the wandering chick
...Cape Disappointment
and the Columbia River mouth

Never has the history of any area I've traveled so far captured my interest and attention as much as this one.

It's difficult to envision the whole idea of what goes into separating the large mouth of the Columbia River from the fierce Pacific Ocean as they merge, and harder still to envision how it could be one of the most dangerous areas of water in the world. But Oregon's most northwestern peninsula along with Washington's Long Beach Peninsula have done a tremendous job in keeping the fierce treacherous waters in check.

This area, where the river and ocean merge, has long been called the Graveyard of the Pacific because of its turbulent and clashing waters. It has sunk more than 2000 ships and claimed more than 700 lives since the late 1700s.

To combat the waterway, out to the west of both Oregon and Washington are two peninsulas: The North Jetty in Washington and the South Jetty in Oregon, The two jetties extend into the mouth, facing each other with a gap of about two miles, large enough for huge ships to pass. The main purpose of the jetties is to act as breakwaters: to stop the crashing waves, shifting sand and fierce currents of the river, making it easier and safer for ships to enter and leave.

At the mouth which, before construction of the jetties, was more than five miles wide, are dangerous sandbars, the true culprit of the mouth as the shifting sand continually churns, creating high waves and strong currents. The jetties, tip to tip, have narrowed that channel to two miles. By so doing, the water flows more quickly which, in turn, washes out much of the sand, thereby making the channel deeper.

Construction of the jetties began in 1885 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would take more than thirty years to complete. Tons of basalt rock were stacked to make the jetties. But first, a trestle had to be built over the water for a train to transport the rocks out to sea. Parts of the trestle can still be seen today as one drives north to the Clatsop Spit where there are observation decks.

Two lighthouses have been erected to aid in navigating the waterway: Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, built in 1856 and North Head Lighthouse, built in 1898. Both are located on Washington's Long Beach peninsula. Both sit high on cliffs and are accessible for tours.

Even with such great measures, still today special pilots are required to navigate the ships through the mouth of the Columbia and the treacherous sandbar that exists there. If not boarding the ship by helicopter, these bar pilots have one of the most daunting jobs in the shipping industry as they climb swinging ladders along the outside hull of a freighter in order to board it. Once aboard, they drive the ship through the bar, then must exit the same way, climbing down the ladder to the not-so-safety of their own pilot boat. Pilot boats, being much smaller and more vulnerable to the fierceness of the sea, are today, with modern technology, equipped with both rollover and self-righting capabilities. These aid in combating the high waves with which they're faced. Ship captains entering and leaving the passageway are aware of the rules, regulations and operating procedure in effect for the process and arrangements of getting a bar pilot to their ship.

Aside from the convergence of the two waters and all that that entails, these two peninsulas have even greater significance and interest for history buffs who follow the expeditions of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, one of the nation's newest national parks, was a joint venture by both states and encircles the Columbia mouth. Twelve different areas of the new park mark key parts of the Chinook and Clatsop Indians and of Lewis and Clark's exploration and discoveries.

Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their contingent of 31 men, mostly U.S. Army enlisted men, were all over these parts, having finally accomplished the mission that they were assigned: to find the Pacific Ocean. However, upon reaching the area, they soon discovered that they had not quite yet reached the Pacific afterall; that would come 12 days later. What they thought was the Pacific on that day in mid-November of 1805 was actually the mouth of the Columbia River.

For ten days, the men explored the area of Cape Disappointment, at the tip of Washington's most southern peninsula, looking for a suitable spot for a winter encampment. Not satisfied, on November 24th, they voted to leave the area for the south side of the Columbia, on the Oregon peninsula, where game was said to be more plentiful.

A fort was built at Fort Clatsop where the party would stay for three long and cold, dreary and wet months. Today the area is the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park and is one of America's newest national parks.

On both peninsulas of the two most northwestern states in our nation, sandy beaches and beautiful hiking trails abound, including the beginning (or end) of the Oregon Coastal Trail, at the tip of the Clatsop spit.

Here lie the rusty remains of The Peter Iredale, a casualty of the Columbia sandbar. The iron sailing ship ran aground while in a storm on October 25, 1906 while heading to the Columbia River. The skeleton is located at Fort Stevens State Park on Oregon's peninsula.
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
a couple in the foreground is more visible through the fog than those in the background
We were appropriately socked in with fog the day we visited the Peter Ireland Shipwreck. It was a rather eerie feeling, especially seeing the looming skeleton in the distance.
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the skeleton of the Peter Ireland shipwreck
the South Jetty
The South Jetty is a blockade for the sand that is pushed in from the Columbia River by the force of the water and wind. Because of that, the shoreline has been built up and out. In fact, it's one mile further west than when Lewis and Clark explored the area in 1805.
the South Jetty
The south jetty
The South Jetty is also the beginning (or ending) spot of the Oregon Coast Trail.
trestle for hauling jetty rocks
trestle for hauling jetty rocks
In order to get the tons and tons of basalt rocks off shore for the construction of the jetties, a trestle had to first be built. It allowed a train to travel across the water hauling the rocks.
Washington's North Jetty
Some consider Washington's North Jetty to be a little more popular than the South Jetty. Part of the Cape Disappointment State Park, it has beaches that are more accessible; fishing and crabbing are active sports there as well. On the flip side, North Head, as it is called, is considered one of the windiest areas in the U.S. It's never a case of if the wind will blow, but rather how hard and from what direction. As well, Cape Disappointment is one of the foggiest areas in the U.S. with more than 100 days of fog each year. Above, the North Head Lighthouse that sits north of the North Jetty can be seen in the distance.
Cape Disappointment as seen from the north jetty
fishing boat off the north jetty
The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse can also be seen in the distance from the North Jetty.
North Head Lighthouse
three boys and their bikes overlook the Pacific Ocean
North Head Lighthouse is on the grounds of the Cape Disappointment State Park and aids ships coming in from the Pacific Ocean. Built in c.1898, it is operational today by the U.S. Coast Guard. Because ships coming from the north Pacific, couldn't see the Cape Disappointment lighthouse which lies "around the corner," the North Head lighthouse was constructed along Washington's Long Beach peninsula.
North Head Lighthouse
Benson Beach
the forested path to the Northhead Lighthouse
Benson Beach is located along Washington's north jetty. After the construction of the jetties, the sand from the mouth was washed ashore creating 1000 more acres of land that were not present in the days of Lewis and Clark. Benson Beach is on that part of 'new' land.
Waikiki Beach on the north jetty
the ruggest coastline along Cape Disappointment
Though the coastline of the cape is windy and rugged, the interior paths, such as this one to the North Head Lighthouse, are calm and peaceful.
Cape Disappointment coastline
trail to lighthouse
Waikiki Beach, so named for a lost Hawaiian sailor at sea, is along the North Jetty. All sorts of driftwood wash up on shore, and visitors use it to build temporary constructs or huts.
Cape Disappointment lighthouse
The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse can be seen from Waikiki Beach. It was built in 1856 to aid ships coming in from the Columbia River.
Waikiki Beach
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach and its loads of driftwood
the North Jetty and Cape Disappointment shoreline
Cape Disappointment lighthouse from Waikiki Beach
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse
Standing on the grounds of the Cape Disappointment lighthouse and looking west toward the north jetty
driftwood and flowers closeup
Waikiki Beach
Even with the harshest of conditions around the North Head, peaks of sunshine in the way of summer flowers push through.
U.S. Coast Guard Station at Cape Disappointment
The U.S. Coast Guard manages the Cape Disappointment lighthouse; its station is located on the walking path to the lighthouse overlooking Baker Bay.
Devils Cove
A very small cove called Devil's Cove can be seen from the walking trail leading to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse.

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