Monday, May 23, 2011

Cape Disappointment

Last weekend, I had a whole two days entirely to myself.  Roger was in China, and Cody was visiting friends in Montana.  What to do?  So many possibilities!  Since I always find myself heading east towards the mountains or the Gorge, I decided to mix things up a bit and head west.  Even though I live an hour's drive from the coast, I hardly ever go there.  I was overdue for a visit.  It was high time to explore the ocean beaches!

North Head Lighthouse

A coworker told me about the Long Beach Peninsula of the Washington Coast.  He said it was out of the way just enough to discourage the crowds of people that usually swarm to the Oregon beaches.  In all the years I've lived in the northwest, this was one place I'd never been.  So on Saturday, I packed up the dog in the car, and headed west to check it out.

Looking out towards the sea

The Long Beach Peninsula is located on the very southern Washington coast, just across the Columbia River from Astoria, Oregon.  The peninsula itself is a 28-mile long strip of wave-packed sand.  On the very south end of this feature lie the rocky headlands of Cape Disappointment.  Cape Disappointment is a cliff-edged promontory located at the point where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean.  It was named in 1788 by English explorer Captain John Meares, who in seeking the Columbia River wrote of missing the passage over the bar, and in his discouragement named the nearby headland Cape Disappointment.

The weather-beaten lighthouse walls

This area is rich in history.  Lewis and Clark arrived at Cape Disappointment in November 1805 and noted in their journals their astonishment at the high waves dashing against the rocks.  Later, when ships began to visit the area, the high waves and treacherous river bar created what seaman came to call "The Graveyard of the Pacific" at the mouth of the Columbia.  Hundreds of ships and lives were lost at sea here.  To protect the mouth of the Columbia River from enemies, a fort was established on Cape Disappointment in 1862.

Auxiliary buildings on the lighthouse grounds

So off I drove, excited to explore a new locale.  I felt a little like Lewis and Clark - except instead of a canoe, I had a Subaru!  I waded through Saturday traffic on Hwy 101 between Seaside and Astoria.  And then, up ahead, I spied the Astoria Bridge.  This bridge spans the mouth of the Columbia River, and is four miles in length.  To allow for ships to pass underneath, the bridge rises up dramatically on the Astoria side, to provide 196 feet of clearance at high tide.  Once past the designated shipping channel, the bridge dives back down closer to the waters of the river.  It's quite an impressive structure, and one I had never crossed - until today!

Ocean view below the lighthouse

I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous as I drove up the structure's circular entrance ramp.  That bridge was really high up!  On the very top, I couldn't make myself look over the side, and instead just concentrated my gaze straight ahead.  After passing the high point, the pavement dived back down rather steeply, and the engineer in me wondered "what is the grade of this road?"  Once safely on the lower portion of the bridge, I was able to relax and take in the scenery around me.  But all I could see was water - and lots of it.

If these walls could talk...

I finally made it to the other side of the river, and followed the signs through the town of Ilwaco to Cape Disappointment State Park.  The first stop on my tour was the North Head Lighthouse.

The North Head Lighthouse went into operation on May 16, 1898.  A lighthouse constructed earlier on Cape Disappointment was not enough to prevent shipwrecks.  Ships traveling from the north could not see Cape Disappointment's light, so this lighthouse was built two miles to the north. 

Lighthouse keepers homes - nicely restored

I love visiting and photographing lighthouses, and was pleased with North Head.  It had a cute white tower with a red top.  The building was situated on a dramatic headland that jutted out into the sea.  It was a cloudy day, so the views weren't as nice, but it was still mighty impressive.  I chatted briefly with a very friendly woman volunteer, who offered to hold Bear's leash if I wanted to go inside and look around.  I declined, and instead roamed around the grounds shooting tons of photos. 

Love the top sign!

That day happened to be the 113th birthday celebration of the North Head lighthouse.  Back at the gift shop, a group dedicated to preserving the lighthouse was holding a party, complete with cake and punch.  The group was trying to raise money to preserve the lighthouse, which was looking rather worn and weather-beaten.  However, the nearby lighthouse keeper's homes seemed to be in excellent repair.  I was curious why these buildings looked so good while the lighthouse was so shabby. One of the volunteers explained that the keeper's houses are used as vacation rentals.  What a great idea - those homes would be a cool place to spend a weekend!

Dead Man's Cove

After getting my lighthouse fix at North Head, I was ready to see more.  I drove south and decided to check out the other lighthouse at Cape Disappointment.  From the parking lot, a short but steep trail took me up to the rocky headland.  On the way, I passed by a narrow inlet named "Dead Man's Cove."  Sounds like something you'd see in a pirate movie doesn't it?  Apparently this cove was named after casualties from a shipwreck washed ashore on its beaches.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

Bear and I trudged up the final hill to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse.  And I hate to say it, but this lighthouse was, well - a disappointment.  There were a bunch of ugly radio towers next to the building.  There wasn't much room to walk around at the base, so it was hard to get photographs of the entire scene.  The lighthouse tower itself was not open to the public, so all I could do was peek through the windows.  There were no volunteers on hand to answer questions.  And the lighthouse itself was not as pretty as the one at North Head.

View towards the mouth of the Columbia River

So I didn't linger long at Cape Disappointment.  I shot a couple of photos, and took in the views.  The one nice view was looking south towards the mouth of the Columbia River and the jetties.  Such an enormously wide body of water!  I can't believe that Lewis and Clark crossed it using only canoes.

Busted sand fence at Benson Beach

Bear had been a very patient doggie, following me around on my lighthouse explorations.  But he was getting antsy, and needed to romp on a wide, sandy beach.  We jumped back in the car, in search of such an area.  I followed the signs to Benson Beach, arriving at a sand-drifted parking lot.  Bear happily bounded out, frisbee in his mouth.  We walked through the sand dunes onto a deserted beach.  Broken sand fences and driftwood littered the area.  It wasn't a very pretty place, but to Bear it was wonderful.

Time for frisbee!

I tossed the frisbee into the wind, and Bear ran and ran.  The soft sand was difficult to run through, and it didn't take long before Bear was tuckered out.  I shot a few photos of the dunes and the broken fences, but the dreary cloudy light didn't make for spectacular conditions.  We headed back to the car, where I dumped a ton of sand out of my shoes, and brushed off Bear as best I could.  Bear curled up in the back of my car, ready for a snooze on the ride home.

Cape Disappointment from the beach

Before I pointed my car towards home, I made one final stop at Waikiki Beach.  From the beach was a great view the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, perched atop its headland.  I shot some photos of the rocky cliffs with the green hillsides.  I wish it would've been a sunny day for better photos, but today I had to take what I could get.  This photo doesn't do justice to such a wonderful scene.

Although I didn't see any nice beaches, it was still fun to tour a couple of lighthouses, and learn a little history.  It was a nice change of scenery to visit the ocean instead of the mountains.  I've "discovered" a new place on the Washington coast!


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