The drive to Crater Lake was wholly uneventful. Out first taste of what lay ahead was seeing Mount McLoughlin out in the distance.
Soon we had entered a National Forest and were driving through thick pine woods. We both agreed that something about it reminded us of the opening shot in The Shining.
I had exhausted my disappointingly limited collection of folksy classic rock (I have no idea what happened to it all) and saw The Moody Blues Greatest Hits sitting, unlistened to, on my iPod's list of artists. I think I downloaded it from our old roommate, George, back when Sam and I lived in the loft in Bushwick, circa 2005. I'm sure I had heard them in the past, but the only song I really recognized was The Story in Your Eyes. (Cue my dad either saying, "I used to play the Moody Blues all the time!" Or alternatively, "They really weren't my thing. . . ." Your call here, Dad!)
I mention all this because music can really help me to remember a place or the feeling I was having. It can help me form a memory. There are many songs that, though listened to many times before, will transform into memory bookmarks if they are being played when something important happens.
Driving through all these big trees inspired me to play James Taylor; John Denver; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Simon and Garfunkel. If there had been Woody Guthrie, Joanie Mitchell, or Joan Baez on my iPod they would have had plenty of airtime too. But as I said, we had run out of that music and I decided to give the Moody Blues a shot. Their older songs — the ones with big orchestral sounds — fit the swooping road and tall trees perfectly and definitely imprinted the memory of the beautiful drive on my brain.
We arrived at Crater Lake on the lodge's opening day of the 2014 season. This was sheer luck and had we been even a day earlier, the park would have seemed more one-dimensional. The roads were perfectly clear but most of the park was covered in meters of snow. See exhibit A.
Remember how I mentioned The Shining earlier? Well get a load of the lodge in picture 4! Not too far off there, eh? We took a tip from a ranger at the visitor's center and went to sit in the lounge area of the lodge to have a beer and a bite to eat. The timing coincided with Ranger Brian's first fireside chat of the season. It was also our first ranger program of the trip and it gave us a little more context on the history of the lake and the founding of the park. We learned that Crater Lake is a collapsed volcano, not a crater from an asteroid or anything, and all the sapphire blue water therein is rainwater and runoff (though there is a "hot" spring at the very bottom of the lake that runs a few degrees warmer than the rest of the water).
We had plans to hike the lake road the next day since most of it was still closed to cars, but we knew there was a chance that weather would blow in and we wouldn't get a clear shot of the lake so Sam took several nice pictures of our view at the lodge just to be safe. And I took a photo of Sam, mainly because he was wearing his awesome hat from Texas.
We headed back down the mountain to the Union Creek Resort to tuck in for the evening. This is another resort that isn't a modern-day resort. It was founded in the 20s and the building we started in was built in the late 30s. We had an adorable lodge room overlooking the lodge's namesake creek and shared a shower down the hall with a number of other rooms. Across the street was Beckie's, aptly famous for their fruit pies, and out front was a "wagon" that smoked up barbecue daily. Were the prices a bit inflated? Sure. Was the strength of the wifi slightly frustrating for Sam, who had hoped to get several more blog posts going in our downtime? Decidedly so. But in the end, it was a nice spot to hang our hats and had unplugging been the goal, it would have been a perfect fit.
The next morning we drove back up the snowy mountain to take our little hike. The pessimistic forecast had failed to materialize so we were looking far and deep into the valleys below as we strolled past walls of melting snow and loose rock towering above the road. After a little while we decided to settle on a destination, and based on the recommendation of a hiker on a return trip, we stopped about three miles in where an excellent lake overlook was located.
Now, there are a few tricky things about being in snow that deep in a landscape you're unfamiliar with, especially on a sunny 50° day in mid-May. One: we are on the edge of a crater. This thing slopes down pretty intensely but the two meters of snow that had yet to melt hung over the edge quite a bit. Stepping up on a snow bank to get a better view could be quite perilous, at least in the eyes if a worrier such as myself. Two: chunks of snow and rock would tumble down the mountainside next to us and into the Crater every few minutes or so. Not enough to call it an avalanche, but we were at the viewpoint for maybe twenty minutes and heard creaking and crumbling sounds at least three times. This added to the worrier dialogue running in my head.
It's one of the first really warm days of the year. This road is closed to cars for a reason. Walls of snow are around us on both sides. You can clearly see where rocks have tumbled from the mountain, across the road, and into the snow. There are gashes in the pavement from falling rock. How many people have we seen on this road today? Maybe 8 in 2 hours.
So the hike back consisted of Sam and I discussing how to handle worst-case scenarios. He acted all calm, but the thoughtfulness in his answers tells me he had given that stuff thought too. Right? Ok, probably not. Sam doesn't worry when he's in the mountains.
Needless to say, the walk back was perfectly uneventful beyond seeing a golden retriever off-leash about a quarter mile down the road and not being entirely sure that it wasn't a wild cat or something. Cue your collective eyeroll at my wild imagination. Luckily, I still had The Story in Your Eyes stuck in my head and not Landslide or Hungry Like the Wolf...
So that was Crater Lake in its winter glory. In a few weeks people will be hiking real trails, taking boat tours around the lake and fishing. But I'm glad we saw it with snow because that's how it is most of the year.
We coasted the Omimobile in neutral for 20 minutes and 13 seconds (14.99 miles) from the park to the lodge. That is a lot of downhill!
The Old Man of the Lake is a 30ft log that has been floating vertically in Crater lake since at least 1896. We didn't see him, but it sure makes for a good fact.
Crater Lake sees an average of 44 feet of snow each winter. The walls of snow had layers like the rocks in the Grand Canyon.