Tuesday, June 16, 2009
NORTH HEAD LIGHTHOUSE, DISMAL NITCH, CLAMSHELL RAILROAD, AND FORT COLUMBIA
Today, we waited for cloud cover to burn off and headed for North Head Lighthouse built on a point north of the mouth of the river. Congress authorized the light house because Ship's Captains could not detect the light from Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, located closer to the Columbia River's mouth. The smaller lighthouse sometimes gets winds at 169 MPH and waves pound the cliffs, besetting it with a wrathful beauty.
The whole coastal area is a mixture of private land and Lewis and Clark National Park. Signs along the way point to where they spotted a dead whale, killed a vulture, where they were caught in an awful storm at Dismal Nitch. Wet and rotting and hungry but incapable of navigating the horrible waters to the opposite side of the Columbia they held out for six days barely able to cling to the driftwood and rocks. The point of their ordeal is marked as well as other important places.
Maps for the well groomed walking and biking trails are everywhere. Treat yourself to spectacular views, then remember the company hacking its way through the heavy growth of brush, ferns, and unfriendly grasping blackberry vines. Or glance over at Chinook Creek and imagine no road, no cars, just the Indians pulling in with their canoes full of salmon.
We pulled into the little fishing town of Ilwaco, WA. To visit the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum. It tells the story of Long Beach from the far reaches of the peninsula at Oysterville, a town that survived totally on its oyster harvest, (until they depleted them) to Ilwaco. One little town between Oysterville and Ilwaco had a population of 35 that swelled to 3,000 during oyster season. The "Clam Shell Railroad" was so named because steamers could only reach the wharf after the tide was in mid-flood. Departures were successively later over a months time, forcing their schedule to abide by the tides. (We'll visit the peninsula later in the week.)
We stopped at Fort Columbia, with the most intact fort buildings of the three Columbia River Forts. Interesting interpretive center, five miles of forested hiking trails that wind all through the beautiful woods and the old battery. Built in 1869, it was the most important outpost in the Northwest. Like a small city with the Ord Battery, housing, store, recreation center and its own boats, the fort was used up until WWII.