Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Desdemona Sands, Oregon"
Includes ... Desdemona Sands Lighthouse ... Desdemona Sands ... Chinook Sands ... Point Adams ... Golden Age of Postcards ...
Penny Postcard, Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, Astoria, Oregon
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, Columbia River, Astoria, Oregon, ca.1905. Penny Postcard: Coe Photo, undivided back, ca.1905. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

Desdemona Sands ...
The Desdemona Sands are shoal sands off of Point Adams, Oregon. They were named after the bark Desdemona who, while inbound to Astoria, grounded there in December 1856.

From the current Coast Pilot (2011):

"... Desdemona Sands, marked by a light near the W end, is a shoal area extending SE for about 8 (9.2) miles from just inside the entrance to Columbia River. Desdemona Sands has the main river channel to the S and a secondary channel to the N. The southern section of Desdemona Sands is composed of shifting sand shoals that dry at low water. Only shallow draft vessels should attempt to navigate Desdemona Shoals, mariners are urged to use caution in the area ..."

Early Desdemona Sands ...
The 1851 "Mouth of Columbia River" map (1:40,000, Survey of the Coast of the United States) shows "Bare at Low Water" in the area of today's Desdemona Sands.

The 1853 "Coast Pilot" (James Imray, London) mentions the "extensive flats in the middle of the river" off of Astoria.

"... Within the entrance of the river, between Cape Disappointment and Point Adams is an extensive middle ground, which is dangerous on account of the little water on it. In one part it dries, forming a sandy islet. The depth of water on, as well as shape of this bank, depend very much on the freshets from the river. There are also extensive flats in the middle of the river, before the village of Astoria."

The 1858 "Coast Pilot" (U.S.C & G.S.) mentions a "great shoal".

"... Between this channel [north channel, Washington side] and the south shores lay the great shoal existing in 1792, not very much changed in features, with a narrow channel running from Point Adams to Tongue Point, having from 4 1/2 to 9 fathoms. The west end of this shoal stretched out to the line joining Chinook Point with Point Adams, about a mile from the latter, whilst between the tail of Sandy island and this shoal was a channel half a mile wide, and having from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 fathoms. ..."

The 1889 "Coast Pilot" (U.S.C. & G.S.) mentions a "long shoal" stretching from Smith Point (west tip of Astoria) and Tansy Point (just east of Point Adams).

"... There is a long shoal stretching westward from Smith's Point for over three-quarters of a mile towards Tansy Point. The fifteen-feet channel to Young's River runs on the south side of this shoal and the deep channel of the Columbia on the north side. ..."

The 1892 topographic "Columbia River Sheet No.1" (1:40,000, U.S.C.& G.S.) map shows the long sandy shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River being named "Desdemona Sands" (offshore from approximately Point Adams/Tansy Point to the middle of Youngs Bay), "Middle Sands" (middle of Youngs Bay to Astoria), and "Upper Sands" (offshore Astoria).

Views ...

Image, 2015, Astoria-Megler Bridge, looking north, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Desdemona Sands (middle of view) as seen from the Astoria-Megler Bridge, heading north. Image taken October 5, 2015.
Image, 2015, Desdemona Sands, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Desdemona Sands, looking west, as seen from the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Image taken October 5, 2015.

Desdemona Sands, etc.

  • Chinook Sands ??? ...
  • The Desdemona ...
  • Desdemona Sands Lighthouse ...
  • Desdemona Sands Light ...
  • Desdemona Sands Light (CORIE) ...
  • Buoys ...

Chinook Sands ??? ...
Some later publications state the early name for the Desdemona Sands was "Chinook Sands", only becoming "Desdemona Sands" after the wreck of the bark. This web author however (2015) could find no mention of the name "Chinook Sands" in early writings. The 1851 U.S. Coast Survey's "Mouth of Columbia River" map shows simply "Bare at Low Water" in the area of today's Desdemona Sands. "Chinook Spit" shows up on the 1870 U.S. Coast Survey's "Columbia River, Sheet No.1", and "Chinook shoal" is mentioned in the early NOAA "Coast Pilots", with both of these being off of Chinook Point and extending into Baker Bay (Washington side of the Columbia). Lewis & Dryden's 1895 "Marine History of the Pacific Northwest" says the Desdemona Sands were previously unnamed (see below) and 1880s fishing net "lost and found" ads in the "Daily Astorian" reference both "Desdemona Sands" and "Chinook Sands" at nearly the same time.

Net Lost.

ON THE 20TH, ON DESDEMONA SANDS, about 320 fathoms new net, Barbours 12-ply, corks branded J. Williams & Co., and leads the same. About every 10 fathoms is a streak of blue twine. Finder will please notify me and be liberally rewarded.

("Daily Astorian", May 23, 1883)

Picked Up.

On the 12th, NEAR DESDEMONA sands, about 140 fathoms 48-mesh net; corks marked A.H. Owner apply to Wm. Curtis, Hanthorn & Co's boat 19, at Ilwaco, prove property and pay charges.

("Daily Astorian", June 1, 1884)

Picked Up.

About 200 FATHOMS NET, IN THE middle channel near the Chinook Sands: 48 mesh, mostly new: floats marked P.B. Loser can have it by applying to

At Devlin's Cannery.
("Daily Astorian", July 4, 1885)

Source:    Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2015.

The Desdemona ...
"... A wreck which left a lasting monument to mark the spot on which it occurred was that of the bark Desdemona, which went ashore just inside the Columbia bar [January 1, 1857], on the sands which now bear her name. The Desdemona, one of the pioneer coasters in the Northern trade, first crossed into the Columbia in 1851 for Abernethy & Clark, in command of Abel Richardson. She was built at Jonesboro, Me., in 1847, and was 104 feet long, 25 feet beam, and 12 feet 7 inches hold. Abernethy sold her in August, 1851, to Thomas Smith, but she continued making regular trips, most of the time in command of Henry Farley. At the time of the disaster she was in charge of Capt. Francis Williams, who was attempting to sail in without a pilot. She was loaded heavily with a general cargo, and came in with a fair wind and flood tide. The Captain afterward stated that the lower buoy was adrift, and for that reason he stood right up for Astoria, looking for it until he brought up on the sands. The bark lay quite easy and did not begin bumping for twenty-five hours after she struck. The Captain then went to Astoria for assistance securing some men from W.W. Parker's sawmill, but when they reached the vessel she had bilged and was beyond relief. The revenue cutter Joe Lane had previously tried to get her afloat without success. As much of the cargo as it was possible to save was placed on lighters and taken to Astoria. The crew stayed by until the 3d of January, when they were taken off by the pilot boat, with their luggage. On the fifth they returned with a scow for another load, and, while towing it to Raymond's Creek, the scow swamped, carrying down George Cartland, the rest of the crew narrowly escaping with their lives. The following day the Desdemona was left to her fate. The wreck was sold to Moses Rogers for $215, and he removed everything that could be taken from the hull. The timbers of the old vessel remained in sight for many years, furnishing a designation of the obstructing sands, which prior to this disaster had been nameless. ..."

Source:    E.W. Wright (editor), 1895, Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Lewis & Dryden Printing Company.

Desdemona Sands Lighthouse ...
Four lighthouses have been located near the mouth of the Columbia River and two more were located inland. They are the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse (1856), Point Adams Lighthouse (1875), North Head Lighthouse (1898), and the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse (1902), and inland were the Warrior Rock Lighthouse (1888), at the lower mouth of the Willamette River, and the Willamette River Lighthouse (1895), at the upper mouth of the Willamette.

"... On a case-by-case basis Congress appropriated funds for design and construction of important facilities. These included lighthouses: Cape Arago (1866), Cape Blanco (1870), Yaquina Bay (1872), Cape Foulweather (1873), Point Adams (1875), Tillamook Rock (1881), Warrior Rock (1888) at the mouth of the Willamette River, Cape Meares (1890), Umpqua River, Heceta Head, Coquille River (all 1894), and Desdemona Sands (1905 [error ???, 1902, see below]). The goal was to create a system of stations with interlocking lights. On a clear night at sea, a mariner might expect to sight at any point a distinctive beacon on shore to pinpoint the location. Fog signals powered by steam engines blasted warnings from a number of the stations to tell captains to drop anchor or beat a retreat until the mists cleared. ..." [Oregon State "BlueBook" website, 2006]

The U.S. Coast Guard website (2006) states:

"... One of the last wooden straight-pile lighthouses built was the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, Columbia River, Oregon. It was completed in 1902 and dismantled shortly after World War II. ..."

The 1903 U.S. Coast Survey's "Coast Pilot" described the Desdemona Sands Lighthouse as being a fixed white, 4th order light, located 46 1/2 feet above mean high water and visible for 12 miles. Location is 46N 13W latitude and 123N 57E longitude. The lighthouse structure is a "White, octagonal, one-and-one-half-story dwelling, with gray trimmings, rising from a rectangular platform, on piles, and having a bronze-colored pyramidal roof, surmounted by a gray cylindrical lantern with bronze-colored roof. A small one-story projection, for the fog signal, is on the westerly side, and a one-story annex on the easterly side of the dwelling." The fog signal was a "Daboll trumpet; blasts 3 seconds, alternate silent intervals 3 and 23 seconds".

The 1909 U.S. Coast Pilot lists the Lighthouse as "White, octagonal, one-and-one-half story dwelling, with gray-green trimmings, rising from a rectangular platform, on piles; bronze-colored, pyramidal roof; gray-green, cylindrical lantern with bronze-colored roof; small, one-story projection, for the fog signal, on westerly side, and one-story annex on the easterly side of dwelling". The fog signal was a "3d-class Daboll trumpet; blasts 2 sec., slient intervals alternately 3 and 23 sec".

The Desdemona Sands Lighthouse was de-activated in 1934 and dismantled in 1945. The fourth-order bulls-eye Fresnel lens now resides in the museum at the Mukilteo Light Station in Puget Sound.

Desdemona Sands Light ...
The 1942 U.S. Coast Pilot gives the following description of the Desdemona Sands Light:

"... About a mile eastward of Sand Island and the end of Clatsop Spit, the channel is divided by the shoal, Desdemona Sands. Desdemona Sands Light is shown from a white pyramidal tower on white piles on the western end of the shoal. The light is 36 feet above water, and visible 11 miles. A fog signal is sounded on an air diaphragm horn. ..."

Desdemona Sands Light (CORIE) ...
Between October 1997 and 2007 (???), CORIE (a pilot environmental observation and forecasting system run by the OGI School of Science and Engineering of the Oregon Health & Science University) had maintained a fixed light called "Desdemona Sands Light" (Station DMN03) off the Point Adams coast at location is 46.23N, 123.96W.

Buoys ...
(to come)

Image, 2011, Buoy, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Buoy 21 with Sea Lions, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, Oregon, downstream from the Desdemona Sands. Image taken October 25, 2011.

Buoy 21 is one of many buoys which mark the northern edge of the south Columbia River navigation channel and the southern edge of the trecherous Desdemona Sands. Buoy 21 is located approximately one and 1/2 miles west of the Desdemona Sands Light.

"The Golden Age of Postcards" ...

The early 1900s was the "Golden Age of Postcards", with the "Penny Postcard" being a popular way to send greetings to family and friends. Today the Penny Postcard has become a snapshot of history.

Penny Postcard, Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, Astoria, Oregon
Click image to enlarge
Penny Postcard: Desdemona Sands Lighthouse, Columbia River, Astoria, Oregon, ca.1905. Penny Postcard: Coe Photo, undivided back, ca.1905. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...


Journey to the PacificReturn to




*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

  • CORIE website, 2006;
  • Historic Oregon Newspapers Archives, University of Oregon Libraries, 2015;
  • "The Long Beach Peninsula, Where the Columbia Meets the Pacific" 2005, Arcadia Publishing;
  • McArthur, L.A., and McArthur, L.L., 2003, Oregon Geographic Names, Oregon Historical Society Press, Portland;
  • NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2005,
  • "United States Senate's 'Report of the Superintendent of the Coast Survey showing the Progress of the Survey during the Year 1858'";
  • NOAA Office of Coast Surveys website, 2005, Historical Information;
  • Oregon "BlueBook" website, 2006;
  • University of Oregon Library Archives, 2015, "Historic Oregon Newspapers";
  • U.S. Coast Guard website, 2006;
  • Wright, E.W., (editor), 1895, Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest, Lewis & Dryden Printing Company;

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.
© 2019, Lyn Topinka, "ColumbiaRiverImages.com", All rights reserved.
Images are NOT to be downloaded from this website.
October 2015