Crater Lake National Park

August 29-30, 2010

We visited Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake was formed when Mt. Mazama collapsed into itself 7,700 years ago in the largest eruption in North America for hundreds of thousands of years. The caldera then filled with water and snowmelt to become the deepest lake in the US (1,943 ft/592 m) and one of the deepest lakes in the world. It is also one of the world's highest lakes, at a surface elevation of 6,173 ft (1882 m).1

The experience of visiting Crater Lake was not exactly what I had expected. I had packed shorts. The overnight temperature was 29 F (1.6 C). I slept in my wetsuit, which Eric referred to as my "neoprene nightie." I had thought we might swim in the lake, but that would have required getting the wetsuit wet. Driving around the lake was similar to our experience of visiting Joshua Tree, where we would stop the car, jump out, take a picture, and then jump back in. I had not expected, nor had I packed for, cold temperatures.

All the same, the lake was beautiful.

I would go so far as to say it was stunning.

See the green water below.

We knew we were in the Beaver State.

This is not a chipmunk -- it's a Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel.

A Clark's Nutcracker, singing.

Wizard Island, a smaller volcano within a volcano.

Here you can see the volcanic top.

The slopes around the lake are quite steep.

We stopped to find a clever geocache inside the Crater Lake Lodge.

The lobby was cozy and warm. We wished we had the money to stay there.

The west side of the lake has volcanic spines.

A pretty cove.

I loved this promontory.

A wildfire burned off to the northwest, fortunately nowhere near the campground.

This feature is called the Phantom Ship.

The road on the north side of the lake is at a higher elevation, and the lookouts are exposed to bitterly chill winds. I was afraid it would be as cold in camp (on the south side of the lake) as it was up on the north side, and was dreading the thought of having dinner outdoors. Fortunately, the south side of the lake was 10F (3C) warmer, and the wind was quite still. All the same, after my nauseating dread of the whole dinner experience, and our view of the extreme luxury available at the Crater Lake Lodge, I decided that we should wimp out and have dinner at the (much less expensive) restaurant near the campground. It was $17 for the full buffet, and only $10 for the soup and salad buffet I had, so it was still an indulgence, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable one. The boat tours, lodge and concessions here are all operated by a private tour company called Xanterra. Ordinarily, I am against privatization of these sorts of things, but I've got to admit that the Xanterra staff are uniformly friendly and exceedingly helpful. I am not sure whether this is because of Xanterra's training, or just because we're in Oregon. Eric and I once got the friendliest oil change we've ever had in Ashland. Oregon is just a fantastic place, and its people wonderful.

Our time in camp was difficult. Not only was it cold, at 3:30 am, it began to rain. Fortunately, the rain did not become particularly hard until morning, when Eric had to put the (ridiculously enormous) fly on the tent in a hurry. The wetsuit was tight and uncomfortable, but it was a noticeable improvement over lying awake all night because I was too miserably cold to sleep.

Eric took this picture of me in all of my sleeping gear.

I have camped in the rain before, but only when the temperature was at least 60F (15C). This was much worse. I didn't dare let the wetsuit get the least bit wet, because I thought I would need it to sleep in at least one more night, so, I had to change into all of my clothes before being able to trot off to the faraway bathroom.

"I'm going to be a seven-layer burrito," I told Eric, putting on as many warm clothes as I had with me and wishing I had brought along my winter coat with the furry hood.

"Extra guac," he replied.

Fortunately, our gas stove worked in the rain, as the pot covered the flame. We ate breakfast in the car, because Eric insisted it would be more comfortable than the tent. Of course, he had the passenger seat. While sitting in the car eating breakfast, we read in the park newspaper that the boat tour we were taking for the day would be in an uncovered boat. The paper warned us to bring plenty of sunscreen. Ha-ha. I was looking forward to the tour much less than I had been when reserving it back home. It was already paid for, though, so I was ready to just bundle up as much as I could and go along, hoping for the best.

Xanterra provides nice hot showers. In the shower, I started to feel for the first time that the day might turn out to be OK.

I needn't have worried about being too cold on the boat trip.

We'll clearly have to come back to Crater Lake someday so we can do the boat ride.

Well, improvisation was clearly the name of the game here, and Eric and I improv artists, so we came up with an alternative plan. Rather than spending another night freezing at Crater Lake, we decided to head in the direction of our next destination, Newberry Volcanic National Monument, stopping to find the caches we had planned along the way. We would drive past Newberry itself, however, to spend the night at a cheap motel in nearby Bend, with a plan to return south a bit to visit Newberry on Tuesday. We would look at weather forecasts, and decide whether to camp at Newberry as planned, or spend both of the next two nights at the motel in Bend, doing Newberry as a day trip from Bend.

First, however, we would go out to see the Pinnacles at the southeastern end of the lake.

On the way we stopped to look at "the Cliffs of Lichen!" (Imagine a Vizzini voice.)

The park's newspaper explains that the Pinnacles were formed by "erosion from the canyon wall. The spires are 'fossil fumaroles,' each marking a spot where volcanic gas rose up through hot ash deposits, cementing the ash into solid rock."

They were dramatic in the mist.

A steep view down. Here, we were on the outside edge of the crater that contains the lake.

The tip of this one reminds me of a duck's head.

Given the rain, we declined to take the mile-long (1.6 km) walk along the ridge. We felt that we had seen most of what there was to see.

On the road back to camp, we stopped to take a picture of this dramatic crater slope, bathed in wildflowers. Yes, I should have wiped the raindrops off the lens!

Lovely Vidae Falls.

The driving was miserable. All of our defrosters, together with the air conditioner, couldn't keep the inside of the windshield clear. Eric had to keep wiping it with a towel. The rain turned into something more like wet snow.

We went back to the Visitor Center for a virtual cache we had saved for the day, the Lady of the Woods. This is not a natural formation.

The ranger at the Visitor Center told us they were predicting cold temperatures for tomorrow as well. I called the ranger at Newberry, who told me they were expecting temperatures in the 30's F (single digits C) for the night we'd planned to stay there. I used a pay phone to reserve a room at the Super 8 in Bend for two nights.

We returned to our camp to find our mattress pad sitting in a puddle.

The puddle that was under our tent. Photo by Eric.

It was eminently clear that the capacity of our equipment was insufficient for present conditions and that the decision to retreat, although expensive, turned out to be the correct one.

We made one last stop on the way out of the park, at the Pumice Desert.

This area shows the extent of the actual flow of the eruption, although of course ash and soot were carried much further. The area is virtually devoid of plant life because the pumice (which is actually a form of glass) cannot hold enough water to support much life.

Trying not to be too disappointed and discouraged, and mostly just cold and wet, we headed on toward Bend.

Distance driven: 209 mi (336 km)

Caches found: 5


Distance driven: 503 mi (810 km)

Caches found: 7

1US National Park Service On to Newberry Volcanic National Monument.

Last updated: 09/23/2010 by Eric and Beth Zuckerman