul at the Entrance to the Lewis …
Paul at the Entrance to the Lewis…
Placque at Lewis and Clark Center …
Placque at Lewis and Clark Center…
The flags of the Five Nations that…
The flags of the Five Nations tha…
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
North Jetty
North Jetty
Deer near Lewis and Clark Center
Deer near Lewis and Clark Center
More Greenery (not a clue what it …
More Greenery (not a clue what it…
Fort Canby
photo by: TYoungTX