Sunday, September 13, 2015

Crater Lake National Park

Took us a couple of days to make it to Crater Lake, but it was a lovely drive.  We spent the first night in Maryhill, Washington, just on the Washington state side of the Columbia River.  Kind of out in boonies, but it was a nice park, Peach Beach RV Park, and we could walk along the river.  The Columbia River Gorge is a striking place, and farther down into the gorge is a favorite of windsurfers worldwide.  Some years ago when we visited here with the kids we met lots of folks who had come here from South America and Europe just for the windsurfing, and we stayed at a motel that overlooked the river where you could watch them.  Because the river is so far down into the gorge, the winds are pretty strong and apparently you can build up a lot of speed.  Anyway, no windsurfers in sight this time, but we did find a wonderful fruit and vegetable stand where we loaded up on delicious peaches, nectarines, plums and cantaloupe.

As we got closer to Crater Lake, though, we began to see lots of smoke from fires that have been going since the first of August, we later learned.  We were concerned that we might be in trouble or in the path of the fire, so we called the Diamond Lake RV park where we had planned to stay and they told us that they did not have any smoke in the park, so we pushed on.  So glad we did, as it turned out to be a wonderful time there, in spite of the smoke.  When we arrived late in the afternoon there was indeed no smoke actually down in the RV park, which was on Diamond Lake, another lake just a few miles north of the entrance to the national park.  The next morning we woke to bright sunshine, though there was some smoke drifting in.  We looked at the weather forecast and saw predictions of highs in the 90's, so we decided to take a bike ride early.  There's an 11 mile paved trail around Diamond Lake, and we could ride to it right out of the campground.  As we got down to the trail, though, looking out at the lake, it was covered in pretty heavy smoke.  There were some small boats out with people fishing, but it looked like heavy fog covered lakes we've seen in the early mornings in Maine.  The smell was pronounced, too.  We rode anyway, though, as we just love to ride on these paved trails that are totally off the vehicular roadways.  A glorious ride it was, too, as the trail took us through heavily wooded and shaded areas, and then it burst out into promontories overlooking the lake in the bright sunshine--just some great views.  There was a lot of up and down, but it was a good ride.  Trisha decided to go back to the RV to check on Sophie and I did another lap, giving it as much speed as I could muster.  Well, there was one unintended consequence of this decision--when I got back and started to speak to Trisha, I could hardly talk at first, and was just sort of wheezing.  I realized it was from breathing so hard and fast when I was pushing it on the trail that I inhaled much more smoke and it was clouding up my lungs!  So now, even three days later, I'm still coughing.  I've never experienced this before, and it made me realize how incredibly difficult it must be for all those firefighters who are battling these fires.  I know they have breathing masks and oxygen when they are actually in the fires, but just being around the fire areas when the smoke is so thick has just got to have an effect on them.  God bless them every one!

That afternoon we drove into the national park, and as we drove the loop road toward the park headquarters, we could see different plumes of smoke rising from hot spots across the park, as well as  places right along the road where the fire had burned pretty intensely.  There were crews out along the road, clearing more small brush to be hauled off, as this is the fuel that feeds wildfires so quickly.  the amazing work the firefighters had done was evident in the fact that on one side of the road there were tons of charred tree trunks, but nothing burned on the other side of the road--they had obviously contained it sufficiently to keep it from jumping the road and continuing in that direction.  The techniques they use to contain and channel wildfires is pretty amazing!  The management of the campground had told us that there had been pretty intense fires between the campground and the national park in early August and that they had been put on evacuation alert.  Fortunately they did not have to evacuate the campground, but lots of roads were closed in and around the park for several weeks.  When we got to the park headquarters we talked to the ranger there and he said that these fires had been started by lightning strikes--bottom line, I don't suppose it makes any difference how a fire starts in terms of the devastation that results, but somehow it's not as galling if it's from lightning as opposed to someone throwing a cigarette out into the woods.  Anyway, he said the fires had raged for some time, had been mostly contained, helped out by the fact that they had had rain and snow just a week earlier, but now the hot, dry temps-in-the-90's conditions were causing some of the fires to flare up again.  They were predicting another cold front in a few days, which hopefully will help.

Anyway, we watched the video of how Crater Lake was formed, and it's absolutely fascinating:  over 500,000 years the volcano that ultimately became known as Mt. Mazama was building up, layer, by layer, through small eruptions, but all the while the huge magma chamber deep below the surface was filling with molten material and building up huge volumes of gases.  Some 7700 years ago there was an explosive eruption which blew the whole top of the mountain up and then it all collapsed down into the magma chamber, leaving this enormous caldera, the big crater.  This type of eruption, where the walls of the mountain remain intact, is very rare--remember when Mt. St. Helen erupted in 2008 it blew out one side of the mountain wall.  So here, when the volcano blew, scientists estimate that it sent ash and debris over 30,000 feet into the air and spread it over hundreds of miles around.  The amazing thing about this is that, by all estimates, it took half a million years for all this pressure to build, and only a matter of hours for the volcano to erupt, the top of the mountain to completely collapse and this huge crater to form!  Since the walls of the caldera remained intact, the lake formed over these last 7700 years just through snow and rain; there are no streams or rivers flowing either into or out of Crater Lake  The average annual snowfall is 44 ft, although the ranger said that last year they got only 15 feet--so much for the global warming deniers!  But they did get a lot of rain last year, so the total average precipitation level was close to the historical levels.  So the lake fills by the snowmelt and the rain, and the only way any of the water is lost from the lake is through evaporation on the surface, or seepage through the porous rock on the bottom.  It's nearly 2000 feet at its deepest--the deepest lake in North America--and, due to the fact that there are no streams or rivers feeding into the lake it is some of the most pristine water on earth.  The water is the most amazing shade of deep blue I've ever seen and none of the pictures we took come anywhere close to showing just how unique this color is.  But it's unlike anything else.

The video also included a Native American man from the Klamath tribe, whose ancestors have inhabited this part of the earth for eons.  He told of their traditional oral history that has been passed down from generation to generation, and how their belief is that the explosion came about as the result of a fight between two powerful spirits that ultimately came to violence, resulting in the explosion.  Fascinating to me to explore the myth systems of different cultures--we all have our own myth systems, important to our understanding of the "whys" of events, particularly when we have more difficulty understanding the "hows" of events.  I remember studying in college the importance of myth systems to individuals and cultures, and how traumatic it is when these myth systems break down--think the stories of George Washington throwing the silver dollar across the Potomac, or chopping down the cherry tree, etc.   Likely didn't actually happen that way, but the telling of these myths help define who we are as a people, just like the Klamath stories of the lake being formed by the battle between these two spirits.

On the drive back, we stopped at several overlooks along the rim of the caldera, just to look down on the lake--just a stunning view!  Trisha had come here as a teenager with her family, so it brought back lots of memories for her.  Her father was an avid outdoorsman and spent a lot of time hiking and exploring, especially the national parks--he truly loved these parks, and loved taking the family to see the wonders of the natural world.  His tradition was also that every time the family entered a national park, he would stop to take a picture of the kids standing by the entrance sign.  So it was bittersweet for Trisha, to be here and feel how much she misses her parents, especially knowing how much joy her father would get if he were here with us.

The next day we took a boat tour on the lake, and we were so glad we did it.  You have to hike down a trail a little over a mile down to the lake surface to get on the boat.  It's about a 750 ft. elevation drop from the top to the lake surface, so the trail is pretty steep--not as steep as the Ute trail in Aspen, which is the same length but with a 1200 ft. elevation gain!  But nevertheless it's steep and they have lots of warnings to people about having enough water, etc.  Turned out not to be quite as hot as they had predicted, but the hike up was a real challenge for some folks.  We saw one woman who looked like she was going to pass out, and they did have rangers periodically walking the trail to see if anyone needed aid.  But on the boat we got to see the blue water up close and could see just how clear it is.  The ranger showed us a device called a secchi disc--a flat disc divided into 4 sections, alternatively painted black and white, on a thin wire cable--that's used to measure the clarity of water.  It is dropped into the water, spooling out the cable as it goes down.  When it is no longer visible, they stop the spooling, pull up the cable and measure the depth at which the water is clear enough to see the disc.  They've recorded it as far as 144 feet down--making this the clearest lake in the world!  Although the lake had been known by the natives for thousands of years, the first known sighting by any American was in the mid-1800's.  A man named Will Steel first saw it near the turn of the century and was so taken with it's beauty he made it his life's work to get this designated as a national park, to ensure its pristine nature was protected--thank you Will Steel!

Another wonderful experience while we were at Diamond Lake RV Park--the afternoon before we were going to go on the boat trip Trisha was walking Sophie around the park, and this woman came out of her RV to see our little one.  She told Trisha that when she looked out her window she just had to come out and pet Sophie, as she and her husband had lost their beloved little dog not too long ago. Well, she was just the nicest person and before long we had two new friends, Sharyn and Tom, from Arizona.  After talking for a while and seeing how much it meant to her to hold Sophie, as she talked lovingly about their little Leon, we asked if she would mind coming over to our rig the next day while we were on the boat to take her out for a walk.  She was delighted to do it, so she wanted us to walk over to their rig so she could get a picture of her sweet little Leon to show us.  When we got to their RV, Sophie just went nuts trying to climb up the stairs to get inside--she always loves to see other dogs, and it was as if she could sense Leon's spirit still in their RV!  Well, she asked us if it would be okay if the next day she brought Sophie back to their rig for a while, and this is what she did--she said Sophie just played, and napped on Tom's lap and they all had a great time.  So, when we got back we took them some of the halibut I had caught in Alaska as a thank you and now we all had become great friends.  That's just one of the things we just love about RVing, how we meet such nice people and, even though you may only be together for a short while, you know you have long lasting friendships.  So we exchanged travel cards and hopefully we'll cross paths again sometime.

Driving through eastern Washington, on the way to Oregon--big load of freshly cut hay for storage until likely shipment to Asia
 At first we thought the reds were flowers, but as we got closer it was a ground cover.

 Loved the windmill farm in the background, with the trees in the foreground looming above the Columbia River behind us
 Lovely farmland, and the interesting pattern of the hills behind the buildings as we descended toward the Columbia River where we spent the night
 Always fascinated by these old building!

 Land scarred by the fires in

Mt. Hood

 What a difference water makes!  Look how green the irrigated fields are compared to the edges--also what looks like a stack of bricks is actually a huge stack of boxes for transporting fruit
 Great looking fields of corn

 Trisha does such a wonderful job of using the different settings on the camera to get these amazing colors

 The majestic Columbia River, the border between Washington and Oregon

 Lovely Mt. Hood  in the background!!

 Some firefighters along the road; you can see the evidence of where the fires have burned in the picture above and here behind their truck
 And here, on the right side of the road
 Amber waves of grain!!

 And purple mountain majesty!!

 Coming into a little town called Shaniko, Oregon
 Set up sort of like an old west town, which it once was, and is now basically a sort of museum like display

Mt. St. Helen

 Passed this field full of llamas!  These were obviously just recently shorn, but they left much more hair on their legs than their bodies.  Couldn't get a good closeup but they almost looked like the way some standard poodles are groomed, with closely clipped bodies and furry legs!
 On the bike trail around Diamond Lake

 In a lot of these shots, you can see how smoky it was over the lake, how some places there were spots where the smoke had not settled, but overall it was pretty thick

 The trail also took us past these beautiful amber marshlands

 And across this gorgeous wooden bridge
 Looking up the stream from the bridge

 Lovely green moss on this tree trunk
 And these lovely great big ferns

 You can see the smoke rising here, this was the first afternoon as we drove into the National Park
 The lake is so blue--the first Americans called it Deep Blue Lake; it wasn't until some years later that a newspaper editor posted some pictures and called it Crater Lake that this name took hold
 This is Wizard Island, so named by Will Steel, as it looked to him like a wizard's hat.  This is actually a smaller volcano within the larger volcano that gradually built up after the initial big explosion.  You can see the outline of the crater at the top--it's actually about 300 ft. in diameter

 The scene as we were driving along the park road that afternoon.

 Beautiful park HQ building

 Just to give you some perspective on how large these rocks are at the base of the building

 Loved the way this little tree showed up against the background!
 Crater Lake Lodge, where we went to get our tickets for the next day's boat ride
 Some beautiful red berries outside the lodge
 Looking down on the lake from the lodge

 We are both taken with these desiccated tree trunks, especially like here that show the roots as well as the branches--just imagine the years of history contained in all the twists and turns of the wood

 Looking down on Wizard Island
 And into the crater at the top of the island

 The sun catches Trisha's long shadow!!

 Brilliant colors of some wildflowers by the overlook

 Fire watch tower above the lookout

 Some of the smaller islands around Wizard

 The fires and smoke visible as we drove out of the park

 All these charred trees

 The day we took the boat ride, hiking down the trail

 These two kids jumping off the ledge into the 38 degree waters of the lake, from near where we boarded the boat

 We opted for a bit more stationary pose!!
 Looking down into the water from above
The white layers are deposits of small micro organisms that have built up over time
Evidence of some avalanche activity, where some of the caldera walls have come down into the lake

Evidence of the heavy iron content in the rock

Naturally formed cave

Just shooting right at the water--unbelievably blue!!

Tree trunk on the lava rock shore as we passed Wizard Island

Looking down into the water near the island
And this lovely turning tree!

Some brilliant colors along the caldera walls

Where they store the boats during the winter.  This and several other small craft used by scientists who study the lake have been brought in by helicopter, as are all the larger items of supplies
Just look as these fabulous colors!!

Looking down into the water near Wizard Island

This one rock outcropping is called a castle
And the reflections are just stunning!

And this castle-like formation on the caldera wall, obviously in a place where the concentration of iron is heavy
Love how the reflection causes this reverse image

This is a floating 40 ft "tall" tree, dubbed The Old Man of the Lake, that's been floating throughout the lake for years and years--it's partially petrified, but floats into different locations, depending on the winds.  There was a guy on the boat who told us he'd been her 17 years ago and saw it then, in a different part of the lake!

Loved these shots of the sun's rays, shining down from the heavens!!

Some shots as we were hiking back up the trail to our car


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Chuck! It's a beautiful place--I gather that you've been there, but if not, you definitely should put it on your list!