I’m sure everyone at some point has seen, or at least heard of, Crater Lake. Crater Lake is an ancient volcano, in the state of Oregon, that collapsed in on itself, creating a huge caldera that has filled with water over the millennia. Because of the cleanness of the water and the depth of the lake (nearly 2000 feet, making it the deepest lake in the United States), it is said to be the bluest water you can find. How is someone like me to resist such a beauty? The concern is that I know that late May in the Pacific Northwest can be hit or miss when it comes to rainy and cloudy conditions. But, I figured I would take a chance because it’s not as though I’m going to be passing through again anytime soon.
Coming from the north I turned off US 97 onto SR 138 then SR 230, not to far away from the headwaters of the Rouge River. The river winds it’s way along the route cascading over numerous falls and beginning it’s trek to the Pacific Ocean. With the rainfall and the still ongoing snow melt, the river was vibrant and rushing along. With all the moisture in the area, the place almost glowed with life. Every shade of green that you could possible imagine just popped along the river. The tall fir trees that lined the road were deep green in color that just framed the road perfectly with a small sliver of sky between them. The undergrowth was bright and thick making it almost impossible to focus on staying in your lane.
Eventually, you turn onto SR 62 which leads you up into the park. While the majority of the day was hit or miss when it came to weather, about halfway up the mountain, I started to realize that my visions of seeing the blue waters against the backdrop of the ancient volcano first hand would have to wait for another day. As I climbed higher, the clouds started to thicken, eventually getting to almost complete whiteout conditions. It was so thick that I could barely see much past the hood of my car. So while I knew I wasn’t going to have the clear conditions I was hoping for, I started to experience something quite a bit different, which was just as memorable.
Some may know that when forest fires break out in national parks, a lot of the time, they are allowed to burn as a natural renewal of the park. What is usually left are the charred remains of the old trees burned down to not much more than the trunk and few stubby branches sticking out. Under normal circumstances, those are things that you don’t really take notice of and just keep moving along, but with the white out conditions, these dead trees would appear out of the mist like some scene from Sleepy Hollow. It created just the eeriest feeling as you crept your way up the mountain along the switchbacks. Finally, I made it to the top, where there was still quite a bit of snow lingering around and as I expected, the lake was barely visible. You could barely see far enough out to get a glimpse of Wizard Island. It was cold, drizzly, and worth every second!
As I headed back down the mountain, the clouds finally lifted and I was left with a short, but very enjoyable drive toward the town of Medford. The road follows the path of the Rogue River making it quite the sporty drive. There are lots of turns, some small elevation changes, and some great views along the way. It was getting late in the day so I wasn’t able to take my time and really see it all, but the drive was enough to get the adrenaline flowing a bit.
So there is no doubt in my mind that one day I will return and make it a point to see this blue beauty the way it is meant to be seen. But, what I take from this is the story of Crater Lake that most people don’t tell. There is a gloomy side to this gem.