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[photo] View of Cape Disappointment and the Mouth of the Columbia River from Chinook Point
Photo by Charles L. Peter, from National Historic Landmarks collection

Cape Disappointment is a large headland forming the northern portion of the mouth of the Columbia River, as it opens to the Pacific Ocean. Most members of the Corps of Discovery arrived in this area where they were first able to glimpse the ocean on November 15, 1805, and set up a base camp near Chinook Point. However, Lewis and a small party of men had set out ahead of the rest of the group the day before and began scouting for a favorable site for a winter encampment. On November 17th, Lewis and his party returned from the area of Cape Disappointment and located Clark's base camp. Lewis was followed by several Chinook Indians with "roots mats &c. to Sell" and "the principal chief of the Chinnooks & his family came up to See us this evening" (DeVoto 1997, 286). Clark then "directed all the men who wished to see more of the main Ocian to prepare themselves to Set out with me early on tomorrow morning" (286). This second group proceeded to Cape Disappointment where Clark, seeing Lewis's name carved in a tree, carved his own name and the date into the same trunk. Clark wrote in this journal that his group proceeded:

View from Cape Disappointment of sand island and Baker Bay, with Chinook Point in the distance
Photo by Charles L. Peter, from National Historic Landmarks collection

To the iner extremity of Cape Disapointment passing a nitch in which there is a Small rock island, a Small Stream falls into this nitch from a pond which is imediately on the Sea coast passing through a low isthmus. this Cape is an ellivated circlier [cir-] cular] point covered with thick timber on the iner Side and open grassey exposure next to the Sea and rises with a Steep assent to hight of about 150 or 160 feet above the leavel of the water this cape as also the Shore both on the Bay & Sea coast is a dark brown rock. I crossed the neck of Land low and of a mile wide to the main Ocian, at the foot of a high open hill projecting into the ocian, and about one mile in Si[r]cumfrance. I assended this hill which is covered with high corse grass. descended to the N. of it and camped. [walked] 19 Miles [to-day]." (DeVoto 1997, 287)

The hill he climbed was undoubtedly the present McKenzie Head. Clark and his party of men returned to the base camp on November 20th. A few days later, the Corps of Discovery decided to investigate the south side of the Columbia River, and eventually established Fort Clatsop there as their winter encampment. Today, Cape Disappointment is also known as an important early landmark in the navigation of the Pacific Coast, the site of two well known lighthouses, and the oldest coastal defense installation in the state of Washington.

The Cape Disappointment Historic District is located two miles south of Ilwaco, Washington, just north of the Washingon/Oregon border. From Astoria, Oregon, take Hwy. 101 north across the Columbia River until you pass Ilwaco and head south. From Washington, take Hwy. 101 until it meets Hwy. 100 south of Seaview; go south to Ilwaco and beyond. Cape Disappointment State Park is located on the cape, and includes a Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The park is open year-round for camping and day use from 6:30am to 10:pm during the summer, and 6:30am to 4:00pm in the winter. Call 360-642-3078 or visit Cape Disappointment for more information.

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