Cape Disappointment


After visiting Fort Clatsop and Fort Stevens, I crossed the Columbia River to the Washington side.  After briefly stopping at Fort Columbia, I decided to continue on to Cape Disappointment and return later.  I arrived in Cape Disappointment State Park around 2:30 pm.

The Elusive River

In 1775, Spanish explorer Bruno Heceta attempted to enter the mouth of the Columbia River, but even under full sail the ship could not overcome the strong currents.  He named the estuary Bahia de la Asunciõn, and surmised that it could be the mouth of a great river or even an entrance to another sea.  Later Spanish maps designated the river as San Roque, and the cape as Cabo San Roque.

In July 1788, British explorer and fur trader John Meares sailed south from the coast of Vancouver Island.  Arriving at the cape just after a storm, he was unable to cross the bar to find the mouth of the river Heceta had described.  Naming the promontory Cape Disappointment and the estuary Deception Bay, he recorded in his log “We can now with safety assert, that no such river as that of St. Roc [sic] exists, as laid down in the Spanish charts”.  In September, Meares encountered American captain Robert Gray, on his first fur-trading voyage to the Pacific Northwest coast.  Gray had also attempted to enter the river, but could not overcome the tides.

Robert Gray returned on a second voyage in 1792.  In April, Gray’s Columbia Rediviva met the HMS Discovery, commanded by George Vancouver.  Gray told Vancouver about the river he had failed to enter in 1788, but based on Meares’ conclusions, Vancouver doubted the river existed.

The HMS Discovery continued north, and the Columbia Rediviva continued south, determined to make another attempt.  In May 1792, after using a small boat to find a safe channel, Robert Gray sailed the Columbia Rediviva into the estuary; the first Euro-American to cross the bar.  Gray only sailed about thirteen miles upriver, staying nine days to trade with the natives.  He named the river after his ship, the southern tip as Point Adams, and the northern head as Cape Hancock.  Gray sailed north to Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island, where he was entertained by Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra.

Gray left a chart and description of the river mouth with the Spanish commandant, who passed it on to Vancouver when he arrived in September 1792.  Vancouver ordered Lieutenant William Broughton, his second-in-command and captain of HMS Chatham, to verify Gray’s discovery.  In October, Broughton and crew took small boats nearly 100 miles up the Columbia River, past present-day Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington.  One of the landmarks Broughton saw and named was Mount Hood.

Oddly, Gray never published his geographic discoveries and was not celebrated for them in his lifetime (he died in 1806).  Vancouver gave Gray credit in his published accounts.  Later, the United States government would use Gray’s discovery and landing at the Columbia River to support their territorial claims on the Oregon Territory.

Beards Hollow Overlook

My first stop in the park was a scenic overlook.  What once was a cove filled in and became a wooded wetland after the Columbia River jetties were constructed around 1900.