One month ago today I was on my way to Crater Lake with my friend Mary. I had just picked her up at the Seattle airport the day before. She lives in North Carolina, and we met online. This wasn’t our first trip together — she’s been out here four times before — but it was one we’d been planning for a couple of years.
We left out early in the morning, and even with a stop for a huge pancake breakfast in Centralia, we arrived in Portland just in time for the last of rush hour. Portland seems to have a rush hour second only to Seattle’s, alas, but it didn’t delay us for too long.
I used to live in Eugene, Oregon, two hours further down the road, in the mid 1980s, back in the last economic downturn, back before it went yuppie, in the days when it felt like the Island of Lost Toys, from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Eugene used to be where all the old hippies went to die [g], and where the loggers protested the demise of the spotted owl (or, rather, the fact that it hadn’t, er, demised, so that they could log the remaining old growth), and where the University of Oregon fans still dreamed about the glory days of Steve Prefontaine. It’s not like that now, of course. But apparently I’d talked it up enough to Mary that she was expecting some sort of magical place, and I think she was a bit disappointed that it looked just like any other college town. Except for being in the middle of the forest, that is.
But highway 58 over Willamette Pass seemed to make up for it. I’d forgotten what a glorious climb that was, even if Mary didn’t approve of its pronunciation. “It’s Willamette, dammit,” is the standard rhyme, which I admit is a bit vulgar. Sort of. We drove past reservoirs and one of Oregon’s famous covered bridges, and up and up and up into the forest to the pass, where one of my favorite places to ski was, back in the days when I still skiied.
It took a lot longer to come down the east side of the mountains than I remembered. We stopped for a very late lunch at a rest area on highway 97, where a ground squirrel decided that Mary’s cheddar cheese was the best appetizer it had ever had.
The road leading west from highway 97 to Crater Lake might as well have been laid out with a ruler. It’s an anomaly in such mountainous country. At last we turned south into the park, and started climbing again.
Crater Lake is one of those places that is at least as amazing because of its unexpectedness as it is because of its beauty (which is saying a fair amount, given that it’s as gorgeous as it is). It’s like the Grand Canyon that way. You’re driving up through what looks like a very pretty, but fairly ordinary (for Cascades definitions of ordinary, anyway) alpine meadow, when all of a sudden the road stops, and you look out over the edge, and there’s this incredibly deep blue body of water that looks as if it had dropped from the sky. There really aren’t words, and, to use the cliché, pictures aren’t going to do it justice, either, but here are a few, anyway:
|See? Perfectly normal mountain scenery|
|But just turn around…|
The island is called Wizard Island.
|It just doesn’t look real, well, except for the park service boat (no private boats on the lake, mostly because you’d have to haul it over a mile straight down just to get to the dock).|
|That other tiny island is called Phantom Ship.|
We drove all the way around the lake that afternoon, stopping at various viewpoints along the way, and also once to see a pine martin trot across the road. Unfortunately, neither one of us managed to get our cameras aimed before he darted down into the bushes. We also saw more wildflowers than I expected given that the road itself had only opened for the season three weeks previously, and there were still snowbanks lying about.
|Alpine phlox, one of my alltime favorites.|
|One of many varities of penstemon.|
We spent the night at the cabins in Mazama Village, which were very nice, and ate dinner at the dining room there. All in all, a very good start to our trip.