The deepest lake in the United States, intensely blue, surrounded by rock walls so sheer that lake access is limited to one steep trail. With no inlet or tributaries (and no outflow other than seepage and evaporation), the water is some of the purest in the world… and since the great depth of the lake absorbs all but the blue wavelengths of light, it’s intensity is startling.
Several of the national parks we have visited have this characteristic in common: they remain hidden until you arrive. The Grand Canyon doesn’t reveal itself until you are about to go over the edge. Yosemite Valley is virtually invisible until you round that last corner.
Crater Lake, hidden in the ancient caldera high above the surrounding landscape, remained hidden from non-native eyes from the time of it’s creation 7,700 years ago (give or take a few) until 1853. Visitors today can drive the rim road to view the lake from all directions… but you see no sign of what awaits until you crest the caldera’s rim. That first view is a spectacular shock.
Our last visit to Crater Lake was five years ago. Last week, after our repairs were completed in Eugene, a check of the weather showed a three day window of good weather for a quick return trip. We pinpointed an Oregon State Park with a campground just 25 miles from the national park, and took off. The fact that our friends Jeff and Margaret, full timers we met at Catalina State Park in Arizona last March, were already settled in Collier Memorial State Park (read our review here) increased our anticipation of a great weekend.
We didn’t expect a campground in the high desert of Oregon to be full in October, and were glad we arrived by 1 pm, as sites were already mostly full. We snagged the site next door to Jeff and Margaret, set up our home, and took off for an exploratory walk.
Collier Memorial campground is located at the junction of two rivers, Spring Creek and Williamson River. A trail from the campground went directly to the bank of incredibly clear Spring Creek, and continued upstream to a bridge crossing to the Collier Memorial Logging Museum. We did a brief exploration, then continued on our hike along the riverside, through a stand of golden quaking Aspen, admiring the falls colors against a backdrop of blue sky and blue water.
When we returned, Jeff and Margaret were back at their rig, and we made plans to meet at the campfire after dinner – the start of a “tradition” that we enjoyed each of the three nights we camped there. Since we all had plans to visit Crater Lake the next day, we decided to meet at the Crater Lake Lodge for lunch.
Though the lodge’s Great Room and dining room are impressive, lunch – unfortunately – was not. The lodge and restaurant close on October 11, we dined on October 10 – and our waitress was soooo ready for that last day! The food was… well, “OK” sums it up for me. The limp leaf of lettuce that adorned my burger must have been the last one left in the refrigerator. Fortunately, the company was sparkling, as was the view.
Odel and I took off on a hike after lunch, but the slight breeze made the 49 degree high temperature too chilly for us. Instead, we hopped back into the Jeep and followed the rim road around the perimeter of the lake, stopping at all the recommended viewpoints to marvel at the lake and various interesting geological features.
Near the end of the drive, we followed a spur road seven miles south to the Pinnacles, formed when columns of hot gasses forced their way up through volcanic dust when the area was still geologically active. Now, as the softer volcanic soil erodes, the hardened spires reveal their interesting shapes and colors.
A short trail leads along the canyon edge, and before long, we found ourselves leaving the national park via the east entrance… not a road, just a trail. Odel posed on our return to the car.
Over the weekend, we checked the weather forecast regularly, hoping the rain/snow set to arrive on Monday night would be delayed or – better yet – a false alarm so we could spend a few more days in Oregon. No such luck; the amount of rain and the wind speeds seemed to increase each time we checked. The possibility of snow, and of high winds blowing through thick stands of tall pines, moved us into high gear and we hit the road by 10 am this morning. Destination: somewhere south, somewhere warmer.
Three hours later we were settled into a site at the Redding Elks lodge, a frequent stop for us on the I-5 corridor. Rain is forecast for tonight, increasing to very heavy tomorrow, along with a wind advisory for gusts up to 40 mph. Not a day to be on the road, so we’re planning to stick around for a few days until the autumn sunshine returns. Goodbye, Oregon!