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Finding a Home Away from Home

By Liz Cusanelli · 2 years ago

Have you ever loved a place so much that it pains you to leave? Take a step into my paradise and you’ll understand what I mean.

Washington natives and visitors alike might say that our beaches are nothing special, but I have learned to see beauty in one particular cape along this coast. Beyond the frigid wind and water lies a sanctuary of memories for me and my family.

Cape Disappointment, despite the upsetting name, is an extremely popular campground in southwestern Washington right above the Oregon border. Located on the Pacific Ocean, this hideaway is far from being unknown. My family has to make reservations seven months in advance to get a spot on Labor Day weekend.

The first time I ever went to Cape Disappointment was the summer of 2003, when I was seven years old, and I have returned to this beach every summer for 14 years. It seems that no matter how much time I spend there, I always find something new.

Going there for so long has allowed me to experience this place in every way. I’ve had rainy trips, where we can’t even leave our tents without getting sopping wet and I’ve had beautifully sunny trips when I’ve walked away with sunburns. And then there’s everything in between; weather doesn’t even begin to describe the impact of my trips to the Cape.

There are two popular lighthouse hikes to do, the North Head Lighthouse and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse. Both hikes are short and fairly easy, and take you up to the top of the highest points on the beach—at a whopping 53 feet above sea level. From North Head, looking to one side you’ll see the entire campground, beach, and the glistening open ocean. From the other, you can see the long miles of Washington’s famed Long Beach.

Hiking the 2.4 miles up to the Cape Disappointment lighthouse, there is much to see. You’ll pass by a side trail that takes you to Dead Man’s Cove. Climb down about 100 feet of cliffside and you’ll get to a sandy beach with piercing blue water that tempts you to jump in, even though it’s biting cold. There’s a little chain of rock islands covered in various seaweeds and kelp, and if you’re lucky enough, you might see a sea anemone or two.

Just before you reach Dead Man’s Cove, you can visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, which focuses on the history of the Cape, Lewis and Clark’s expeditions in the area, and more. Surrounding the interpretive center are old military bunkers and tunnels you can walk through.

This is just one of many daily adventures visitors take while at Cape Disappointment, and each day beckons a new one.

A Google Earth view of Cape Disappointment.

Coming to college, big changes were happening in my life. I was the first kid in my family to leave my hometown, and Seattle felt far away from Vancouver, WA. Each summer, returning to the place that feels like home is comfort. There is something so remarkable about the crisp waves, the pits of black sand, and even the crab carcasses that lay along the water.

There’s always a new story to tell, a new memory that’s been made, and another realization about myself, all because nature provides an environment to disconnect. There is no cell service in the 1,882 magnificent acres of nature of Cape Disappointment State Park.

Without my phone held in front of my nose, my eyes can truly be opened. I notice every infinitesimal grain of sand—partly because they get tracked into my shoes, socks, and sleeping bag—and how they move together with such elegance. Free from my routine check of social media before I go to bed, I can get lost in the stars. Living in Seattle, and even in Vancouver, the stars seem invisible. I constantly look up with the hope that I’ll see a glimpse of a star, but I am usually disappointed.

At this beach, it feels as if I can see every star there is. The moon lights up the ground in our campsites. At night, the beach transforms. The tide goes out, the crabs awaken, and the driftwood makes for a perfect bed under the stars. The feeling of lying under the stars completely satisfies the stereotypical cliché. I feel invincible. Stress disappears, worries evaporate. These moments under the stars make me realize what’s important in my life: being in the now, dreaming big, loving my life, and loving everyone in this great eternity.

Liz at Dead Man’s Cove.

I’ve brought friends with us over the years, but I don’t know that any of them have truly experienced the vastness of this small beach campground. They see the tide pools and lighthouses and secret coves, but I constantly question whether they’re able to see the scenes of their childhood play back in their minds, reminisce good times, or see the unchanging beauty of this coastline.

Every year that I leave my slice of paradise, I am comforted in knowing that I’ll come back the next year. The most beautiful part of leaving this place—despite how hard it is to take my heart back to the concrete jungle—is being able to see how much I have changed by the time I come back.

In recent years, the park has imposed burn bans to prevent forest fires, due to how hot and dry the summers have been. I am always upset upon hearing this news—is camping even camping if you can’t make a fire? But another reason I am upset is because of our changing environment. Though we in Washington State might not feel global climate change as much as other areas of the world, anyone who is a PNW native can tell you how the last few summers have been the hottest we can remember. The burn bans are another reminder that Washington’s fire danger is continuously increasing, and that the state park system cannot afford the cost of putting out fires that accidentally spread.

My sister works for the Mount Saint Helens national monument, and most of her coworkers in 2015 were called in to fire duty, even though they were just park rangers. Washington is known for rain, but its dry summers haven’t been friendly to the forests, especially in eastern Washington.

The park has to enforce burn bans because of the changing environment. We complain about not being able to have a campfire, yet we don’t always see the bigger picture. Our earth has been changing, suffering even, but we are too ignorant to address it for the right reasons. We want nature to look good for our picture perfect Instagram post; we want a campfire so we can have a reason to make s’mores.

Without preserving the integrity of our earth, families such as mine wouldn’t have the opportunity to create lifelong memories. I wouldn’t be able to return to this place I hold so close to my heart.

My connection to nature through this place has allowed me to experience my life in indescribable ways, and if humans continue to treat nature with disrespect we will no longer be able to live in the full beauty of the natural world.

Let’s take steps to protect nature now so that future generations will be able to find their own paradise, and home away from home.

Edited by Jack Russillo