Southwest Washington claims to have the longest beach in the world.
Whether that's local fiction or fact, I don't know, but the beach does extend for 28 uninterrupted miles from North Head lighthouse to Leadbetter Point. One thing for sure, there is plenty of ocean to go with it. Constant pounding waves sweep the sand smooth and deposit a variety of loot to please any beachcomber.The cool breeze and breaking waves make beach walking brisk and wonderful. Beachcombing just naturally follows with a special excitement. The prize to find is a glistening Japanese float that has made its way across the Pacific. Some of them are bigger than a basketball. The early birds on the beach are most likely to find these treasures, but who knows what the waves and tide will bring? You are sure to find driftwood and sand dollars. There is a great deal of beach to cover.
We found a nice float from a fisherman's net but had to buy a Japanese glass float from Marsh's Free Museum in the village of Long Beach which says it has the "world's most unique collection of glass floats."
The museum also has Jake the Alligator Man, a two-headed pig, and thousands of artifacts and souvenirs. There is always a curious crowd.
Actually, the ocean is rather mean along this beach and into the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. The waves are heavy, the water cold, and the currents tricky. This southwest coastline is known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific." The list of wrecked ships, dating back to 1725, is numbered at 230. The most recent was the troller Carlina that went down on June 8, 1978. It may not be the last.
Recognizing the danger at Cape Disappointment, strong demands were voiced for a lighthouse to be built there as early as 1848. Easier said than done, the difficult task was not completed until 1856. One construction ship, a sailing vessel loaded with building material, went down two miles off shore. Some material was salvaged, but the ship was lost. The order for the lamp was overlooked. Weather at the rugged point added to the difficulty of construction.
Today, a short uphill walk will take you to this lighthouse. Modern lights have long ago replaced the 18-wick lamp that burned five gallons of oil in a night. The lookout view is unchanged and spectacular.
Day and night, Coast Guard personnel man the lighthouse and use modern lights and high-tech electronics to guide the ships in and out across the bar where the Columbia River meets the ocean.
Cape Disappointment received its name from Captain John Meares, a British fur trader in 1788, an expression of his failure to find the Northwest Passage.
The second lighthouse at North Head was completed in 1898 with the hope of reducing the increasing number of shipwrecks along the peninsula. It is beautiful in design and location. The classic form, white with red trim, is a picture to behold, or to be taken. Situated 194 feet above the pounding Pacific, one can study the strength and power of the ocean below or scan the beach for miles to the north.
Fort Canby State Park is nearby and offers 250 campsites. The park is open from April to October with a 10-day limit in summer and 15 days in off-season. Reservations are needed - phone 1-206-753-5755, or write to the park, P.O. Box 488, Ilwaco WA 98624.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Fort Canby brings the 8,000-mile journey of the famous expedition vividly to mind with art, photos, displays and original diary entries of the trek.
Swimming is not recommended along the vast beach. Water is cold and currents dangerous. A protected swimming area is found at the campground.
What is highly recommended is fishing. This area claims to be the salmon fishing capital of the Pacific Coast. Many charter fishing boats are available from the Port of Ilwaco. Salmon, sturgeon, tuna and a variety of bottom fish are in the waters to be caught. The salmon season is from June 28 to Sept. 24, but no fishing on Friday and Saturday. Other fish may be taken at all times.
There is still more fun to be had at the beach. The constant wind is ideal for kite flying, and a kite festival is a big attraction. The sixth annual event is August 17-23, 1988, so if kites are your thing, or if you want a lesson, head for Long Beach, Wash.
National and world records are broken each year with the urge to build a better, bigger, more beautiful kite that will fly further, faster and more fancy. This contest is no kids game. Grown men fly the kites. For example, the Edmonds Community College kite team set a record by keeping their five-foot-by-six-foot parafoil kite aloft for 180 hours and 17 minutes. This team also had in the sky a much larger kite that measured 14,160 square feet. No small accomplishment!
That's not all, as many as 179 kites may be flown from one string. Who knows what the new record will be this year. A thousand or more kites will be in the air at one time. The festival keeps growing and you can count on a good show.
There is more. Two fine golf courses could keep you interested. Bicycling, horseback riding, hunting, hiking and shopping can be added to your list of fun things to do. The northernmost point of the peninsula, Leadbetter Point, is the wildlife refuge. Bird watching and nature study couldn't be better.
A big bonus - the peninsula itself. It is beautiful. Everywhere you drive is scenic and interesting. If you like red, stop at a cranberry bog. Nearly 500 acres of cranberries are grown in the area. The harvest starts in October, but all seasons are interesting and colorful from reflective ponds to red expanses of plant and berry.
The 4.1-mile drive across the Columbia River Bridge from Megler to Astoria, Ore., is as exciting as a ride in an amusement park. A walking tour through Oysterville's historic town will keep you entertained with sights of the past and photography of the present. The county seat in 1855, the town grew to boast five saloons, two hotels, a college, and one newspaper. Oysters were the economy, but that faded and legend has it that the county seat was "kidnapped" and now old Oysterville's claim to fame is its beauty and a place on the national register.
Oh, speaking of oysters. They are delicious.