Oregon, Our Time at Crater Lake
We drove a little over a hundred miles to get here, pulling up in the early afternoon. Our first look at Crater Lake was truly awe inspiring. The lake was formed 7,700 years ago when a fairly large volcano (estimated to be around 12,000 feet high), Mount Mazama, collapsed. With no outlet, the resulting caldera filled with water over time. Much bigger than we expected, it is roughly 4 by 6 miles across, with 21 miles of shoreline. The water is an intense sapphire blue in the depths, with a lovely turquoise and aquamarine fringe in the shallow areas near shore.
After taking in our first look at the lake, we headed down to the campground where we ended up choosing one of the nicest spots. We had originally booked one of the few electric sites (which had a very short back-in length), but we decided more space would be better than electricity, and we lucked out. Power isn’t a problem as we have two big deep cycle batteries. We also have a small generator if the batteries get too low.
One thing that could have been a negative was that there were some crews cutting down dead and dangerous trees in the campground. It turned out to be a positive in that there was unlimited firewood lying all over the campground. Our site still had all of its trees. Another potential problem is that they had about half of their 45-foot snowfall last winter Which has created a potential water shortage. We were informed that this was to be a “dry campground” in the following days. All water in the campground would be turned off, with bathhouses closed down and port-a-potties brought in. Fortunately, the water was still on and we were able to fill our tank. Finally, the dump station was closed due to the water shortage. We could also handle that contingency. All in all, we were good to go. Glad we weren’t a few days later in that respect.
We checked out the camp store, visitor center and finally the historic Crater Lake Lodge. It was originally built in 1915, but was substantially rebuilt in the 1990s. It is constructed on the very rim of the Crater. It took several years to complete due to a short 3-month construction season while transporting materials into high elevations over very poor roads. It is a grand old lodge, with modern amenities. Lots of stone and big timbers went into its design. It has 71 guest rooms, and some very atmospheric public spaces. Entering into the Great Hall, a burning fire in the massive hearth beckons visitors to stay awhile. Chris soon found a spot to his liking. Melinda checked out the huge dining room, having its own stone hearth. She decided some cook’s nights out would be in order here.
Although the park is open all year, you can only get here through the south entrance once the snows fall. The Rim Road is closed and the lodge shuts its doors after October. A visitor’s center stays open where a small cafe has food services year round. Rangers are on duty and provide guided snowshoe outings in the winter months, among other activities. We’ve seen pictures of snow drifts all the way up to the Lodge’s roof, about 4 stories high.
On our first morning we explored the rim by driving to the many vistas of the lake. We checked out both of the visitor centers and the stores, both of the Rim Village and the Mazama Village. The campground is actually 7 miles down the mountain away from the Rim, adjacent to the mazama Village. In the afternoon we took a boat tour of the lake. It was opening day for the tour, and there are about 6 tours given per day, each 2 hours in length.
There is only one trail that leads down to the rim. They say it is one mile down and ten miles back up . . . it’s that steep a grade. We found that to be pretty accurate.
On the boat we were met by Ranger Mike who was kind of goofy but gave a great spiel about the lake and its history for the entire 2 hours.
One can only go down the one trail to reach the lake shore. you cannot boat or kayak in the lake. You used to be able to scuba dive in the lake, but no more. They are doing everything they can to keep it pristine. It is the deepest lake in America (officially 1,943 feet) and the 7th deepest in the world. It has the cleanest and clearest water in the world. There is no stream coming into the lake. All of the water comes from precipitation,, a lot of it in the form of snow. The only outlet is some porous rock that allows some water to seep out. The level stays pretty constant as does the temperature at 39 degrees.
And so, we toured around the lake and saw the Old Man. This is a 35-foot log that has been floating in the water since the late 1800s. It floats upright for some reason. We learned that it is a rite of passage for all new, incoming park rangers to have their picture taken on top the Old Man. They say there are carpenter ants in it now, so its days may be numbered.
We cruised by Wizard Island and Phantom Ship, both cinder cones that erupted sometime after the crater was formed. After the 10-mile hike back up to the rim, we were ready for a restful evening by our campfire.
Next morning we ran into Ranger Mike and learned that the Rim Road traveling all around the rim (33 miles) was going to be open for the trolley buses that morning, but wouldn’t be open to public vehicles until after our departure. So we walked over and got two seats on the very first Trolley ride of the season. Our guide for this trip was Ranger Dave. Unlike Ranger Mike,, he was a permanent park employee and not seasonal. He actually has lived here all year long for 7 years. Before this posting he had been in several other national parks during his tenure. he gave a great running narrative as we drove around the lake, stopping at several viewpoints. most of them would not otherwise have been accessible to us. More great views and different perspectives to see and photograph.
After lunch, hiking to the top of Mount Garfield on the rim was our next activity. It might have been the highlight of our entire time at Crater Lake, it was that good! We soon learned that the lake is best viewed from the higher elevations. Standing on this summit we took in the full perspective of the crater, and the Phantom Ship appeared to float on its surface.
The air was crisp and clear, and we could see for a hundred miles. We also wwere treated to fantastic and different views of the lake on the way up to the top. Navigating over some snow fields near the top brought some interest to the trail. After hiking for 5 miles we treated ourselves to some refreshments on the Lodge patio overlooking another great view of the lake. Very civilized indeed.
It was our final evening at Crater Lake. We felt we had experienced a very fulfilling stay here. We drove to one of the more popular viewpoints below Watchman peak. The view here looks directly down at Wizard island. The best view, however, would be from Watchman Peak, where Melinda had hoped to be as the sun set on the lake. Unfortunately,, the trail was still covered over in deep snow, preventing hikers from taking it at this time. Standing at the overlook would have to suffice.
On our final morning we packed up and headed out. But we made a stop before leaving Crater Lake to eat our breakfast at one of the overlooks. The early morning was still fresh and cool, with very few tourists out and about yet. It was the end of a really great stay. Melinda climbed an incline to capture the setting with her camera. Beautiful scenery, rich with history and ideal weather. It couldn’t have been a better stay!
The road headed north, taking us away from the lake and toward the Cascades. We drove across the Pumice Desert where another cinder cone and other volcanic mountains rose up in the distance.
Straight as an arrow, the highway took us through miles of forests where the remains of ancient volcanoes were seen in the distance. This would be our next and final destination here in Oregon. We were headed into the wild and rugged Cascade Mountain Range.
From the incredible vistas of Crater Lake,
Chris and Melinda