Friday, September 28, 2012

Day Trip to Crater Lake

We’ve spent a fair amount of time in Oregon over the last seven years of traveling, but never had the time or were within a day’s drive of Crater Lake.  This time around, we’re in a location that made the visit manageable, and so on a bright sunny day, with temperatures in the mid-70s, we put the top down, topped off the tank, and headed into the Cascades for a visit to this amazing place. 
We decided to make a loop to avoid backtracking, and so we left I-5 and Canyonville on highway 227 for a 100 mile drive to enter the South Gate of the park and visit the Park Headquarters and visitor center.  As you get near the park, the road climbs continuously, since the walls of the crater reach high above the surrounding terrain.  After a brief stop and with park map in hand, we entered the East Rim drive, again climbing to the edge of the lake.  The rim drive is a road that clings to the side of the lake with steep drop-offs on, of course, the passenger side.  The side with the passenger who doesn’t like to look down a thousand feet or so to what would be certain death if the driver would dare to look around at the scenery and veer off the road.  Fortunately, Brenda was nice enough to remind me, in her gentle, encouraging voice to KEEP MY EYES ON THE ROAD!
Our first pull-off viewpoint was the Phantom Ship overlook, and the view was breathtaking.  The smoke in the air from distant wildfires gave the lake a ghostly appearance making the Phantom Ship island look even more, well, phantomish.  Phantom Ship1
Phantom Ship2What strikes you immediately is how far the lake is below the rim, and how difficult it would be to get to the water level.  There’s only one access to the water level, at the tour boat docks.  According the the park literature, it’s a 1.1 mile hike, with many switchbacks, down to the water and boat dock, and coming back up, people should allow for an hour or so to make the hike, which is the equivalent of climbing 70+ flights of stairs.  There is no other way to access the water, in fact, helicopters were used to place the boats in the water.  I was curious when I read that there is no fishing license required, and no limits on how many and what type of fish you can catch and keep.  Now I understand – instead of a license just bring 1000’ of rope and a big winch!Crater Lake1
Standing at any of the overlooks, it’s easy to understand why Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US at over 1900’, and the seventh deepest in the world.  The angle of the crater walls is so steep that you can easily visualize how far down the crater floor must be.  It was interesting to us that the lake is closed to any flow of water in our out; it maintains a constant level through annual rain and snowfall in the winter and evaporation in summer.Crater Lake3
Crater Lake4Crater Lake5Stopping at other viewpoints along the drive, the rock walls showed the different colored layers formed by the lava, and in many areas, interesting formations like the “Castle” in the picture below.Crater Lake2
Crater Lake Castle
At another viewpoint, we stopped for a look a Wizard Island, the top of a volcanic cone that formed after the original volcano collapsed.  It actually rises over 2700’ from the floor of the lake, but only about 750’ above the lake’s surface.  From our viewpoint, it looked less like a wizard and more like a manta ray swimming away from us.  Wizard Island
Wizard Island ConeWe ended our drive at Rim village, mostly closed down at this time of year.  The park has a short season, opening in mid-Jun or later, and closing in October, although snowfall could make it earlier. 
Not only is the park itself remarkable, but the surrounding area also.  Large, rolling mountain meadows, forests, and distant peaks like Mount Thielson make this a truly special place.  Mt Thielson
We left the park through the North entrance, on the road that was covered with eight feet or more of snow when we last visited the area in May.  Back then, Mount Thielson was snow covered and Diamond Lake was completely covered in ice; now the mountain was bare and the lake was a deep blue, surrounded by trees with leaves that were beginning to change into fall colors.  It won’t be long until the snow starts to fall, and the average at the lake is 533 inches – yes, that’s over 44 FEET, and when it does, it gets pretty quiet around here.  We’re glad we had the opportunity to finally visit this incredible place, and hope you get the chance if you haven’t already.
Crater Lake Panorama1 copy
We’ve got more exploring to do, c’mon back soon!

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