Westward Wanderlust Day 14
Crater Lake, OR
July 23rd, 2012
Snow is a surprising sight at 7:00am in July. Last night we parked along the east rim of Crater Lake, near Llao Rock. We woke facing a rather rocky snow-covered terrain and the snow-capped Grouse Hill in the distance.
As we enjoyed our coffee, we took advantage of our leisurely morning to rearrange the car. One thing that you learn while living in a small enclosed space for an extended period of time is the more organized you are the better. And of course, the less stuff you have the better! I think we have done a pretty good job keeping organized, so far. The fact that we are able to move almost everything in to the front seats when we choose to sleep in the back of the car shows that we tried to be selective in what we brought along. Two “unnecessary items” that we did decide to bring along that take up a considerable amount of space are D’s guitar and my banjo. But worth it? You bet!
We spread our belongings out on the rocks as a man on a bicycle rolled up next to our car. He dismounted his ride and stood admiring the view. He observed our explosion of camping gear and looked at D.
“Did you stay here last night?”
“Yep!” D smiled.
“Must have been a cold one!”
“At times,” D answered.
The cyclist nodded approvingly. It was obvious he assumed we had been TENT camping last night, but we decided to let him think that. Maybe it would inspire him.
We enjoyed some YPB (yogurt and peanut butter) with granola and were on our way. Crater Lake is an incredibly intense blue, a color unlike any other I have ever seen when it comes to a body of water. Crater Lake is the deepest freshwater lake in the United States, 1,932 feet at the deepest point. And because the lake is so clear, visibility through the water is up to 130 feet below the surface!
Crater Lake is located in the bowl-shaped caldera of Mt. Mazama, a volcano the caved-in about 6,800 years ago. The lake acts like a gigantic blue mirror. The rim of the caldera reflects back beside itself, creating beautiful parallel mountain ranges; tan and green Rorschach blots that beg you to stare at them and question what you see.
There are no streams entering or leaving the lake. Snow and rain replenish the water level, which remains fairly constant from year to year. However, the depth and purity of the lake are not the only factors that contribute to the awesome sapphire hue of Crater Lake.
To quote the educational signage, “Sunlight entering the crystal-clear water contains many colors. Red light is absorbed near the surface where its energy is converted to heat. Yellow light penetrates a little deeper before being absorbed. But blue light can travel to great depths where it causes electrons in water molecules to vibrate and re-radiate light in blue wavelengths. This scattered blue light is what the eye sees.”
Crater Lake wins the award for best educational park signage!
We stood staring into the deep blue depths of the lake when we were joined by a small, insistent neighbor.
This ground squirrel was particularly bold, probably due to the fact that he has been able to charm many a potato chip, marshmallow, and peanut from the hands of countless well-meaning tourists.
D really got the treatment from this furry little beggar.
With our little friend sufficiently disappointed in our refusal to feed him, he scampered off. We took one last look at our view and set off for another.
The Phantom Ship is not quite as haunting, but still an exceptional sight during the day.
We continued along the Rim Drive.
It was 55 degrees at 10:00am. Excited by a directional sign I had spotted one the side of the road, we proceeded to the Castle Crest Wildflower Trail. This natural wildflower garden is fed by springs and snowmelt. As a result, an abundance of native wildflowers grow here. Around the colorful blossoms, the ground is thick with lush green grasses and tumbling mounds of moss.
The trail is surrounded by dense stands of Mountain Hemlock, Lodgepole Pine, and Shasta Red and Alpine Fir. It is a quiet trail, the trees insulating us from the noise of the outside world, bringing us closer to the sounds and sensations of the natural land. It was as if the forest had reached her branches around us, like welcoming arms gathering us closer to the Earth, huddling in to hear her whisper “Can you hear me?”
We carefully followed the narrow path, stopping to examine the beautiful details of the flora and foliage at our feet.
Built by the Boy Scouts in 1929, the trail winds through forest, swamp, and meadow, and over a small alpine creek. This diversity of growing zones allows for a wide array of species to flourish in a very small area.
I was ecstatic when I spotted a very unique flower that I had seen in the Audubon flower guidebook we brought along; the Elephanthead.
The trail ended just beyond the alpine creek. I was incredibly excited about our stop. Quite a few flowers for a trail that is less than half a mile!
We headed back toward the main attraction for another look.
We decided to step inside the Crater Lake Lodge and check out the decor.
Since we were not planning on taking any of the boat tours on to the lake itself, we decided that it was time to move on to our next destination: Redwood National Park.
We followed Hwy 62 south out of Crater Lake through the Rogue River National Forest. Our path took us through a few towns, following the Rogue River all the way to Grants Pass. The narrow road curved through narrow tree-lined passes and rural valleys.
The closer we came to the California state line, the more congested the traffic became. Even though we have traveled through many different landscapes, rural and urban, mountainous and monotonous, we always seem to feel a little jarred and out of place when we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of city civilization. Everyone is rushing around, seemingly not looking at what they are doing or where they are going, but desperately trying to get there before the other guy. There always seems to be someone shunned for being in the way, for blocking the flow of the collective routine, and there are few who care to find out why, or to step out of line themselves. The habit of indifference rules the lives of many.
This apathy to anything that does not serve us, anything that does not move faster than we can think ourselves, seems to be seeping into everyday existence. The National Parks have been our haven from this madly unaware, unconscious world. The feelings of amazement, wonder, and respect that eminate within our spirit as we experience these profoundly wild and unpredictable places cannot be culled from a cell phone app or a blog post. They must be cultivated from exposure and first-hand encounters. The National Parks are our gift to ourselves; the refuge that exists in these awesome places is within the reach of anyone who will extend themselves to meet it.
We took Hwy 199 south through Caves Junction, edging along the boarder of the Siskiyou National Forest. Soon, we had crossed another state line.
Redwood National Park is fairly close to the state line, and we soon arrived at the Hiouchi Information Center. We chatted with the rangers and got directions to the nearest campground, Jedediah Smith. We arrived to find that the campground full, so we continued on toward to the south end of the park, heading hopefully for Mill Creek campground. Hwy 199 becomes Hwy 101, which runs the length of the park. Guess what road was under heavy construction? We inched along HWY 101, the largest and longest backup located at the turn for Mill Creek campground. An unfortunate member of the National Park staff had been allotted the task of stopping, then waving impatient drivers through. Luckily, few cars were turning down the road to the campground. We smiled at the young woman directing traffic and waved a thank you. She nodded, seeming appreciative of the gesture, then turned back to the long line of frustrated travelers.
We followed the long, steep road down to the campground, arriving at a small ranger station. The ranger explained the procedure to us: She gave us a map of the campground and circled the 9 out of 145 sites that were still available. We were welcome to drive down and take a look before we decided where we would camp, but once we decided we were to return to the ranger and inform her of our choice so she did not inadvertently provide inaccurate availability information to the next carload of campers. She asked what kind of site we were interested in and was kind enough to inform us which sites were the most private and most wooded so we could look at them first.
We crept through the campground, judging each available site we passed. Each site is equipped with a picnic table, food storage locker, and fire ring. As we continued past the list of recommended locations, we knew the moment we arrived at Site 145 that we had found where we would pitch our tent.
The site was encircled with red alder and second-growth redwoods. The under growth was thick with massive green sprays of ferns, and a layer of green moss-covered any wood in sight. The Mill Creek Canyon was logged in the 1920’s and 1930’s which, though unfortunate, has allowed for a singular element that sets this campground apart; the most massive, moss-covered stumps you have ever seen!
There were three huge stumps within our campsite, but the one that delighted us most was the one that was hollow and more than big enough for us to climb inside.
Thrilled with the amazing site we had been able to snag, and hesitant to battle the traffic of Hwy 101 again, we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring our campsite, campground, and just generally enjoying some downtime. We took a walk around the campground and found the site of the campground hosts. We had been informed that we could get firewood from our host, but nobody was home. There was an open campfire ban in effect, but luckily campsites with raised fire rings were still permitted to have fires. As we walked we heard the noise of something small and motorized. The sound grew louder and a man driving a small golf cart emerged from around the bend. In the back of the cart there were tidy bundles of firewood. We flagged him down and inquired about firewood. He was campground host Bill. Yes, he would sell us firewood, and if we told him our site number, he would be happy to deliver it. We thanked him and continued on our walk, observing the details as we went.
We walked along the west branch of Mill Creek, then circled back to our site. Our firewood was waiting for us.
It was somewhere around 4:00 pm when we spread out on our picnic table and did some “work” (i.e. uploading and organizing photos from camera and working our way through the growler of organic IPA we had purchased at Hopworks Urban Brewery.) The low, lingering hoot of an owl rose from somewhere in the high foliage and we sat quietly listening to the song of the Redwoods.
We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring our site, climbing around in the stump, and observing our surroundings.
I finally pried myself away from The Stump and looked out the entrance of our campsite. The eldest son of an Amish family that was camping across the road from us had established the path between our sites and the bathroom as his unicycle practice area. His younger siblings watched with youthful intensity as he wobbled back and forth between on the dirt and pavement.
After a while, he amassed a small crowd of admirers and was giving lessons to a fascinated teenage onlooker.
As night began to fall, we made a fire and tried to figure out the best way to reheat our delicious leftover calzones from Hopworks Urban Brewery.
As we sat watching the night morph the trees and stumps into indistinguishable silhouettes, D came up with a fun idea: Play with the light we could produce with headlamps, lanterns, and candles, and try to take pictures of the stump in the dark. Of course, we didn’t have enough light to really do the entire stump justice, but we enjoyed highlighting the nooks and crannies of the mammoth mass of wood, playing with our perspective, and imagining what mysterious creatures might be lurking in the shelter of the shadows.
Pleased to be spending the night in our tent instead of the back of the car, we turned in after our fire burned out. Tomorrow we would explore the rest of the Redwood National Park.
Westward Wanderlust Soundtrack Day 14 –
“Go Outside” – The Cults
“Soul Bossa Nostra” – Ludacris & Quincy Jones
“Estelle vs Ting Tings” – The Hood Internet
“Good Times Roll Pt2” – RJD2
“Raise Your Weapon” – Deadmau5/ Madeon
“I Want to Take You Higher” – Sly and the Family Stone