That moment had come, it was time to leave our newly beloved Oregon behind, and head north again. And what better place to tempt us than the call of Cape Disappointment and a lovely night at Dismal Nitch…
In the first fresh years of the 1800s following the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned an expedition to explore the newly claimed territory, with the goal of finding a practical route westward and northward to the ocean. The Corps of Discovery, led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark (who get the greatest share of credit, but whose rears, it is worth remembering, were saved more than once by such other members as York, a man whose family had been enslaved by the Clarks, and Sacagawea of the Shoshone Tribe in today’s Idaho.)
In November of 1805, wet, dreary, with the clothes rotting from their bodies, and quite sick of salmon, the Corps of Discovery found their way to the mouth of the Columbia River. The party rejoiced in the belief that, after 2000 miles, they had reached the ocean – though what they were seeing was actually the Columbia Estuary, still some 20 miles from the Pacific. They were at Cape Disappointment, named by an earlier explorer in 1788 who had been unable to cross the river, and that name was a harbinger of what was to come. For the next week they were buffeted by fierce winter storms, forced to hole up in a little cove which Clark called “a dismal nitich,” before finally rounding the bend for their first view of the Pacific Ocean proper.
November 7, 1805: “Great joy in camp we are in View of the Ocian, this great Pacific Octean which we been So long anxious to See. And the roreing or noise made by the waves brakeing on the rockey Shores (as I suppose) may be heard distinctly.
November 15, 1805: “About 3 oClock the wind lulled and the river became calm, I had the canoes loaded in great haste and Set Out, from this dismal nitich where we have been confined for 6 days…”
– William Clark
And here, 212 years later, Colin and I found ourselves in the exact same spot as Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, York, and the rest of the Corps of Discovery. The weather (being June instead of November) was much milder and we we far from sick of salmon, though we could empathize with their desire for a change of wardrobe. The Dismal Nitch Rest Stop is banal with parking lot and restroom facilities, but still gets 4 Trip Advisor stars for the stunning view and memorable historical significance.
We arrived around 8:45pm as the sun was setting, mesmerized by the view, shocked to find such a treasure of a place, and ready to call it quits anyway after a long day of driving. Not for the first time, we were happy to call a rest stop home for the night.
In Oregon (oh joy, that state!) they welcome you to stay for up to 12 hours, plenty of time get a bite to eat, take a walk, and get a good night’s sleep. In Washington as in many other states, you are allowed to stay for only 8 hours. This was one of the few circumstances on our trip where we bent the rules; we settled in for the full night, pulling out the camp stove to make dinner on the grass by the water’s edge, with a stunning view of the estuary giving way to starlight. Hot chocolate, cheese and crackers, lentils. If only we had salmon.