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Geology and Earth Resources Division Bulletin No. 72

Washington Coastal Geology between the Hoh and Quillayute Rivers



Early explorers along the Northwest coast of America were primarily concerned with discovery and, to a certain extent, the charting of the coastline. Although largely unaware of geologic processes, these adventurous seamen nevertheless were confronted with the treacherous rocky coast that has resulted from these processes.

The first recorded visits were made by the Spanish—Juan Perez in 1774, and again in 1775 with Bruno Heceta and Bodega y Quadra. During the latter expedition actual landings were made but in an area to the south of the Hoh River. They applied the name "Isla de Dolores" (Island of Sorrow) to the presently named Destruction Island; some believe in memory of an ill-fated encounter nearby with the natives.

Perhaps the first recorded visit by Europeans to any part of the coast between the Hoh and Quillayute Rivers was in the summer of 1787 when the "Imperial Eagle" commanded by Captain Charles Barkley, while on a fur trading expedition, anchored off the mouth of the Hoh River. A small boat was sent ashore to investigate the river, and because the boat never returned, Barkley named the stream Destruction River. This name was first applied to the nearby island the following year by Captain John Meares of the "Adventurer," while also on a trading expedition. Variations, apparently on the original native name for the river, were used subsequent years (Ohahlat, Hook, Hooch, Huch, and Hoh).

It was in the vicinity of the Hoh River near Destruction Island, in the spring of 1792, that George Vancouver of the "Discovery" accompanied by the "Chatham" on a voyage of Captain George Vancouver of the "Discovery" accompanied by the "Chatham" on a voyage of exploration from England, met, by chance, Captain Robert Gray of the "Columbia" out of Boston. Gray had been on a trading expedition and had gained considerable knowledge of the coast as well as the Straits of Juan de Fuca and adjacent waters. He described a large bay and river to the south that hadn't been sighted by Vancouver because of fog and inclement weather. Vancouver, on his return southward, honored Gray and his ship by naming the bay "Grays Harbor" and the river "Columbia."

In the La Push area, one of the earliest records of a probable sighting or contact with what is believed to be the Quileute people was made by John Meares during a trading voyage from China in the "Felice Adventurer," accompanied by the "Iphigenia Nubiana," in the year 1788. Sailing generally southward from Cape Flattery, he describes the following immediately before sighting Destruction Island:

. . . but although the village of Queenuitett was obscured from view, we could very plainly discern the town of Queenuitett, which is distant from it about 7 or 8 miles. It is situated on a high perpendicular rock, and is joined by a narrow and impregnable causeway, twenty feet in height, to the mainland, which is an entire forest. With our glasses, we observed a multitude of houses, scattered over the face of the rock.

A few years later on May 6, 1792, John Boit, a young cadet with Captain Gray, recorded what is believed to have taken place in the La Push area:

. . . Hove too fro some canoes to cam up. They brought us fish but no skins, bore off these fellows belong'd to a small village in sight from the Ship, call'd Goliew.

On May 21, 1792, Boit also recorded:

. . . N. latt. 47° 51'. Abreast the village Goliu, hove too and purchas'd some Skins from the Natives, then bore off to the north and wt.

A rock-strewn coastline, where natives took advantage of the sheerness of rock cliff for protection, was the setting for exploration and discovery—a setting that, to a great extent, is the result of geologic processes, some of which began millions of years ago. The following discusses those geologic processes and events responsible for forming the rugged but picturesque present-day north coast of Washington State.


BANCROFT AND OAK, 1884; HOWAY, 1941; MEANY, 1923; MEARES, 1790; MENZIES, 1923; VANCOUVER, 1798.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006