Cape Disappointment on the Long Beach Peninsula in the state of Washington was Lewis and Clark’s glorious end to their mission to find the Pacific Ocean. Thomas Jefferson provided a simple order to the Lewis and Clark Discovery Expedition, “”The object of your mission … The Pacific Ocean.” The party left St. Louis and traveled a route than even today is quite a journey. The mission was to locate the inland route to the unchartered land between St. Louis and the Northwest coastline. In these times of uncertainty it is an historical reference point of who we are and why we are proud to be citizens of the United States.
The journey of Lewis and Clark took the party of explorers into some of the toughest terrain in the United States. Lewis and Clark were not mountain men or super strength human beings. They were guided by the quest for discovery. Their tools and equipment were primitive by todays standards. Their ability to gain alliances with Native Americans, analyze the work of their predecessors and seek input from their members made the difference between success and failure of the mission.
The Discovery Party left Camp Dubois in 1803 and ended in the late Fall of 1805 on the rocky coast of Oregon and Washington. The decision to take a vote among the members of the Discovery Party to stay the Winter at Fort Clatsop probably saved the entire mission from perishing in the Bitterroot Mountains.
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Their first glimpse of the mighty Columbia River flowing into the Pacific Ocean took place at Cape Disappointment. The name Cape Disappointment had been assigned to the area because of the numerous ship wrecks along this point. There is a moving sand bar at the mouth of the Columbia River and many seafaring vessels and sailors met their watery grave on this rugged coast. Lewis and Clark heard and read about the spot from seafaring captains. A British sea captain named the Columbia River after his ship and also gave the rocky cape its name Cape Disappointment.
The wild life and fish were abundant on the rocky coast of Oregon and Washington. The assistance of the Native American tribes in the area was invaluable. Sacajawea did in fact make the difference between perishing along the route or surviving. During that long winter she and another scout found a beached whale along the Oregon coast near Seaside, Oregon. A monument sits on the beach commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition in Seaside. Seaside, Oregon is a charming and interesting sea village that has excellent food and shops.
If you travel up the coast going North on 101 you will find the Long Beach Peninsula in the state of Washington. The weather is refreshing and cool. The temperatures are moderate and the foliage is green. A light rain falls nearly every day and the Summer is cool and gentle. The Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment is beyond description. It is near the town of Ilwaco. There are plenty of signs and everyone in Ilwaco is friendly and helpful.
The road is winding and filled with ferns and beautiful native flowers in every color of the spectrum. At the very top is the Cape Disappointment Interpretive Center. There is an exhibit at the center. I would recommend anyone who visits the area to take in the exquisite state of Washington tour. On the top floor you can sit and look at the Pacific Ocean and see the Columbia River flow into the mighty ocean.
On the pathway in front of the Interpretive Center visitors can walk along the beautifully maintained walk ways and look out to the Pacific Ocean, The Cape Disappointment Light House and the beautiful Waikiki Beach. Standing on the top of the this most Western section of land of the United States is awesome. One can only imagine the excitement of the Lewis and Clark Party when they caught a glimpse of this magnificent sight. Today, some 200 years later it stands as an achievement of the American Spirit. A phenomenal challenge that was accomplished by a small band of Americans with a vision and tenacity.
As you stand on this edifice of America at its best the simple challenges of maintaining these wonders and seeking alliances across the Pacific Ocean seem small in comparison to the incredible task that confronted our forefathers. The view high atop Cape Disappointment is anything but disappointing it is the challenge of a vision for tomorrow. The view stretches the imagination and shows how truly small we all are. All we have to do is not wreck the place and seek alliances for the continuation of this vision of discovery. The state of Washington and Oregon and its people are great stewards of who we are and the phenomenal challenges of how we got here.