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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Cape Disappointment, Washington"
Includes ... Cape Disappointment ... "Cape San Roque" ... "Cape Hancock" ... Cape Disappointment State Park ... National Register of Historic Places ... National Historic District ... Memorial to Thomas Jefferson ...

Places:   Beards Hollow ... Benson Beach ... Cape Disappointment Lighthouse ... Deadmans Hollow ... Fort Canby ... Fort Canby State Park ... Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center ... McKenzie Head ... North Head Lighthouse ... North Jetty ... O'Neil Lake ... U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment ... Waikiki Beach ...

Image, 2004, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment, Washington. As seen from the North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington. Image taken April 9, 2004.

"... this Cape is an ellivated Circlier point Covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposur next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to the hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water ..." [Clark, November 18, 1805]


Cape Disappointment ...
Cape Disappointment is the Washington point at the mouth of the Columbia River. The Pacific Ocean is on the west side of the cape and Baker Bay and Ilwaco, Washington are on the east. To the south across the Columbia on the Oregon side lies Clatsop Spit.

Early Cape Disappointment ...
The Cape Disappointment headland was first charted in August 1775 as "San Roque" (or "Cabo de San Rougue") by Spanish explorer Bruno Heceta, as he explored the Northwest Coast. Heceta recognized this location was probably the mouth of a large river but he was unable to explore since his crewmembers were weak and suffering scurvy.

In July 1788, Lieutenant John Meares of the British Royal Navy used Heceta's navigational charts to explore the West Coast of North America while looking for the "River of the West" and located "San Roque". Meares decided that no river entrance or channel existed among the shoals at the base of "San Roque". He changed the name of "San Roque" to "Cape Disappointment".

In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray named the headlands "Cape Hancock", while five months later British Lieutenant William Broughton used "Cape Disappointment". Lewis and Clark used the name "Cape Disappointment".

The Indian name for the cape was "Kah-eese".

Cape Disappointment is the location chosen for Fort Canby, one of the three defensive forts at the mouth of the Columbia.


Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment from Chinook Point, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment, as seen from Chinook Point, Washington. Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is visible. View from outside Fort Columbia State Park. Image taken February 19, 2005.


Captain Clark and Cape Disappointment ...
On November 18, 1805, Captain Clark and a group of men reached the Pacific Ocean via Cape Disappointment.

"... A little cloudy this morning I Set out with 10 men and my man York to the Ocian by land. i. e. Serjt. Ordway & Pryor, Jos. & Ru. Fields, Go. Shannon, W. Brattin, J. Colter, P. Wiser, W. Labieche & P. Shabono one of our interpreters & York. I Set out at Day light and proceeded on a Sandy beech ...     S. 46° E. 2 Miles to the inner extremity of Cape Disapointment ...     this Cape is an ellivated <Situat> Circlier point Covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposur next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to the hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water <from the last mentioned nitch—> this cape as also the Shore both on the Bay & Sea coast is a dark brown rock. I crossed the neck of Land low and 1/2 of a mile wide to the main Ocian, at the foot of a high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Sicumfrance. I assended this hill which is covered with high corse grass. decended to the N. of it and camped. I picked up a flounder on the beech this evening.— ..." [Clark, November 18, 1806]

The "neck of Land low and 1/2 of a mile wide" is today's Waikiki Beach. The "high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Sicumfrance" is McKenzie Head, where the men camped. Previously on November 14th, Captain Lewis and a group of men had reached the Pacific to the north of Cape Disappointment via Beards Hollow.


National Historic District ...
In 1975, Cape Disappointment was registered on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic District (District - #75001864) with such features as Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, North Head Lighthouse, Lighthouse Keeper’s facility, the North Jetty, and several gun emplacements from the old Fort Canby.

Cape Disappointment in 1858 ...
From the 1858 United States Senate Report "The Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858":

"This cape is the only headland from Tillamook to latitude 47o 20' that breaks the low line of shore. It presents a geological formation not before met with on the seaboard, being composed of horizontal columnar basalt, rising to an elevation of 287 feet, disposed in a succession of huge round hills, broken on the sea front by short strips of sand beach, and covering an irregular area of about three miles by one. The sea-faces of all the hills and irregularly projecting knobs rise perpendicularly for many feet, then slope slightly inshore to narrow ridges; are destitute of trees, but covered with grass, fern, and bushes, and have an excellent though thin soil. Inland of their crests the trees commence, and their tops reaching above the summits of the hills increase their apparent height. The inshore slope of the hills is more gentle, so that paths can be easily carried to their tops. In 1851 we opened an ox-team road to the summit of the cape. When the evening fogs from the northern bays do not cover the cape, we have sometimes experienced a dense fog rolling down the river about sunrise, enveloping everything below the top of the cape upon which we have stood, when it looked like an island less than a hundred yards in extent, and surrounded by the river fog, that must be felt to be appreciated. We were 35 days on this cape before obtaining a single night's observtions.

As seen from the southward, when off Tillamook Head, Cape Disappointment is made as two round-topped islands; approached from the northwest it rises in a similar manner, from the west and southwest it appears projected upon the mountains inland, but the slightest haziness in the atmosphere brings it out in sharp relief.

This cape being basaltic, and showing an almost iron front to the river and sea, it is improbable that, "in the memory of many, Cape Disappointment has been worn away some hundred feet by the sea and strong currents that run by it."

On the first landing beach on the inside of the cape we found a deposit of auriferous and ferruginous "black sand", the flakes of gold being very small and scarce. This ferruginous deposit -- the "black sand" of the California gold digger -- caused a local disturbance in the magnetic variation, amounting to 26'.2, being that quantity less than the declination found upon the summit of the cape. ...

The primary astronomical station of the Coast Survey is on the highest part of the southern extremity of the cape. Its geographical position is: Latitude 46o 16' 35.2" north ... Longitude 124o 02' 01" west ... Or, in time ... 8h 16m 08.1s.

From Cape Blanco to Cape Disappointment the extent of ocean shore line is not less than 285 miles.

In August, 1775, this cape was place by Heceta in latitude 46o 17', and called Cape San Roque.

In July, 1788, it was called Cape Disappointment by Meares, and placed in latutide 46o 10' "by an indifferent observation". It was called Cape Hancock by Gray, in 1792, and the entrance placed in latitude 46o 17', he, however, changed this name to Disappointment upon hearing that Meares had so named it.

In 1792 it was placed in latitude 46o19' by Vancouver.

On the Pacific coast it is and has been known by no other name than Cape Disappointment.

The Indian name for the cape is Kah-eese."


Cape Disappointment, etc.

  • Beards Hollow ...
  • Benson Beach ...
  • Cape Disappointment Lighthouse ...
  • Deadmans Hollow ...
  • Fort Canby ...
  • Fort Canby State Park ...
  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center ...
  • McKenzie Head ...
  • North Head Lighthouse ...
  • North Jetty ...
  • O'Neil Lake ...
  • U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment ...
  • Waikiki Beach ...

Beards Hollow ...
Beards Hollow and Deadmans Hollow were named for the same circumstances - the sinking of the Vandalia in 1853. Beards Hollow lies on the north side of North Head and Deadmans Hollow lies on the south.
[More]

Benson Beach ...
Benson Beach extends from two miles from the North Jetty to the rocky base of the North Head Lighthouse. The 1/4-mile-long Benson Beach Trail goes from the end of the North Jetty Road and ends at a viewing platform overlooking the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. On February 20, 1920, the American steamer the Admiral Benson grounded on Peacock Spit in the fog and broke up after several days of wind. The wreck today still snags fishing lines off the coast of today's Benson Beach.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse ...
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the West Coast of the United States, and the Cape Disappointment Light marks the north side of the Columbia River Bar. Less than two miles to the northwest is the North Head lighthouse, which provides a beacon for the northern approaches to the Columbia River Bar. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn seamen of the treacherous river bar known by then as "the graveyard of the Pacific."
[More]

Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, Cape Disappointment, Washington. View from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Image taken April 19, 2005.


Cape Disappointment State Park ...
Fort Canby State Park ...
Cape Disappointment State Park -- formerly Fort Canby State Park -- is a 1,882-acre camping park, offering 27 miles of ocean beach, two lighthouses, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and many hiking trails.

Image, 2004, Cape Disappointment State Park, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Cape Disappointment State Park. Image taken April 9, 2004.


Deadmans Hollow ...
Beards Hollow and Deadmans Hollow were named for the same circumstances - the sinking of the Vandalia in 1853. Beards Hollow lies on the north side of North Head and Deadmans Hollow lies on the south.
[More]

Fort Canby ...
In 1862, Cape Disappointment was armed with smoothbore cannons to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from enemies. Three years later in 1865 Fort Stevens, complete with a moat and drawbridge, was established across the Columbia on the Oregon side of the Columbia. In 1875 Fort Canby came into existence to improve the defense of the Columbia. In 1896 Fort Columbia was built and in 1897 Fort Stevens was improved. The mouth of the Columbia River was now protected with three forts.
[More]

Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center ...
In 1973 the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center was built at Washington State's Fort Canby State Park -- now Cape Disappointment State Park.

Image, 2005, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Cape Disappointment, Washington. Image taken April 19, 2005.
Image, 2005, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. View from the North Jetty, visible in the foreground. Image taken April 19, 2005.
Image, 2005, Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Image taken April 19, 2005.


McKenzie Head ...
Lewis and Clark reached their destination - the Pacific Ocean on two different days. Captain Lewis and four men were the first to arrive on November 15, 1805, at a location near Beards Hollow. On November 18, 1806, Captain Clark and eleven men reach the Pacific at McKenzie Head, where they spent the night.
[More]

Image, 2005, McKenzie Head from North Jetty, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
McKenzie Head from North Jetty. Captain Clark and eleven of the men camped on McKenzie Head on November 18, 1805. Image taken April 19, 2005.


North Head and North Head Lighthouse ...
North Head is the extreme western point of Cape Disappointment. The North Head Lighthouse was built in the 1890s on a cape east of Cape Disappointment.
[More]

Image, 2005, North Head Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
North Head Lighthouse. Image taken April 19, 2005.


North Jetty ...
In the early 1900s, jetties were built at the entrances to the Columbia River and Grays Harbor. Rock from these jetties came from the Fisher Quarry, upstream of Vancouver, Washington. These jetties were designed to scour out sandbars and keep navigation channels open. Construction of the North Jetty began in September 1913 and was completed in May 1917. The jetty was built on Peacock Spit, a large shoal on the southwest side of Cape Disappointment. Following jetty construction, beaches north of the jetty grew seaward rapidly. By the 1950s, the Fort Canby area reached a maximum size of 964 acres. Since then, however the shorelines have eroded, By 1958, Peacock Spit had eroded, accelerating erosion on Fort Canby beach.

Building the North Jetty ...
"Morning Oregonian", January 1, 1914 ...

"It took two years to prepare the north jetty surrounding for jetty-building, under the superintendence of G.T. McLean, junior engineer. Last Summer it was necessary to dredge Baker's Bay, north of Sand Island, so as to allow the large barges to come from Fisher's Quarry, back of Vancouver, over 100 miles away, and to land at Fort Canby, the rock necessary for building the jetty. An excellent quality of rock is being delivered by the Columbia Contract Company at $1.10 a ton, some of the single rocks weighing as high as 20 tons."

Source:       "Morning Oregonian", January 1, 1914.


Image, 2005, North Jetty from Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park. View from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Image taken April 19, 2005.
Image, 2005, North Jetty, Cape Disappointment, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Rocks, North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington. View from the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. Image taken April 19, 2005.
Image, 2004, Cape Disappointment North Jetty, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Sand dunes, North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park, Washington. Image taken April 9, 2004.


O'Neil Lake ...
O'Neil Lake is located within Cape Disappointment State Park, between the park entrance and McKenzie Head. Quite possibly this could be Captain Clark's "pond" he wrote about on November 18, 1805.

"... 2 Miles to the inner extremity of Cape Disapointment passing a nitch in which there is a Small rock island, a Small Stream falls into this nitch from a pond which is imediately on the Sea Coast passing through a low isthmus. ..." [Clark, November 18, 1805]

Today Cape Disappointment State Park campsites line the southern shore of O'Neil Lake.


Image, 2005, Cape Disappointment State Park, O'Neil Lake, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Lake O'Neil, Cape Disappointment State Park. Image taken November 9, 2005.


U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment ...
The U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment is the largest Coast Guard search and rescue station along the Northwest Coast. It has (in 2006) 50 assigned crewmembers. Commonly known as Station Cape "D", the crew responds to 300 to 400 calls for assistance every year. The busiest time in between early June to mid-September when numerous recreational boaters cross the Columbia River entrance in search of salmon and other fish. The first "search and rescue" station built at Cape Disappointment was in 1877 on the site of Fort Canby, and was known as the "U.S. Life Saving Service Station". Volunteers manned the site until 1882, when the first full-time Life Saving Service crew was sworn in. In 1915 the Life Saving Service merged with the Revenue Marine Cutter Service to form the United States Coast Guard. The present site Cape Disappointment site was built in 1967 and is currently the site for Station Cape Disappointment and the National Motor Lifeboat School.
[More]

Image, 2005, U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
U.S. Coast Guard Station Cape Disappointment. View from the public boat launch. Image taken April 19, 2005.


Waikiki Beach ...
On November 18, 1805, Captain Clark crossed a "low isthmus of land" in order to reach the Pacific Ocean. Today, the beach on this isthmus between Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and McKenzie Head is called "Waikiki Beach". Waikiki Beach received its name when a Hawaiian sailor's body washed on shore after his ship was wrecked in a failed attempt to cross the Columbia River bar in 1811.

Image, 2004, Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Waikiki Beach, Cape Disappointment. As seen from the North Jetty, Cape Disappointment State Park. Image taken April 9, 2004.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, November 18, 1805 ...
A little cloudy this morning I Set out [from their camp at Station Camp] with 10 men and my man York to the Ocian by land. i. e. Serjt. Ordway & Pryor, Jos. & Ru. Fields, Go. Shannon, W. Brattin, J. Colter, P. Wiser, W. Labieche & P. Shabono one of our interpreters & York. [according to Moulton, Clark gave the other men's names in two inconsistent lists --- those named included Clark, Ordway, Charbonneau, Pryor, the Field brothers, Shannon, Colter, Weiser, Labiche, Bratton, and York.] I Set out at Day light and proceeded on a Sandy beech

N. 80° W. 1 Mile to a point of rocks about 40 feet high [Chinook Point, now the location of Fort Columbia], from the top of which the hill Side is open and assend with a Steep assent [Scarboro Hill] to the tops of the Mountains, a Deep nitch and two Small Streams above this point, then my course was

N. W. 7 Mile to the enterance of a creek [Chinook River] at a lodge or cabin of Chinnooks passing on a wide Sand bar the bay to my left [Baker Bay] and Several Small ponds Containing great numbers of water fowls to my right; with a narrow bottom of alder & Small balsam between the Ponds and the Mountn. ...     This Creek appears to be nothing more than the conveyance of Several Small dreans from the high hills and the ponds on each Side near its mouth. here we were Set across all in one Canoe by 2 Squars to each I gav a Small hook

S. 79° W. 5 Miles to the mouth of Chin nook river, [today's Wallacut River] passed a low bluff of a small hite at 2 miles below which is the remains of huts near which place is also the remains of a whale on the Sand, the countrey low open and Slashey, with elivated lands interspersed covered with pine & thick under groth This river [Wallacut River] is 40 yards wide at low tide- here we made a fire and dined on 4 brant and 48 Pliver which was killed by Labiech on the coast as we came on. ...     after dineing we crossed the river in an old canoe which I found on the Sand near Som old houses & proceeded on-

S. 20° W. 4 Miles to a Small rock island in a deep nitch     passed a nitch at 2 miles in which there is a dreen from Some ponds back, the land low opposite this nitch a bluff of yellow Clay and Soft Stone from the river to the Comencement of this nitch     below the Country rises to high hills of about 80 or 90 feet above the water- at 3 miles passed a nitch- this rock Island is Small and at the South of a deep bend [near Illwaco, Washington] in which the nativs inform us the Ships anchor, and from whence they receive their goods in return for their peltries and Elk Skins &c. this appears to be a very good harber for large Ships. here I found Capt Lewis name on a tree. I also engraved my name & by land the day of the month and year, as also Several of the men.

S. 46° E. 2 Miles to the inner extremity of Cape Disapointment passing a nitch [location of Fort Canby] in which there is a Small rock island, a Small Stream falls into this nitch from a pond [today O'Neil Lake lies between Fort Canby and McKenzie Head] which is imediately on the Sea Coast passing through a low isthmus. this Cape is an ellivated <Situat> Circlier point [location Cape Disappointment Lighthouse] Covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposur next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to the hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water <from the last mentioned nitch-> this cape [Cape Disappointment] as also the Shore both on the Bay & Sea coast is a dark brown rock [basalt]. I crossed the neck of Land low and ½ of a mile wide to the main Ocian [today Waikiki Beach is located on the ocean side of this isthmus], at the foot of a high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Sicumfrance. I assended this hill [McKenzie Head] which is covered with high corse grass. decended to the N. of it and camped. I picked up a flounder on the beech this evening.-

from Cape Disapointment to a high point of a Mountn. which we shall call [the Nicholas Biddle version has Clarke's Point of View inserted here. "Clarke's Point of View" is today's Tillamook Head, a name received when Clark visited and climbed the formation in Janaury 1806.] beares S. 20° W. about <40> [WC?: 25] miles, point adams is verry low and is Situated within the direction between those two high points of land, the water appears verry Shole from off the mouth of the river for a great distance, and I cannot assertain the direction of the deepst Chanel, the Indians point nearest the opposit Side. the waves appear to brake with tremendious force in every direction quite across a large Sand bar lies within the mouth nearest to point Adams [Point Adams] which is nearly covered at high tide. I suped on brant this evening with a little pounded fish. Some rain in the after part of the night. men appear much Satisfied with their trip beholding with estonishment the high waves dashing against the rocks & this emence ocian.



Ordway, November 18, 1805 ...
Cloudy. Capt. Clark myself and 10 more of the party Set out [from their camp at Station Camp] in order to go down and see the passiffic ocean [Pacific Ocean]. we proceeded on round Hailys bay [Bakers Bay] crossed two Rivers [Chinook River and Wallacut River] in Sd. bay [Bakers Bay] . ...     we proceeded on round high clifts of rocks where we had much trouble to pass.— towards evening we arived at the Cape disapointment [Cape Disappointment] on the Sea Shore. went over a bald hill [McKenzie Head] where we had a handsom view of the ocean. we went on a Short distance on the coast and Camped for the night.





Clark, November 19, 1805 ...
after takeing a Sumptious brackfast of venison which was rosted on Stiks exposed to the fire, I proceeded on through ruged Country of high hills and Steep hollers [including today's North Head, Deadmans Hollow, and Beards Hollow] on a course from the Cape [Cape Disappointment] N 20° W. 5 miles on a Direct line to the Commencement of a Sandy Coast [Long Beach Peninsula] which extended N. 10° W. from the top of the hill above the Sand Shore to a Point of high land distant near 20 miles [Leadbetter Point]. this point I have taken the Liberty of Calling after my particular friend Lewis— at the commencement of this Sand beech the high lands leave the Sea coast in a Direction to Chinnook river [Chinook or Wallacut River] , and does not touch the Sea Coast again <untill> below point Lewis [Leadbetter Point] leaveing a low pondey countrey, maney places open with small ponds in which there is great numbr. of fowl     I am informed that the Chinnook Nation inhabit this low countrey and live in large wood houses on a river which passes through this bottom Parrilal to the Sea coast and falls into the Bay



I proceeded on the Sandy Coast 4 miles, and marked my name on a Small pine, the Day of the month & year, &c. [near the location of present day Long Beach] and returned to the foot of the hill, from which place I intended to Strike across to The Bay [Baker Bay], ...     after Dineing on the remains of our Small Deer I proceeded through over a land S E with Some Ponds [possibly one being Black Lake] to the bay [Baker Bay] distance about 2 miles, thence up to the mouth of Chinnook river [mistake, the Wallacut River, west of the Chinook River] 2 miles, crossed this little river in the Canoe we left at its mouth and Encamped [Wallacut River] on the upper Side in an open Sandy bottom— The hills [Ilwaco, Washington area] next to the bay [Baker Bay] Cape disapointment [Cape Disappointment] to a Short distance up the Chinnook river [Wallacut River] is not verry high thickly Coverd. with different Species of pine &c. maney of which are large, I observed in maney places pine of 3 or 4 feet through growing on the bodies of large trees which had fallen down, and covered with moss and yet part Sound. ...





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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources: Long Beach Peninsula website, 2006; NOAA Office of Coast Survey website, 2005; Pacific County Historical Society website, 2006; Pacific County Historical Society website, 2005, "Place Names of Pacific County" by Larry J. Weathers, IN: The Sou'wester, Centennial Edition 1989, Vol.XXIV, No.1-4.; Pitcher, Don, 1999, "Moon Travel Handbooks: Washington", Chico, California; U.S. Coast Guard website, 2006; Washington State Department of Ecology website, 2005; Washington State Parks website, 2006.

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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August 2014