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Washington State Route 100 and Cape Disappointment State Park

 


WA 100 is a 4.68 mile long loop and spur highway verging off of US 101 to serve Cape Disappointment State Park near Ilwaco, Washington. WA 100 does not have cardinal directions along the road, instead being signed as Loop WA 100, and for the accompanying and shorter spur route, it is signed as Spur WA 100. Part of the Lewis and Clark Trail Scenic Byway, WA 100 takes you to a Coast Guard station and around Cape Disappointment State Park, to its campgrounds, hiking trails, historic Fort Canby and two lighthouses (Cape Disappointment Lighthouse and North Head Lighthouse). WA 100 was established in 1991 by an act through the Washington State Legislature by using the existing North Head Road, which had been a paved county road since 1957. Part of WA 100 was washed away into nearby Baker Bay during a winter storm in 1994.

WA 100 is the main road around Cape Disappointment State Park, formerly known as Fort Canby State Park. Cape Disappointment sits within the traditional territory of the Chinook tribe, who called the cape "Kah'eese". The Chinooks were known to be sophisticated traders and also were highly engaged in the maritime fur trade around the Pacific Northwest. While Cape Disappointment was first mapped by Spanish explorer Bruno de Heceta in 1775 and originally named as San Roque, its current naming is credited to English Captain John Meares, who approached the cape in 1788, but could not locate the entrance of the Columbia River. As a result of his failure to find the Columbia River's entrance, Captain Meares named the headland Cape Disappointment. He was closer to the entrance than he assumed, so it was a disappointment indeed. In 1792, American Captain Robert Gray successfully crossed the bar of the Columbia River and named the river "Columbia" after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva. Robert Gray named Cape Disappointment "Cape Hancock", but the name didn't stick. Then in 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at Cape Disappointment after their 18 month, 3,700 mile journey across from St. Louis, Missouri, exploring the newly purchased Louisiana Purchase along with the Oregon Country.

In 1862, Cape Disappointment was armed with cannons to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Civil War threats. The installation was expanded to become Fort Canby in 1875, which was named for Army General Edward Canby. Improvements on Fort Canby continued until the end of World War II. The remnants of gun batteries and other structures still sit on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and you can still explore the old fort today. In 1938, the first parcel of land, known locally as "Bell's View," was purchased for $1 by Washington State Parks for what would become Cape Disappointment State Park.

The Cape Disappointment area has also had a number of improvements that took place to improve and aid navigation. The Cape Disappointment Lighthouse was constructed in 1856 to warn mariners of the treacherous river bar where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, known for its many shipwrecks as "the graveyard of the Pacific". This is the oldest operating lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. Plans for a second lighthouse, North Head Lighthouse, were drafted in 1889 because of poor visibility of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse to southbound ships, and the North Head Lighthouse was built in 1898. Then in 1912, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers constructed the North Jetty at the entrance to the Columbia River at Cape Disappointment, and the 2.5 mile long, three million ton, stone structure was completed in 1917. Together with the South Jetty in Oregon, the two jetties provided for safer navigation of the Columbia River bar.

Let's explore WA 100 and Cape Disappointment State Park, starting with the state route.

Loop WA 100 shield in Ilwaco. WA 100 is also part of the Lewis and Clark Trail. The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail is approximately 4,900 miles long, extending from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to the mouth of the Columbia River. The trail follows the outbound and inbound routes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition as well as from Pittsburgh to Wood River, Illinois, following the route that Lewis and Clark used to prepare for the expedition.

Loop WA 100 on the North Cape Road going counterclockwise.

Loop WA 100 intersects with Spur WA 100.

Following Spur WA 100 to historic Fort Canby and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

END! Spur WA 100. This leads to a parking lot for Fort Canby.

Spur WA 100 is part of a tsunami hazard zone.

Baker Bay, part of the Columbia River.

Robert Gray Drive (Loop WA 100) going counterclockwise towards Ilwaco.

Loop WA 100 ends at US 101 in Ilwaco. Continue straight (south) to the Astoria-Megler Bridge and across the Columbia River to Astoria, Oregon, Turning left (north) will take you to Long Beach, Washington and eventually towards the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State.


Now let's take a look at Cape Disappointment State Park and what it has to offer. WA 100 takes you to the various highlights of the state park, including Beard's Hollow, the North Cape Lighthouse, Bell's View, Fort Canby and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.


Beard's Hollow. This spot has changed profoundly over the years. For thousands of years, this area is home to tidal pools, which members of the Chinook Tribe visited to find food and shells. When Lewis and Clark were in the area, ocean waves reached a quarter mile inland of where the coast is now. After the Columbia River jetty system was built, Beard's Hollow began to fill in and became wetlands. 

Judging by the cars and people at the beach, Beard's Hollow is still a popular destination today.

View of the Pacific Ocean from the Beard's Hollow Overlook.

View of Benson's Beach and the Pacific Ocean from the North Cape Lighthouse trail.

North Cape Lighthouse, built in 1898 to aid in navigation for ships traveling southbound to the Columbia River bar.

In most years, the North Cape Lighthouse is open seasonally for tours. I was not able to tour the lighthouse as tours were not being conducted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it was still nice to see the lighthouse from the outside.


Lighthouse plaque noting the year the North Cape Lighthouse was completed, in 1898.

The geographic coordinates of the North Head Lighthouse.


Another view of Benson's Beach.

There's some dramatic scenery that can be seen from the North Cape Lighthouse overlook.

Walking over to the Bell's View Overlook on an interpretive trail, I encountered this log. Bell's View was named after Thomas H. Bell, who led a local effort to provide public access to this year.

I saw a tower as well. 

I believe this is a water tower, but it could be a lookout tower.

A weather station was operated at Bell's View from 1902 to 1955. The weather station also included a searchlight control station, triple base end station and a tower for a SCR-682 general surveillance detector. The concrete structure was built during World War II to support the strategic location of the North Head Lighthouse and Fort Canby.

From this location, soldiers could target potential enemies, shine blinding lights into the Pacific Ocean and use radar technology. The radar technology was also useful for the weather station capacity of this capacity.

Bell's View Overlook.

Following in the footsteps of Lewis and Clarks...

Historic Fort Canby.

Checking out Fort Canby's Battery Harvey Allen at the end of Spur WA 100. There is a trail that leads to the historic battery, along with views of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. There is actually quite a few things to see around the battery, both inside and outside.





After climbing the steps from the battery, I was treated to this nice view of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. I tried to find a trail that would lead me closer to the lighthouse, but the lighthouse was closed to the public. I'm certainly satisfied with these views though.

A ship navigating the Columbia River bar.

Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

It is a long drop-off from the lighthouse to the ocean.

A couple of parting shots of the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.

There is a nice walking path behind the Battery Harvey Allen that also provides some nice views.

A visit to Cape Disappointment really does make you feel like you are on the edge of the Earth. But at this point, it was time to pull myself back into the friendly confines of the North American continent.



How to Get There:



Sources and Links:
Flickr - Cape Disappointment State Park
Washington State Parks - Cape Disappointment State Park
Washington State Highways - Washington State Route 100
Washington State Legislature - State Route No. 100
Washington State Department of Transportation - State Highway Log Planning Report 2012 (PDF)

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