Something we keep seeing during our 2021 RV adventure is the names of Lewis and Clark — the famed explorers that lead the Corps of Discovery Expedition from 1804 – 1806. It started in St. Louis when we took a riverboat ride on the Mississippi. The captain announced that around the bend was the Missouri River where Lewis and Clark began their famed expedition. Regrettably, we did not see the confluence because the captain promptly turned the boat around and headed back to whence we came. The riverboat captain did, however, plant a seed of curiosity.
Lewis and Clark’s expedition left its mark across the northwest United States. We have unwittingly crossed their path many times during our journey. We have walked along some of the same ground and set eyes on many of the same sights that they did. We visited historic places like the Lewis and Clark Boat Museum near where the expedition camped at St. Charles, we climbed Pompey’s Pillar along the Yellowstone River where Willian Clark scratched his name in the rock, we camped at Lewis and Clark Caverns along the Jefferson River, and there was much, much more. So…when we found ourselves near the Columbia River where Lewis and Clark first set eyes on the Pacific Ocean we had to stop for a few days and take a look around.
We camped at Bruceport County Park just south of South Bend, Washington. Located on U.S. Highway 101 atop a bluff overlooking Willapa Bay are 40 campsites. We are dry camping in a site between the trees. This will be our basecamp for the next few day while we explore the history and beauty found in this area. We did not have a site with a view of the bay, but we hiked to the beach one afternoon to get a fabulous view up close.
One morning we drove south on Highway 101 to Cape Disappointment State Park. Cape Disappointment was already named by the time Lewis and Clark arrived. A British fur trader named John Meares when sailing in 1788 and after thinking he found the rumored “Great River to the West” mistakenly concluded it was just a bay and hence gave Cape Disappointment its name. However, four years later another explorer, Robert Gray, found a channel at Cape Disappointment and navigated his ship Columbia Rediviva into the river. Gray named the river after his ship.
Captain Clark’s journal entries describes how he and a small group of men climbed Cape Disappointment in November of 1805. They climbed to the top of the peaks “…beholding with estonishment [sic]…this emence [sic] ocean.”
Today there are two lighthouses at Cape Disappointment presumably built were William Clark once stood. We visited North Head Lighthouse. Tours of the lighthouse, the keeper’s residence, and other structures have been suspended due to COVID-19, but we still walked around the grounds and viewed the structures from outside.
Of course, a gift shop was open inside one of the structures and we went in for a look. When we left to go see the lighthouse, the store keeper said for us to hold onto our hats. Little did we know that would be good advise. We walked from the keeper’s residence over a hill to the lighthouse. As we came across the rise we were suddenly greeted by a cold stiff breeze. This place lived up to its reputation as the windiest place on the West Coast. The view of the ocean was stunning. I thought of Captain Clark as I peered down at the waves crashing on the rocks below. So this is what he saw. I imagine it was a triumphant moment for the expedition after a long journey.
We drove about two mile south and found a spot away from the wind to have a picnic. The view overlooking Waikiki Beach and Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was iconic as we saw the same image on post cards, calendars, and book covers at the gift shop. Built in 1856, the lighthouse marks the mouth of the Columbia River. After lunch we walked to the beach where we kicked up the sand and ran our toes through the Pacific Ocean. Stacks of driftwood provided building material for intriguing lean-to structures we saw along the shore.
North of Cape Disappointment State Park is Long Beach. It was on this beach where one of Clark’s men shot a “buzzard of the large kind”. The buzzard with a wingspan of 9½ feet, was most certainly a condor. It was feeding on a whale carcass that washed ashore. Clark wrote in is journal on November 18, an account of the event with a description and detailed measurements of the bird.
Today Long Beach is a destination for fun and relaxation. Beach houses, condominiums, shops and restaurants line the main street. Though it is not the kind of beach for swimming due to the treacherous currents, there is still lots of fun to be had. Popular beach activities include kite flying, bike riding, walking, running, picnics, sunbathing, horseback riding, watching the sunset, evening bonfires, and beach driving. That ‘s right, with the proper vehicle it is possible to drive the longest drivable beach in the world. So without hesitation we shifted the truck into four-wheel drive and headed for the sand. Driving down the beach, it was possible to get away from the crowd. We found a spot to ourselves and stopped to walk around, but that didn’t last long. The sea breeze may be great for flying kites, but it had a coolness that Grammi disliked. Still we enjoyed the drive across the beach.
It was another day when we drove over the Astoria-Megler Bridge crossing the Columbia River into Oregon. We went to Fort Clatsop — the winter encampment for the Corps of Discovery from December 1805 to March 1806. A replica fort, exhibit hall, interpretive center, and documentary film theater, tell the story of life during that time. The movie was educational and informative. I especially enjoyed walking the Exhibits Trail where costumed characters demonstrated a variety of skills and eagerly answer questions.
Lewis and Clark’s supply of salt was low. Salt was an important commodity as it was used to preserve meat. On December 28, 1805, five men were sent from Fort Clatsop to search for a good location to make salt. The sea around the Columbia River, where the fort was built, was not salty enough due to the outflow of fresh water. A location further away was needed. It is believed a site at the present day location of Seaside, Oregon, 15 miles to the south, is where the men built a stone oven to boil seawater. They worked continuously boiling seawater until February 20 when they returned with four bushels of salt. We visited the site of the Salt Works, which is part of the national historical park, to see a replica of an oven used by Lewis and Clark’s men. It was informative, but anticlimactic, as there was not much to see other than the stone stacked oven.
After seeing the Salt Works, we continued south to Tolovana Park at Cannon Beach to see Haystack Rock — one of Oregon’s most recognizable landmarks. This is near where the Corps of Discovery bartered with the Killamucks to purchase 300 pounds of whale blubber that the men had acquired a taste for. It was noted in their journal that they paid a very high price.
We took our chairs to the beach and sat for a while admiring the view of the big rock. Soon a thick soupy sea fog rolled in. It didn’t take long before our view was completely obscured and the light of day was diminished. It was a surreal experience.
It was yet another day when we headed north for a drive along Highway 105 when we saw a sign for Tokeland. It sounded like an interesting place so on a whim we made the turn to check it out. Tokeland, located on the north shore of Wallapa Bay, is a small village of less than 200 people named after a nineteenth century Indian Chief. It’s home to the Tokeland Hotel built in 1885 that claims to be the oldest hotel in Washington State. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. There is an RV park. There is also a marina for commercial and private mooring, a boat ramp, and public fishing pier. We found a little seafood market called Nelson Crab Inc. where I bought a couple small pieces of smoked salmon. Grammi and I walked around the docks while sampling the salmon and we both raved that it was very good. We had to buy some more before we continued down the road.
Next we drove to the marina district of Westport, Washington, home of a large fishing fleet, for a failed attempt to dine on fresh caught seafood. We were told, “I am sorry, but the fishing fleet does not sell to the local restaurants.” That was disappointing. It is possible, however, to buy fresh seafood on the dock at Seafood Connection, but they don’t cook it or serve it. Since we had no plans to return to the camper until later in the day, we didn’t buy any fresh caught fish. We did have lunch at a local restaurant anyway. The seafood was previously frozen and it certainly wasn’t anything to write home about.
Regardless of our disappointing dining experience, we still enjoyed visiting the docks and watching all the activities. It was a working dock with boats unloading their catch, forklifts buzzing around moving containers, and inspectors wearing hardhats with clipboards in hand. It was a busy place and I really liked the vibe I was feeling being so close to the action.
At the end of one of the docks was a gift shop — a novel place for a gift shop that beckoned us to check it out. Being very careful not to get run over by a forklift, we walked pass crab traps stacked high and a semi-truck that had backed down on the dock. The smell was…well, the smell was fishy. We manage to find a safe path and Grammi looked around inside the shop. She decided there wasn’t anything she couldn’t live without, so we move on. Thank goodness for that.
Located in town at the end of the main shopping area is an observation tower. We climbed the stairs to the top for a panoramic view of Westport, Grays Harbor and the Pacific Ocean. (Incidentally, Grays Harbor was named after the harbor’s discoverer Robert Gray who I mentioned earlier for also discovering the Columbia River.) Then we walked out on the jetty and talked with some of the local fishermen.They proudly showed their catch of Dungeness crabs stashed in a five gallon bucket. We saw hundreds of seabirds and we even saw a seal swim pass. A constant procession of boats moved in and out of the marina.
Also located in Westport is Washington State’s tallest lighthouse — Grays Harbor Lighthouse at 107 feet. The lighthouse has served as a navigational landmark for Grays Harbor since 1898. We could not leave town before checking it out. The lighthouse tours are operating under modified hours during these COVID times. It’s only open Friday through Sunday with limited numbers for climbs to the top. It is recommend you call to schedule a climb in advance, which, of course, we didn’t. The lighthouse was not open for tours so our visit was short. We took a few picture from the outside then moved along.
The Corp of Discovery was a big deal in its day. Much has been written about their expedition. The names of Lewis and Clark are forever a part of our country’s history. Getting close to that history the past few months has inspired me to learn more. I read Meriwether Lewis‘ journal some years ago. I intend to read it again, along with William Clark’s journal and other accounts. That’s one of the things that makes travel exciting — learning about history.
We have spent some time recently trying to figure out where we go from here. We thought we would go further south into Oregon — see more of the coast and maybe go to Bend. That’s not worked out. It is a popular area and finding an available campsite at this time of year is next to impossible. So we are turning east. We loved our time in Washington. It is a magnificent place. The good Lord willing, we will be back one day.
Until next time — happy days and safe travels.