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Fly a Kite: Long Beach Peninsula, Washington

Originally Published in MotorHome Magazine

FROM ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, TO THE PACIFIC OCEAN, a daisy chain of 83 historic sites tells
the heroic story of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-1806. But it is their final
campsite on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula, near the mouth of the Columbia River, that
is most meaningful because it echoes the joy and relief of an arduous goal at long last
accomplished. The imprints of the final westward footprints of this noble endeavor were
left in the sand of this peninsula 195 years ago. In the last days before reaching the
Pacific, the men were cold, wet and miserable. All their clothing and bedding were soaked
through by continual early-winter rain. But in spite of the adversity, the expedition
pressed onward, stirred by the distant sound of waves breaking on an unseen beachhead.
Then, in November 1805, William Clark wrote in his journal that his “men appear much
satisfied with their trip, beholding with astonishment the high waves dashing against the
rock and this emence Ocian [sic].” Today, motorhomers camp in comfort where the intrepid
expedition endured such dismal conditions. In fact, the Long Beach Peninsula is now an
RVer’s playground offering a year-round schedule of special events, a wealth of historic
sites, points of interest, places to play and things to do amid incomparable scenery. The
Long Beach Peninsula hooks north from the mouth of the Columbia River at the extreme
southwestern corner of Washington state. The weather in this part of the country is
compatible with year-round activities, although winter months typically call for jackets
and rain gear. But whether you go for the International Kite Festival (see sidebar), the
Sand Sculpture Contest or the World’s Longest Garage Sale, just being on the peninsula is
enough. Its small-town atmosphere is contagious. The people are friendly, the food is
fantastic, and the antique shops seem endless. Heading north, our first stop is a quiet
cove on U.S. Highway 101 on the very edge of the mighty Columbia, not far from the bridge
that crosses the river from Astoria, Oregon. This is the accepted location of the
expedition’s final campsite November 16 through 25, 1805. It was from this point that the
men first saw the breakers of the Pacific and knew they had completed the mission assigned
by President Thomas Jefferson: to search out a route to the Pacific, to strengthen American
claims to Oregon Territory and to gather information about the Indians and the country of
the Far West. Today, this historic site features a picnic area and a wooden sculpture of
the intrepid Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Located two miles east of the little town
of Chinook on U.S. 101 is Fort Columbia. Built on top of historic Chinook Point promontory,
Fort Columbia is one of the few intact historic coastal defense sites still remaining in
the United States. The fort’s interpretive center is housed in one of the original barracks
and features displays of Chinook Indian culture and military life. The center is open
Wednesday through Sunday, from Memorial Day through September. Continuing west on U.S. 101,
we come to Ilwaco, home of the Ilwaco Heritage Museum, one of the finest small museums in
the Northwest. Here you can see the film of Gerald d’Aboville’s 134-day solo kayak trek
across the Pacific, wander through a restored railroad station and stroll through a pioneer
village. The museum highlights the area’s history, traditions, folklore and industries, as
well as its Native American heritage. Only two miles from Ilwaco is 1,700-acre Fort Canby
State Park with 250 campsites (60 of which feature full hookups). Camp near the beach, in
secluded sites surrounded by coastal trees and vegetation; walk among the giant driftwood,
beachcombing for treasures; watch the whales in season; ride a bike or take your pick of
four hiking trails. Using Fort Canby as a base camp, you can visit the Lewis and Clark
Interpretive Center, straight up the hill just past the entrance to Fort Canby State Park.
The center is located high on Cape Disappointment, overlooking the mouth of the Columbia
River and the Pacific Ocean. All the excitement and adventure of the expedition unfolds
here through displays and exhibits, including a slide show. A separate display tells the
story of Cape Disappointment, called the Graveyard of the Pacific. You can hike the trail
from the Interpretive Center to the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse, the oldest light still
in use on the West Coast. North of the state park is the North Head Lighthouse, built in
1898. The hike to the photogenic North Head light is easy and well worth the trip, and
tours are conducted daily during the summer and on weekends in the winter for $1 per
person. Moving north up the peninsula, your next stop is the town of Long Beach. If you
enjoy shopping for antiques, browsing through gift shops, strolling through art galleries
and sitting down to wonderful food, you’ll like Long Beach. In fact, the whole peninsula
offers an array of shops, galleries and restaurants, beginning at the southern shores of
Ilwaco and running all the way to Ocean Park about nine miles north of Long Beach. Within a
short stroll of downtown is the popular Long Beach boardwalk, which offers interpretive
displays, great views and picnic areas. The biggest thing happening in Long Beach is the
annual International Kite Festival. And you will not want to miss the World Kite Museum and
Hall of Fame, where you can see displays of some incredible kites from all over the globe.
A visit to this museum is a cultural journey around the world. A short distance farther
north on the peninsula is the free Cranberry Museum and Gift Shop. A third of Washington’s
cranberries are grown on the Long Beach Peninsula. At the museum, visitors can see the
implements used by cranberry farmers and visit the adjacent bog. It’s open from May 1
through December 15, Friday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. At the northern tip of the
peninsula is Leadbetter Point, a dune-decorated stopover for more than 100 species of birds
and the northern-most limit of the snowy plover’s breeding range. Part of the point is
closed to protect this endangered species during its annual visit from April through
August. Golfers will find full-size golf courses on the peninsula. At the other extreme, if
you want to try your hand at miniature golf or go-kart racing, you can do that, too. There
are razor clams to be caught, fishing boats to be chartered, and nearly every other type of
recreation. The exhausted members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition could not have imagined
how much pleasure the Long Beach Peninsula would one day offer. Why not make your own RV
expedition to the place where the mighty Columbia meets the Pacific? Kite-Flying
There’s something about a tug on the line, a tug coming from somewhere in
the heavens, that lifts the eyes skyward and takes the spirit along for the ride. When it
comes to flying a kite, no place else on earth is quite like Long Beach, Washington. The
lay of the land, the proximity of the sea, the expansive sandy beach and the absolutely
reliable winds make this place kite heaven. In fact, it’s so perfect for flying that people
come from all over the world just to launch here. Every year, international kite-flying
teams, individuals and superstars alike, come to Long Beach to compete in the weeklong
International Kite Festival. The 19th annual celebration will be held August 21 through 27.
During festival week, the population swells as more than 100,000 people come to see the sky
filled with a rainbow of colorful kites of every imaginable description. There are
competitions for the smallest kites, and other displays of kites that are so large and
powerful they have to be anchored to the ground. Size, shape and colors are unlimited.
Visitors will see everything from tiny kites to enormous inflatables; a recent example was
Aladdin’s magical genie. Stunt kites are amazing to watch as they dive and climb, do
multiple loops and chase each other around the sky. Kite trains link more than 100
individual kites to a single line, forming colorful ladders to the sky or arches that
stretch more than 500 feet in length. Whatever the wind will hold aloft is fair, and there
is even a lighted-kite night-fly event held on Friday and Saturday evenings. One of the
more fascinating demonstrations is kite buggying, in which people riding three-wheel cycles
are propelled up and down the beach by kite power. And there’s the Senior Fighter Kite Fly
and the Senior Big Band Ballet (graceful flying to music) for participants who have
celebrated their 50th birthday. If you want to join in the fun, there are many workshops
available and plenty of opportunities to learn by participation. The main thing is to be
there on the sand, watching the kites fill the sky and letting your spirit soar.
For More Info Long Beach Peninsula Visitor Center, (800) 451-2542 World
Kite Museum & Hall of Fame, (360) 642-4020 Fort Canby State Park, (800) 452-5687 Check
out the Trailer Life Directory for other campground listings. For Washington state travel
information, call (800) 544-1800 or visit www.tourism.wa.gov

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