Stand Where They Stood, William Clark at the Pacific Ocean

Living on the west coast means not having too long of a drive to see ocean waves. Even then, modern day travelers stretch their legs from a seemingly long road trip, climb the dunes through slogging sand, and sigh a big relief when they see the crashing waves. Small feat when compared to the journey that William Clark took with Meriwether Lewis and the Corp of Discovery across the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and through the cold Pacific Northwest.

Long Beach Dunes Washington Coast

I committed to seeing the ocean at the same spot Clark did, so I slogged on through cold sand and braced against November winds to look at the same Pacific Ocean as he did on November 19, 1805. The day of my own trek had a forecast of 30 mph wind, one inch of rain, and a cozy 55o. As I cinched my hood tighter against the wind, I recalled that the Corp of Discovery spent 18 days here north of the Columbia River, OUTSIDE.

Clarks tree Lang Beach WashingtonThe location is the northernmost point on his journey up the Long Beach peninsula. No doubt a seaside landscape changes in some ways over 200 years, but the view to the north of an unending, misty beach and a southern view of dark, forested bluffs remains the same. Clark was there, he carved his name in a pine tree to mark the occasion, and his journal reflects his thoughts.

(It was a Tuesday) “It began to rain a little before day and continued raining until 11 o’clock… I proceeded up the Course N. 10o W. 4 miles & marked My name & the Day of the Month on a pine tree…” He then walked back to their camp near Chinook Point, which the journal indicates is 2 miles. Google maps said 7 miles. In November, it might as well feel like 100.

Different reports claim what the fate of the original tree was. One claims it washed away in the mid 1800s and another that a road crew cut it down around 1900. In its place is a 25-foot-tall bronze carving of a weather-beaten pine. Carved by artist Stanley Wanlass, it fits appropriately among the grass and dunes, looking very authentic down to the roots grabbing at the sand below. Scraggly branches and gnarly bark are remarkably realistic. On one side is a portrayal of Clark’s inscription. It reads, “Capt. William Clark November 19, 1805. By Land U States 1804 & 1805.” Another Wanlass sculpture at the corner of 3rd and Pacific in Long Beach includes the figures of Lewis and Clark standing at the tree while Clark carves his message. (See image below)

Clarks Tree Laong Beach Washington inscription

More than a marker, this monument followed a bit of Lewis and Clark’s journey on its way to the peninsula. Sculpted in Utah by Wanless, the piece was later taken to Lewiston- Clarkston, Washington where it was loaded onto a barge, blessed by Charles Joseph Parker of the Nez Perce tribe and taken down the Snake and Columbia Rivers. Along the route, it was christened with the waters of the five water sources that Lewis and Clark passed through. Upon arrival at its permanent location, a reenactment of historical events accompanied the dedication ceremony.

If you find yourself in Long Beach, take a stroll along the 8.5-mile Discovery Trail. It is accessible at different points and has additional sculpture pieces that represent the time in which the Discovery corp visited the peninsula. If it’s late fall, you may only have a few moments to take in the significance of the view, the historical location and ponder what Clark may have thought. His journal indicates that his men had hunted down a deer for breakfast that day. The Chevron in Long Beach has breakfast snacks and hot coffee for your walk out to the water.

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