Cape Disappointment Is Dense With History

Most places have some sort of interesting history, Cape Disappointment is incredibly rich in history and has far more than its fair share.

Cape Disappointment and the Corp of Discovery

I’ve been coming out to Cape Disappointment for as long as I’ve lived here in the Pacific Northwest which is over thirty years now. It wasn’t until my most recent visit that it sort of hit me just how much history this one dot on the map actually hosts. Capt. Robert GrayCapt. CookCapt. Vancouver and John Jacob Astor are just some of the historical figures that have links to this area.

But probably the most significant, or at least recognizable, is the 1805 visit by the Corp of Discovery. They had already been on the trail for a year and a half but reaching their objective, the Pacific Ocean, was no easier even if they were only a stone’s throw away.

Landing at the highest spot they could find on the northern (Washington) side of the Columbia River estuary, they established what they called “Station Camp.” The site is commemorated by Lewis and Clark Campsite State Park, a tiny roadside attraction two miles southeast of what is now the town of Chinook, on U.S. Route 101. The location of the actual campsite is a matter of conjecture since the shoreline has shifted by several hundred feet since Lewis and Clark passed through.

The Corps spent 10 days at Station Camp — their longest encampment in what is now Washington state — exploring, hunting, and visiting with the Chinook and Clatsop Indians who came to inspect and trade with the newcomers.

At the cape, one of the men killed a “remarkably large buzzard” that had been feeding on the remains of a whale. This was a California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus), a carrion bird with a wingspan of more than nine feet (compared to five feet for the bald eagle). Condors, now an endangered species, were common on the shores of the Columbia until the mid-nineteenth century. The Port of Ilwaco commemorates the event with a life-size sculpture of the California Condor.

Cape Disappointment State Park also has a very informative Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center that is a must-see if you’re in the area. The center stands high on a 200’ cliff above the pounding Pacific surf. A series of mural-sized timeline panels guide visitors through the westward journey of using sketches, paintings, photographs, and the words of Corps members themselves.

timber tracking

The Timber Tracking Project, was originally all set to go forward this spring, but we all know what happened instead; collecting was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, permits have been cleared for this summer and we’ll be out sampling practicing the best kind of social distancing. Now it’s all about looking at topo maps and choosing collection zones. Follow our updates from the field on twitter.

Columbia River and the United States Exploring Expedition

Far less known to today’s public but no less significant with the United States Exploring Expedition and it’s scandalous leader Capt. Charles Wilkes.

The expedition was shaped by both commercial and scientific concerns and a desire to expand American influence and interests in the Pacific Northwest. Secretary of the Navy James Paulding wanted “to extend the bounds of science, and promote the acquisition of knowledge.”

However, it can be argued that concerns in Congress about British hegemony in the Pacific Northwest helped to shape what historian Philip Lundeberg called “the Expedition’s most significant geopolitical undertaking, a comprehensive survey of the Oregon territory, extending from the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Columbia River valley.” This show of force was to let all know that the US intended to claim and settle the Pacific Northwest.

On April 28, 1841, Wilkes arrived off the Columbia River bar but was unable to cross because of hazardous conditions. He proceeded to Puget Sound and Fort Nisqually. His negative impression of the accessibility of the river to a possible port (“Mere description can give little idea of the terrors of the bar of the Columbia”) was reinforced by the later loss of the USS Peacock on the bar on July 18, 1841.

Most places have some sort of interesting history, Cape Disappointment is incredibly rich in history and has far more than its fair share.

Member of the following

We are the learned society for geography and geographers.
as-seal-gr
Working to provide opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts to make a difference as they play in the outdoors.
coasst-logo
Working to translate long-term monitoring into effective marine conservation solutions.
Sea Grant Washington
Provide integrated research, communication, and education to coastal communities that lead to the responsible use of the nation’s oceans.

Latest Instagram

Went riding on the Whitehorse trail today. Beautiful scenery between Darrington and Oso. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #explore #hike #cascadiaexplored #pnwonderland #northcascadesnationalpark #pnwcollective #seattle #pnwdiscovered #diablolake #hiking #optoutside #nature #naturephotography #cascades #travel #washington #adventure #pacificnorthwest #washingtonexplored #washingtonstate #explorewashington #thatpnwlife #upperleftusa #pnw #pnwadventures #mountains #pnwlife #nationalpark #wanderlust #backpacking ...

Good day of exploring. Found some waterfalls and an incredible historic fire watch tower. More photos to follow. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #explore #hike #cascadiaexplored #pnwonderland #northcascadesnationalpark #pnwcollective #seattle #pnwdiscovered #diablolake #hiking #optoutside #nature #naturephotography #cascades #travel #washington #adventure #pacificnorthwest #washingtonexplored #washingtonstate #explorewashington #thatpnwlife #upperleftusa #pnw #pnwadventures #mountains #pnwlife #nationalpark #wanderlust #backpacking ...

Basecamp for the next 4 days while we explore the North Cascades. We’re just outside Oso Washington. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #seattle #camping #pnwcollective ...

South Puget Sound on a summers day. Headed to Anderson Island with our Rad bikes today. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #andersonisland #camping #pnwcollective ...

Looking forward to heading out to the north cascade mountain range soon. I've only once made a trip into that area and I don't have much experience up there. If anyone has any 'must-see' suggestions would love to hear them. ⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #pnwonderland #pnw #thenwadventure #upperleftusa #pnwdiscovered #cascadiaexplored #pnwparadise #optoutside #wildernessculture #wanderwashington #pacificnorthwest #pnwlife #nature #keepitwild #pnwphotographer #lifeofadventure #exploretocreate #beautifuldestinations #hikingadventures #wanderlust #thatpnwlife #explorewashington #roamtheplanet #thegreatpnw #photooftheday #washingtonexplored @washingtondiscovered @nextstop24 #nextstop24traveler #northcascades ...

With everything turned upside down it’s nice to have a beach to relax on and let the waves carry your worries away. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #seattle #camping #pnwcollective ...

Felt good to be out in the field doing our #COASST beached bird survey again. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to resume our fieldwork. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #findyourpark #purewyoming #sunset_madness #sunsets #sky #northcascades #sunset_ig #sunriseporn #sunsethunter #sunset_stream #landscape #rockymountains #ig #sky_captures #landscapephotography #dontgochasingwaterfalls #peakbagging #pnw #sunrises #wanderwashington #sunrise #mtrainier #ig_sunset #sunset_vision #sunrise_pics #olympicnationalpark #oregonstateparks #explorewashington #nature ...

Theresa making her way out to Ketron Island. It has been a while since we pulled the kayaks out but this seemed the best way to social distance.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #pnwonderland #pnw #thenwadventure #upperleftusa #pnwdiscovered #cascadiaexplored #pnwparadise #optoutside #wildernessculture #wanderwashington #pacificnorthwest #pnwlife #nature #keepitwild #pnwphotographer #lifeofadventure #exploretocreate #beautifuldestinations #hikingadventures #wanderlust #thatpnwlife #explorewashington #roamtheplanet #thegreatpnw #photooftheday #washingtonexplored @washingtondiscovered @nextstop24 #nextstop24traveler #WildOlympics #wastateparks ...

Finally got the kayaks down, cleaned up and out on the water today. Here’s an old State Ferry someone bought and towed to Ketron Island. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #seattle #camping #pnwcollective ...

The historic High Rock tower with Mt. Rainier in the background. It's a bit of a climb but well worth the effort. ⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #pnwonderland #pnw #thenwadventure #upperleftusa #pnwdiscovered #cascadiaexplored #pnwparadise #optoutside #wildernessculture #wanderwashington #pacificnorthwest #pnwlife #nature #keepitwild #pnwphotographer #lifeofadventure #exploretocreate #beautifuldestinations #hikingadventures #wanderlust #thatpnwlife #explorewashington #roamtheplanet #thegreatpnw #photooftheday #washingtonexplored @washingtondiscovered @nextstop24 #nextstop24traveler ...

Looking across Alder Lake from the trail leading through Elbe Hills State Forest. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #pdx #thatpnwlife #pnwcollective #explore #pnw #pnwdiscovered #cascadiaexplored #nature #bestoforegon #oregonexplored #seattle #photography #pacificnorthwest #optoutside #oregon #travel #hiking #portland #neverstopexploring #upperleftusa #wildernessculture #naturephotography #washingtonstate #pnwonderland #washington #adventure #pnwlife #wanderlust #getoutside #northwestisbest ...

The view from Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainier National Park. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #findyourpark #purewyoming #sunset_madness #sunsets #sky #northcascades #sunset_ig #sunriseporn #sunsethunter #sunset_stream #landscape #rockymountains #ig #sky_captures #landscapephotography #dontgochasingwaterfalls #peakbagging #pnw #sunrises #wanderwashington #sunrise #mtrainier #ig_sunset #sunset_vision #sunrise_pics #olympicnationalpark #oregonstateparks #explorewashington #nature #sunset ...

Here’s a close up of this wonderful step waterfall we found just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park over the weekend. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #seattle #camping #pnwcollective ...

Found this beautiful creek on a logging road just outside of Mt. Rainier National Park yesterday. Heading back to do a bit more exploring today. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #karanjohar #pnwisbest #pnwlife #nature #tiktok #columbiarivergorge #cascadiaexplored #funnyshit #optoutside #naturephotography #bendoregon #hiking #pnwonderland #oregon #outdoors #explore #thatpnwlife #pnwwonderland #washington #mountains #pacnw #pacificnw #upperleftusa #pacificnorthwest #washingtonstate #oregoncoast #centraloregon #seattle #camping #pnwcollective ...

Sunrise over Mt. Rainier seen from Blake Island. We’ll be heading to the park this weekend to see how things are faring with its recent closure. ⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ .⁣⠀ #findyourpark #purewyoming #sunset_madness #sunsets #sky #northcascades #sunset_ig #sunriseporn #sunsethunter #sunset_stream #landscape #rockymountains #ig #sky_captures #landscapephotography #dontgochasingwaterfalls #peakbagging #pnw #sunrises #wanderwashington #sunrise #mtrainier #ig_sunset #sunset_vision #sunrise_pics #olympicnationalpark #oregonstateparks #explorewashington #nature #sunset ...

Theresa taking a moment to enjoy the sunset over Deception Pass.⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ .⠀ #pnwonderland #pnw #thenwadventure #upperleftusa #pnwdiscovered #cascadiaexplored #pnwparadise #optoutside #wildernessculture #wanderwashington #pacificnorthwest #pnwlife #nature #keepitwild #pnwphotographer #lifeofadventure #exploretocreate #beautifuldestinations #hikingadventures #wanderlust #thatpnwlife #explorewashington #roamtheplanet #thegreatpnw #photooftheday #washingtonexplored @washingtondiscovered @nextstop24 #nextstop24travele ...

The list of accomplishments of the expedition while in this area is long and impressive but perhaps it has taken a back seat in the history books due to the scandal revolving around Capt. Wilkes and his leadership. Accusations by Wilkes of incompetence and contempt against several junior officers led to countercharges against Wilkes. A court-martial resulted in a reprimand of Wilkes on a charge of illegal punishment.

As we road portions of the Discovery Corp trail on our Rad Power Bikes, reading commemorative signs posted along the way, the historian in me reeled trying to grasp that such a small area could have so much history. Ghosts are everywhere.

Further Reading

There are a couple of books I can recommend for anyone who would like to dive deeper in these two historical expeditions; Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West: Meriwether Lewis Thomas Jefferson and the Opening by Stephen Ambrose. Both are excellent reads.

Please share this:

More to explore

Jefferson Lake
Journal

Round 2 with Rocky

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on Rocky Brook Falls while out with friends. We spent a fair amount of time photographing the Rocky Brook Falls but I wasn’t feeling satisfied.

Read More »
Journal

Driving Hurricane Ridge

Okay, this might be a slight exaggeration when I compare the Obstruction Point drive to Bolivia’s death road, but not by much. Or at least, not in some sections where you have a drop of hundreds of feet with no room to pass an oncoming car. Just ask my passengers!

Read More »

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.