Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"North Head, Cape Disappointment, Washington"
Includes ... North Head ... North Head Lighthouse ... The Golden Age of Postcards ... Views from North Head ...
Image, 2005, North Head Lighthouse, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
North Head Lighthouse. Image taken April 19, 2005.

North Head ...
North Head is the end of a Columbia River Basalt lava flow which reached the Pacific Ocean. It is located two miles north of Cape Disappointment. North Head has a good view of McKenzie Head, a spot where Captain Clark set up camp on November 18, 1805. North of North Head is Beards Hollow, quite possibly the spot where Captain Lewis overlooked to view the Pacific for the first time.

Image, 2005, Pacific Ocean from trail to North Head, at Beards Hollow Overlook, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Pacific Ocean as seen from the trail to North Head. Image taken April 19, 2005.

Columbia River Lighthouses ...
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]

North Head Lighthouse ...
It soon became apparent that a second lighthouse at the mouth of the Columbia River was needed since ships coming from the North could not see the light from the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. The North Head Lighthouse, built two miles north of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, went into operation on May 16, 1898.

From the 1942 "Coast Pilot":

"... North Head Light is shown from a white conical tower on the western point of North Head. The light is 194 feet above the water, and visible 20 miles. The light is obscured east of 181o. Near the light there is a United States Weather Bureau storm-warning display station, with telegraph and telphone to Astoria and Portland, and equiped with international code signals for reporting vessels and receiving messages. From the southward, Cape Disappointment shows as three low knobs, separated by low flat ridges. North Head Light shows on the western slope of the western knob. Cape Disappointment Light shows on the western slope of the eastern knob. ..."

The lighthouse is 65 feet tall and sits on solid basalt more than 190 feet above sea level.

Views ...

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

North Head, etc.

  • 1889 "Coast Pilot" ...
  • Views from North Head ...

1889 "Coast Pilot" ...
From the 1889 United State Coast and Geodetic Survey, Pacific Coast. Coast Pilot of California, Oregon, and Washington. by George Davidson, Assistant U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. Fourth Edition:

"... North Head is the extreme western knob of the Cape. The seaward face is a precipitous rocky cliff behind which is a narrow area of grass-covered surface, and then the firs cover the higher ground which rises to two hundred and seventy feet. This is the part of the Cape which first rises above the horizon and it is about half a mile in extent. The seaward cliffs are very jagged and the base bordered by small rocky masses. This part of the Cape cuts of the arc of visibility of the Light, and there is no doubt that for a sea-coast light the Light-house should have been placed at this point. In its present position it was intended to do duty for the river also. ..."

The North Head Lighthouse had not been built yet, and the "Light" referred to in the above passage is the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

Views from North Head ...
Great views of the Pacific Ocean are to be had from North Head, including a spectacular view of McKenzie Head, the location of Captain Clark's campsite for November 18, 1805.

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

"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, North Head Lighthouse, ca.1908 Penny Postcard: North Head Lighthouse, ca.1910. Penny Postcard, ca.1910, "North Head Light House, at entrance to Columbia River.". Published by Portland Post Card Company, Portland, Oregon. Card #1028. In the private collection of Lyn Topinka.

From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

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. ...

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

  • U.S. Coast Guard website, 2004;
  • U.S. National Park Service website, 2004, Fort Clatsop National Memorial;
  • Washington State Historical Society website, 2004, "Lasting Legacy";
  • Washington State Parks and Recreation website, 2004;

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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Images are NOT to be downloaded from this website.
September 2008