I am fortunate enough to have a job that provides a rewarding mix of researching, teaching and learning. For me to teach the public about the huge variety of stories at the mouth of the Columbia River I spend several hours of my week reading anything that I can about everything from Civil War Rodman smooth-bore cannons to double-crested, pelagic, and Brandt cormorants.
The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park has a weird conglomeration of books on subjects related to the natural and cultural history in the area. Over the last four years of working here I've gone through many of them, some of them multiple times. The following are a few books that I recommend for learning more about the colorful history and ecology in the Lower Columbia Region.
"Coast Country: A History of Southwest Washington" written by Lucile McDonald has chapters with colorful names like: "The Mystery Ships of Mr. Teast," or "An Hawaiian Grave on an Alien Coast." This is one of the first books I read when I moved to the Peninsula. I always suggest that our new employees start with this book.
"The Long Beach Peninsula: Where the Columbia Meets The Pacific" is a new book with a similar scope as "Coast Country" but accompanied by great historical photos and co-written by one of my co-workers, Donella Lucero and her sister, Nancy Hobbs. These women are well-steeped in the local history and the book serves as a more modern review of the development of this area sprinkled with great anecdotes from old newspapers.
If you are interested in local shipwreck history, I have just the book for you. "Pacific Graveyard" written by James Gibbs is a must-read. This book not only has summaries of hundreds of shipwrecks that have occurred near the mouth of the Columbia River, but it also describes historic river conditions and the many navigational aids that have been added near "the bar" over the years. The book is out of print but should be available in the reference sections of our local libraries.
Over the last couple of years I've read at least a dozen different books about the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Before Rex Ziak's "In Full View," it was next to impossible to find a book or even an article about Lewis and Clark's arrival at the Pacific Ocean. Thanks to Rex, we now have one of the finest books written on any portion of the trail, and it's our portion, right here on the north side of the Columbia River.
Other books about the Corps of Discovery that I particularly like, and would suggest reading, include: "Lewis and Clark: Pioneering Naturalists" by Paul Russell Cutright for a great look at the scientific accomplishments of the Expedition; "Passage through the Garden: Lewis and Clark and the Image of the American Northwest" by John Logan Allen takes an educated look at the geographical theories that existed before the Expedition and the realities that were encountered and captured through William Clark's cartographic skills and finally, James Rhonda's "Lewis and Clark Among the Indians" sets the record straight as to why the expedition was as successful as it was.
If you are more into the plants than the history, I can understand. This is a great place to study plants; it seems something is always blooming here. I don't know what I would have done over the last few years without my copy of "Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" compiled and edited by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon. If you want to find out what the vine is with those weird spiky little melons on it, this is the book - not only to identify that plant but to also read about how the plant was used by native people.
If you're ever up on the Cape, maybe showing your friends the interpretive center, just ask if you can see any or all of these books. I'd love to show you these and other books that may be of interest to you. The bookstore at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center also features some of these books if you wanted to purchase them. The store is operated by the Friends of the Columbia River Gateway and much of their profit supports interpretive programs and exhibits in our Long Beach Area State Parks.
Jon Schmidt is an Interpretive Specialist at Cape Disappointment State Park. To contact him, call the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at 360-642-3029 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.