Friends and family are a blessing to be sure. Without them I think life would be rather hollow. But having them visit back to back right in the middle of some of the best Pacific Northwest camping season was starting to feel a bit claustrophobic. What better way to shake off the dust then to head down to Cape Disappointment and it’s two iconic lighthouses!

Lighthouses; Not 1 But 2

One of the unusual things you’ll notice when you arrive in this area, is that there are two lighthouse in walking distance from each other. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, which was built first at the entrance to the Columbia River, and the North Head Lighthouse just to the north of the river entrance.

North Head Lighthouse was built to provide an aide to navigation for ships approaching from the north. Those ships could not see Cape Disappointment lighthouse, two miles to the south, in time to safely enter the Columbia River channel.

Construction began on North Head lighthouse in 1897 and it was completed and lit on May 16, 1898. In addition to the tower housing the Fresnel 1st Order Lens, workers built two oil houses just to the east of the lighthouse. A keeper’s residence, a duplex to house two assistant keepers, a barn, and outbuildings were also constructed at that time. All of the original buildings are still located on site and the residency can be rented through the Park Service.

Just to the south and preceding the North Head Light is the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. For those curious, the Cape has had many different names from European explorers but the one that stuck was given to the Cape by Capt. John Meares after vainly trying to seek shelter from a turbulent sea on July 6, 1788, Meares wrote, “Disappointment continued to accompany us…we can safely exert that no river San Rogue exists.”

The light was first lit on October 15th, 1856. The brick tower at Cape Disappointment stands fifty-three feet tall, has a focal plane of 220 feet above the sea, and tapers from a diameter of fourteen feet four inches at its base to ten feet six inches at the lantern room. The station was also supplied with a 1,600-pound fog bell, but it was found to have little value due to the roar of the surf and the distance at which mariners needed to hear it.

These two sentinels have been guiding mariners ever since.

Cape Disappointment State Park

We pulled into our assigned campsite just as the last light faded from the western horizon. I had a bit of inner conflict going on; felt like we had made good time on the road but now we had somehow lost time and were behind with setting up camp. Then it dawned on me that yes, the days have shortened and I needed to shift into ‘winter’ mode. Of course, the upside is short days make it much easier to guiltlessly sleep in. Can’t shoot a sunrise if the sun is up!

The weather was surprisingly cooperative during the day allowing us to get multiple shots and filming done. We took the trail from the campground up to the North Head Lighthouse. Beautiful hike. Along the way there are reader boards describing the activity of when Lewis & Clark were in the area. Standing atop of a ridge overlooking the beach and Pacific, it didn’t take much imagination to see it through their eyes.

As far as the weather cooperating goes, Saturday night was a different matter altogether. Heavy gale force winds and rainfall made us really appreciate having a warm snug camping trailer to hold up in. Why was I stubborn for so long?

Sunday morning was picture perfect and we delayed our departure for as long as we could. This back and forth weather pattern is what we can expect for the next few weeks, but it’s that yin yang that makes the Northwest so special.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Pacific North Wanderers

    Another great write up! It’s crazy to think of all the amount of work that went into constructing and operating lighthouses back in the day.

    We may be making a day trip back down that way this Sunday to show some visiting family. It’s such a wonderful park!

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