The Graveyard of the Pacific

It is hard to believe as I sit here at this most beautiful, peaceful place on earth, that thousands of ships have met their doom right here in what is part, of the Graveyard of the Pacific. The Pacific Ocean, from the tip of Vancouver  Island, Canada, to Tillamook Bay, Oregon, is one of the most unpredictable and dangerous shows of the power of mother nature, yet here I sit in amazement of it’s beauty and quiet calm. Our trip this week took us to Cape Disappointment State Park which is a park full of nature, history, and a quiet beauty that you can get nowhere else on earth. John Mears, a British Fur Trader, dubbed this place Cape Disappointment in 1788 when he failed to find the Columbia River. Little did he know had he just gone around one more bend he would’ve been in it. Cape Disappointment just doesn’t fit this place. I think it should have been named Cape Spectacular because spectacular is what I see all around me.

We arrived here on a Thursday afternoon after a 4 and a half hour drive. This was the first day of summer for the kids as classes were out on Wednesday. Normally this would be a trip just out of reach for a weekend getaway, but now we had 5 days to explore this fantastic park. We were pleasantly surprised by the size of our campsite. The photos we saw when making the reservations made  it look a lot smaller than it was. It was a small site but we had quite enough room to be comfortable, have a fire, and as a bonus  have privacy due to the thick grass and trees around the site. The only thing we were limited in was putting out our awning because one very large tree branch prevented us from extending it all the way. After getting settled in we took the short walk to the beach, and short it was. We now know why some of the ocean loops are closed in the winter as they are right there just out of reach of the waves. The scenery from the beach was incredible and we decided that next time we are determined to get a spot in that loop so we could soak it all in from our trailer.

The weather forecast was gloomy for our 5 day excursion but we ended up being pleasantly surprised. After spending this past spring break for a week in the rain at Grayland Beach State Park, I was really wanting some sunshine and boy did we get it. The weather could not have been more perfect. We took advantage of it and headed out to take in some sights. Our first stop was Fort Columbia, a short drive from the park. Fort Columbia was built in 1896 as part of the Columbia River Defense Network, along with Fort Canby and Fort Stevens across the river in Oregon. Fort Columbia was an active fort until it was decommissioned in 1947 after World War 2. Several of the buildings still remain, including the Barracks and officers quarters. There are also 2 gun batteries with the 6 inch cannons pointing towards the mouth of the Columbia. There are only 6 of these Cannons in the world, 2 of which are right here at Fort Columbia. Looking around it seemed this was not a bad place to be stationed as the views were incredible.

Our next stop of the day took us to the nearby town of Ilwaco. Ilwaco was named for the son of a Chinook Indian Chief, Elowahka Jim. Ilwaco was established as a town in 1876 and became a popular port among salmon fisherman. It was also home to the Ilwaco Railway and Navigation Company Train, which was a small local railroad only running from one end of the Long Beach Peninsula to the other. For a town rich in history such as this one we were a bit disappointed to see the state of things in town. We went there to grab some lunch and found that only 1 restaurant was open. It was a Friday afternoon but Ilwaco felt more like a ghost town to me. Most of the buildings were empty or up for lease. There was a considerable amount of fishing boats there however, as this is an active port. They also host a Saturday market for local merchants where you can get handmade crafts and local produce. I imagine that fills up the town a little. We didn’t find a place to eat however and ended up taking the 10 minute drive up into Long Beach until we spotted the Lost Roo, which was a relatively inexpensive, good place to eat. I was ready to go wrangle some Kangaroos but alas they didn’t have any. We did have a really nice lunch with great service. If you’re ever in the Long Beach area I highly recommend you check it out.

Saturday was the day we set aside to explore the park. Our first stop of the day was the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. It has been renovated since I was last here as a kid, and sits in the most amazing spot, perched 200 feet on a cliff, with dead on views of the mouth of the Columbia. It was a little bit of an uphill hike to get up here but well worth the climb. The Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, finally reached the mouth of the Columbia here in November of 1805. By doing this they finally realized Thomas Jefferson’s dream of  exploring across the North American Continent. Upon reaching the ocean William Clark wrote in his journal ““we are in view of the Ocean, this great Pacific Ocean which we been So long anxious to See.”  The Interpretive Center pathway takes you through the long two year journey that started in Missouri and wound through several states, mountains, and treacherous conditions and ends with a video about the whole journey. Upstairs lies a treasure of history about why this area is dubbed the “Graveyard of the Pacific”. It has huge glass windows that overlook the river and give you an amazing views of the first lighthouse on Cape Disappointment built in 1948. This lighthouse is not open for tours but the lighthouse on the other side of the park is. The North Head lighthouse was built in 1898 after mariners complained that they could not see the lighthouse on the other side of the cape. Only 2 miles apart they both rise in splendor over the landscape. We took the short drive out to the lighthouse to take the tour. The trail to the lighthouse is 1/4 mile and it takes you right along the bluff with beautiful views. There are 2 trails, the other trail takes you by the lightkeepers house down a narrow pathway to the lighthouse. You can rent the lightkeeper’s house, and the assistant lightkeeper’s house, for a hefty price. The lighthouse was automated in 1961.  The views from the top are extraordinary. We tried to see our trailer from there but it was covered by the canopy of trees.


We stopped at Waikiki Beach on the way back into the park, one of the several beaches inside the campground. I know that we are thousands of miles from Hawaii but the beach is indeed named for the Aloha state, or rather a Hawaiian sailor who lost his life here in 1811. He was attempting to cross the Columbia bar, and ended up being one of the many casualties of the beautiful place. The beach is centered in a cove, with towering rock cliffs, and a view of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, as well as the carved out alcove in a rock face that was the setting for a coast guard rescue scene in the Kevin Costner movie The Guardian. Speaking of the Coast Guard, the Cape Disappointment station is right outside of the main entrance of the campground. It is the largest Coast Guard search and rescue station on the north coast. This is one of the most treacherous places in the world. The brave men and women of the U.S Coast Guard are kept busy here saving lives in the most difficult of conditions. We salute them for their service. We also can’t leave out that at the front of the park there is an amazing pizza place. Cafe D, or Serious Pizza, as it is known offers a menu of local cuisine and wood fired pizza. For a small fee they will deliver to your campsite. They also have wi-fi which was a great relief as there was ZERO coverage inside the park. If you don’t want to drive up there for the food, you can use one of the several phones that were placed around the park to call and order your meal. The BBQ pizza was the best.

Sunday was our last day here before heading home. We headed out on yet another beautiful day to take a drive up the Long Beach Peninsula. On the way out we saw a gigantic porcupine the size of  a dog. He was grazing on the side of the road but quickly turned his quills towards us before scurrying into the bushes of course before I could get my camera out. That is the first time I’ve ever seen a Porcupine in the wild. After getting over the shock of Mr. Porcupine we continued on our way to the Long Beach Peninsula. We meandered through streets of quaint beach houses and unique neighborhoods, on our way up to Ocean Park, home of the Northwest Garlic Festival. The Northwest Garlic Festival happens the 2nd week of June every year. We had a hard time picking out what kind of delicious garlic pleasure we wanted to try. We finally settled on a plate of Garlic Fries. I think the vampires knew better than to head to Ocean Park that day.  We spent a little less than an hour there sampling the food and checking out the local items for sale. We ended up buying some mandarin orange teriyaki sauce for our chicken later, and headed on out. Our  next stop was the Pacific Coast Cranberry Research Center which was a bit underwhelming. Most people don’t know that the Northwest hosts some of the best cranberry farms in the world most of whom are suppliers for Ocean Spray. The museum had some interesting things in it but it was mostly a gift shop. There was a self guided walking tour around the cranberry bogs that we took. It was worth seeing  just not what we expected. We then headed back, taking a short stop at the small grocery store in Long Beach, and planning to spend the rest of the day relaxing at camp.

We had such an amazing time here for our extended weekend at the beach. We hated to leave and spent as much time as we could at the beach before heading out on Monday morning, for the long drive home. Cape Disappointment State Park is now on the top of the list for favorite parks. We plan on going again next year as we still have much to see such as the historic town of Oysterville, and the beach boardwalk , fun, town of Long Beach. Till next time Cape Disappointment, we’ll see you again soon.