"Ocean in View!"
On Nov 7, 1805, Capt. William Clark exclaimed these words to his men upon sighting the Pacific Ocean. After 2 years and 3,700 miles they had reached the Pacific!
Their difficulties were not over. The mouth of the Columbia is 10 miles wide and the Pacific tides here are 10 feet. Even today the mouth of the Columbia is a ship graveyard and hard to navigate due to high winds and waves, fog, sand bars, and treacherous tidal currents. The Corps of Discovery was pinned in a small cove on the north shore for 6 days by a storm. They named the place "Dismal Nitch." The cove consisted of a beach with tall hills above, and the storm whipped up waves that lapped the entire beach requiring the men to stand in water for the whole 6 days. Their dugout canoes were very dangerous in the estuary because of the wind and waves. They took advantage of a lull in the storm to find safer ground a few miles away. We saw Dismal Nitch and it is simply a small inlet with a hill above it.
They eventually made camp on the north shore about 2 miles further west and named it Cape Disappointment. They hoped to make contact with an American or European ship there, but found none were trading at this time. L&C were under orders to send a copy of their journals and some specimens back to President Jefferson by ship if possible. They also would be able to use an open letter of credit to buy whatever supplies they needed. The men were especially looking forward to obtaining tobacco and whiskey, both considered staples to the soldiers and rivermen that they were. They might also have named the cape for the lack of game making a permanent camp there unsustainable, or the cold, wind, fog, thunder, lightning, and rain ever-present in the area.
They scouted a suitable location on the south shore and built winter quarters that they named Ft Clatsop after the local Indian tribe. The south shore is flat, sandy, and has a few small hills, unlike the north shore which is hilly and rugged. Ft Clatsop is nearby and we visited a replica of the fort. The fort was completely gone and exact site will never be known, but they think the replica is within yards of the original location. The original site was hunted over, homesteaded, farmed, and even plowed, all in the decades after L&C's winter stay. Therefore no amount of artifacts found will establish the forts precise location. They have searched hard and found musket balls, metal fragments, pottery, and more, but nothing conclusive. The Corps of Discovery hated Ft Clatsop because it rained constantly all winter. They couldn't cope with the wetness because they couldn't get dry fuel and everything was rotting, including their clothing.
We are camping nearby at Ft Steven State Park, a 4,200 acre state park that was a former coastal defense fort. The remains of the fort are still intact, from the star-shaped fort ordered up by President Lincoln in 1862, to the coastal artillery emplacements built protect the harbor from Canadians and Spanish in the late 1800's, and improved for WW1 and WW2. There is a museum here telling the fort's history. The fort's finest hour came in 1943 when a Japanese submarine attempted to shell it. Most of the shells went wide of the fort, but one actually fell on the beach approach. We are camped a few miles from most of the abandoned military installations.
The climate here is cool and humid with a daily high of 65 and a low of 55. The campground has 800 sites nestled into an old growth rainforest, which means big trees but also very little sunshine. So not only is it very cool for July, but it is also very shady and dark! I have read that this is one of the most humid places in the US, with an average humidity of 85% year round. The daily high has been 65 degrees.
I guess this is the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail for us (and you). It was fun following the trail and we learned a lot. I cannot imagine the terrific effort it took for the Corps of Discovery to make the journey over 200 years ago. All along the way we have found all kinds of things named for them, recognizing and remembering them for their great achievement, including cities and colleges, rivers and mountains, lakes and bridges, and everything else imaginable. We managed to see a lot of unrelated things along the way that we might not have otherwise stopped to see. We found the trail to be a great excuse for taking a roundabout route and trying to see the countryside the way Lewis and Clark did.