Monday, October 9, 2017

Crater Lake car tours

Bookending my recent East Applegate Ridge hike were two trips to Crater Lake National Park. The scenic park was where I had planned to ostensibly expose a pair of first-time visitors to the splendors of the lake via the medium of hiking trail. However, in both visits, we somehow managed not to get any hiking done at all. But hey, we did make it to Crater Lake, a place where thousands of tourists from all over the world come to visit. And if most visitors could have a grand time in the park while never setting foot on a trail? Well, then so could we.

The A Team
Grandson Liam had never been to Crater Lake so we took the long way to Grants Pass from Roseburg, making a detour of several hundred miles when we swung by the iconic lake. Our visit would be confined to the east side of the lake though. as the Rim Road on the west side was closed due to the Spruce Lake Fire. It was shocking to see the burned and devastated forest at the northern entrance of the park but at least recent rains had tamped down the fire, although plenty of smoldering hot spots still remained active within the burn zone.

What's that sound I hear?
It's Mount Scott calling us
So we worked our way around the east side of the lake, stopping at various viewpoints along the way. It had snowed recently and several inches of snow covered the higher points on the rim. When we arrived at the Mount Scott Trailhead, Mount Scott was all frosty and white against a dark blue sky. "I so want to do this!" I said. Liam chimed in "Me, too!"

Inviting path below Mount Scott
There were a couple of problems here. One, we were both clad in shorts and while the weather was fairly balmy in the high 40's, It was bound to be a lot colder on the Mount Scott summit. And, if for some emergency type reason, we were unable to return to the trailhead promptly, then our relative lack of clothing would certainly become a liability.


Secondly, as we hiked on the trail and started the ascent upwards, trail conditions were not optimal. People had hiked here in the days prior and had smushed the snow down with their boots as they hiked. Overnight, the tromped snow had frozen, making the trail slippery and icy. Liam was in tennis shoes (another reason not to hike) and neither one of us had crampons, so I used the wisdom and prudence inherent with my advanced years and called it, much to both our disappointment.

Gorge wall on the Upper Rogue
After our drive-by around the lake, we stopped at Becki's Restaurant in Union Creek to eat humongous burgers stuffed full of jalapenos . With bloated and distended bellies from too much lunch, we worked off some calories and jalapeno-inspired steam with a late afternoon walk at the Rogue Gorge.

Autumn cometh!
The trail following the Upper Rogue River was quite colorful as this was the onset of autumn. Most of the color was due to vine maple growing in dense thickets along the river. The small trees were colored all sorts of combinations of green, yellow, orange, and red. A late afternoon sun imbued the forest with a soft glow that accentuated the autumn finery. Fully sated after a mile or so, we then returned Liam to his mother in Grants Pass.

Formidable redoubt
Two weeks later, Jay let it be known he'd like to go to Crater Lake, since he'd never been, either. No problem, we could go and I'd still be able to get a hike in before the winter snows shut things down. When we made a brief snack stop at nearby Diamond Lake, an arctic wind blew across a churning lake with wind-driven waves nearly swamping the marina boardwalks. Not a good sign, but hopefully, things would be better at Crater Lake. Or maybe not.

Dust storms from an invisible army
As we parked at the Meridian Viewpoint on the northwestern end of the lake, I was both dismayed and fascinated by haboobs (sandstorms!) blowing across the pumice deserts to the west. I walked down to take some photos of the large dust clouds while Jay scampered uphill for his first view of  Crater Lake.

Crater Lake, in all its frosty glory
After snapping off a couple of shots, I headed to the lake's rim but Jay was already running back down saying "We can't hike!" and he quickly sat in the car, arms folded resolutely in defiance. "Wha..?" I wondered, so I headed up  the rim. Yikes, the wind was blowing somewhere in the vicinity of 40 mph and with the temps being in the high 30's, it was nasty cold, Plus, the wind carried pumice grit which stung cheeks and got in eyes. I quickly ran back to the car to join Jay in arms-folded truculence.

Devil's Backbone

So, since hiking was not going to happen, our Plan B was a car tour around the lake. As we stopped at all the view points to photograph the iconic lake, I periodically assessed the possibility of a short hike to either The Watchman, the Crater Lake rim trail, or Garfield Peak. "Not happening today"  was the verdict in all cases. That bitter wind cut through all the layers of clothing I had on and Jay was not adequately attired for cold, either.

Tall cliffs at Sand Creek
The highlight of the day was remote Pinnacle Valley, where we took a short walk along Sand Creek. No, this is not your basic creek walk where one ambles next to a burbling creek. Nope, what happened here is when Mount Mazama exploded about 7,000 years ago, it not only created Crater Lake but buried the surrounding countryside in pumice and volcanic ash. The ash was quite hot in places and trapped heat and gases escaped from the soil in vents called fumaroles. My brother also has a vent that ejects hot toxic gases, but that's a different kind of fumarole. At any rate, the gases were hot enough to melt and fuse together the soil surrounding the fumarole conduit.

Pinnacle garden
The soft ash and pumice soil is easily eroded, even by a small nondescript stream such as Sand Creek. Over the millennia since the eruption, Sand Creek carved an incredibly deep and narrow canyon and stripped away the soils surrounding the hardened fumaroles, exposing a phantasmagorical garden of pointy pinnacles, some of which either resembled a 7-story mushroom or, let's just keep it clean here and stick with the mushroom metaphor.

Pinnacle amphitheater
A half-mile path long follows the rim of Sand Creek's canyon and we were impressed with both the dizzying view down into the canyon and the acres of pinnacles pointing accusatory fingers up to the sky. Much photography ensued as we walked to the park boundary and back. Down here on the east side, we were obviously in Crater Lake's wind shadow. The air was as still as a cat waiting in front of a mouse hole, so we were somewhat hopeful about doing the hike to Mount Scott's summit once we were done with the Pinnacles.

Jay was duly impressed with Crater Lake
Not! Once back on the rim, we resumed our acquaintanceship with the fierce wind and there would be no hike up Mount Scott. We made a few more requisite stops at the frequent viewpoints on the rim before heading back to Roseburg. Several days after our visit, the east rim, the north park entrance, and the Pinnacles were all closed for the duration of this winter season. Although, we didn't get any hiking in, we did at least get to see some sights. And now, I'm going to break out the winter gear and hopefully come back for a Crater Lake snowshoe hike.

The calm before the storm
For more photos of my trip with Liam, please visit this Flickr album.

For more pictures of my outing with Jay, visit that Flickr album.


  1. Crater Lake is awesome however you visit it! But you really need to come back in winter and explore on snowshoes. That's the best. :)

  2. Preaching to the converted, Linda! Crater Lake and Diamond Lake seem to be in "heavy rotation" when it comes to my snowshoe itinerary every winter