Crater Lake

Yo listen up, here’s the story
About a little guy that lives in a blue world
And all day and all night and everything he sees is just blue
Like him, inside and outside
Blue his house with a blue little window
And a blue Corvette
And everything is blue for him
And himself and everybody around
‘Cause he ain’t got nobody to listen – Eiffel 65

From the sky, Crescent City, California, appears as an elbow dipped into the Pacific Ocean. A lighter shade of green, surrounded on three sides by deep forest and on the fourth by the migrating blues of an ever restless ocean. Leaving the broad beaches on the southern outskirts, Highway 101 cuts a sinuous path through town, past the garbled mix of businesses, empty police cars and old men on corners, before meeting Highway 199 and the surrounding darkness of redwoods.

As I make my way northeast toward the Oregon border, a layer of dawn fog hangs near the tops of trees that crowd the road on either side. Majestic redwoods are reduced to coarse sentinels, their high branches hidden in white. Brooding evergreens fill the space between, while ferns flourish in the deep shadows. Slanting eastern rays from an early morning sun somehow filter through the cottony mist. With each turn of the thin road, illuminated lines of dust waver, then disappear, like frames from Le Prince’s, Roundhay Garden Scene.

Near Grants Pass, Oregon, I-5 connects to Highway 234, before steadily moving northeast and melding into Highway 62. It’s early June and below, the Rogue River runs violent, cutting a 215 mile path from the Cascade Range to the Pacific Ocean. North of Medford, Lost Lake Creek bulges into the surrounding landscape, indigo and quiet. Brushing Rogue River Gorge before suddenly turning east, the road begins to rise, traces of dirt flecked snow lining the shoulder. In hollowed out patches of forest, felled trees lay in rows, perfect ends light in color. Clawed machinery lift the logs and drop them onto the groaning backs of wooden bedded trucks, visibly sinking below the weight. I am rising with the road, climbing into a cloudless cerulean sky. A few miles ahead lies the caldera left behind by the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama, 7,700 years ago.

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Sunset over Crater Lake. Looking east to Wizard Island. Named for Albus Dumbledore.

Rimmed by pulverized remains of the largest eruption within the Cascade Volcanic Arc in a million years, Crater Lake, at 1,943 feet, is the deepest freshwater body of water in the United States. Looking down on the lake for the first time, the world suddenly seems vibrant, colorized. Opaque Persian blue water, sits smooth and soundless, as if painted by a master’s hand. Wizard Island, bristled with evergreen and dusted with snow, rests near the western shore, exposed after millions of years in the silent dark, while just below the surface, a mountain still patiently breaths.

Until 1853 and it’s recorded discovery by John Wesley Hillman, a 21 year old recently returned from a successful trip into the California gold fields, Native Americans kept early explorers in the dark about Crater Lake. Sacred to the Makalaks, they believed looking upon the lake would bring death. Klamath Indians, descendants of the Makalak, as well as the Umpqua, continue to hand down oral accounts of the eruption, but no recorded stories about the blue lake that formed afterward. When the mountain disappeared, stories of Mount Mazama were replaced by silence and mystery. Even today, some Native Americans choose not to view Crater Lake.

A portion of East Rim Drive, ending at Pinnacles Road and the trailhead to Kerr Notch, had opened only a few days before I arrived on June 5th. Piled snow along the road left room for only a few vehicles to park. I pulled in behind a small RV, threw on my back pack and began the short hike to the crater’s rim. Most of the trail was covered in ankle deep snow. Where sun had found the snow, it was replaced by a muddy slush. Clumps of snow hung dripping from the branches of white bark pine, their upturned lime green needles contrasting honey brown cones. Near the rim, the ground begins to flow sharply downward. Large rocks, snow topped and scattered, sit beneath towering conifers.

Made of lava flow from Phantom cone, extinct for over 400,000 years, Phantom Ship Island stands 160 feet above water near the southwestern edge of the lake. Tree dotted but largely barren, the double masted ship of volcanic rock is reflected in the pure blue water. When I reach the top of the looping trail, my view of Phantom Ship is bordered in texture by forest green, as if framed. I sit on an old log fence and stare down into the impenetrable blue. If not for the pewter grey cliffs of the caldera, water and sky would seamlessly marry into a single shade of blue.

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Phantom Ship Island.

Because of snow cover, there are few rim trails open or not under considerable snow. Discovery Point trailhead is bare in sections, so I decided to hike. Located at the west end of Rim Village and Crater Lake Lodge, the trail leads northwest along the rim of Crater Lake. Meandering in and out of hemlock and pine, the path parallels West Rim Drive. Through breaks in the trees, the flawless blue lake, Wizard Island and the far rim stand elegant in age. What I am later told are Golden-mantled squirrels, dart in and out of the underbrush, randomly stopping to pose, only to scamper away as soon as I lift my camera. At times the snowy trail balances on the lip of the rim and I am reminded of the park ranger’s stern warning. “Avoid the edge of the snow. Many times the snowpack extends out from solid ground. If you step onto this hanging snow, you will fall right through.” Since it’s well over a 1,000 foot drop, I move away from the edge and keep hiking.

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This is Sherman. Just out of frame is his tiny hat where he accepts donations.
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A cardboard cutout of me hiking the rim.

Pumice Desert, lies flat and dry, just north of Crater Lake. Once a deep glacial valley encompassing 3,055 acres, it now carries the weight of 200 feet of pumice and scoria ejected by Mt Mazama. Because of the depth and porous nature of the volcanic deposits, only 16 plants have adapted to this desert-like landscape. Trees have been introduced, but have had little success. I park and begin hiking east across the flat brown earth toward the tree-line and a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that runs north-south through the park.

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A small portion of Pumice Desert. I didn’t remove any pumice stones, but when I left my feet were smoother.

When I return from my hike through the scattered fields of pumice, a small brown-striped RV sits directly across the lot from my van. A family of five have set a table with plates, silverware and plastic cups. A small girl darts in and out of the RV, each time returning with a plate of food. Mother, father, grandmother and brother, sit at the table speaking in murmuring voices so low they don’t carry across the 20-30 yards that separate us. Father and son are dressed in khakis and shirt. Mother and grandmother wear brightly colored sarees. Sitting in my van, pretending to read a map, I watch as the family says a prayer and begins to eat. I roll down my window and the sounds of laughter are clear. As I pull away, I wave and all five wave back.

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From historichotels.org “A grand northwest historic lodge, the 71-room Crater Lake Lodge, a member of Historic Hotels of America since 2012, originally opened in 1915 and is located on the edge of one of the country’s crown jewels – Crater Lake.”

Mazama Village Campground is neatly tucked into a pine forest. Seven cement loops bracket a sloping amphitheater and border the Annie Creek Trail. A short walk from showers, restrooms and a small general store, I feel as if I’ve discovered the lost city of gold. I find my spot, grab my diddybag, a change of clothes and walk-run to the shower, where I am determined to emerge smelling less like a goat than when I entered.

Emerging squeaky clean and smelling like a freshly powdered newborn, I walk across the parking lot to the made-to-look rustic Annie Creek Restaurant, which is surprisingly full. I am seated near the front window, given a glass of water and promptly forgotten. Since all of my meals are eaten alone, this happens quite often. My theory is everyone thinks you’re waiting for someone, so they give you some time. I’m never waiting for anyone, so the time given, while thoughtful, is unnecessary. Eventually a young waitress strolls over and asks if I am eating alone. Her name tag reads, ‘Carole.’ I nod and smile. To which she offers an apology for the delay and politely informs me that there is a special on roast beef. This is a dance and she is my unwitting partner. I order a green salad with salmon.

“Would you like anything to drink?” she asks.

“Just water. Thank you Carole.”

“Again, I apologize for the wait,” she says looking genuinely sorry.

“Don’t give it a second thought. I’m fine.”

She bows slightly, turns and walks away. Our dance is complete.

As I walked back to the campground, the sky began to darken as dusk smoothed away the day’s glint and detail. Textures meld. A soft grey settles across my path, broken only by the twinkle of campfires and sharp beam of headlamps. Muffled voices with an edge of jocundity somehow climb above the crack and low rumble of the fires. I am invisible to the flame illuminated faces as I pass, each absorbed in their moment, their world. Each living a life with elements of their making. Suddenly I am exhausted. I pulled my camp chair from the Thule and slouched down.

I awoke to silence, shivering. I awoke with a profound sense of being alone. No fires burned. No headlamps pierced the night. I stood to stretch as the sounds of the forest began to stir. A slight scurrying in the leaves. The distinct cooing of a Spotted Owl. Looking up, a billion stars hang neatly in a raven sky. Standing in the black of night, a cool gentle wind stirs high in the trees, whispering only to me and the timeless heavens. I hear Oliver’s voice. He is smiling – you can hear it in his voice. He is telling me that I am never alone. I am here Dad. I am always here Dad.

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A small boat makes a perfect ripple.
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My faithful companion. I had to turn the van around so he could get a better look at the lake.
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Arched rock halfway below the rim and water. Reportedly home of an unnamed superhero.
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Trees of Wizard Island reflected in the clear blue.
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This is a Clark nutcracker. She was recently divorced from Clark.
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Hiking can take a lot out of you unless you pace yourself.
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My Obs. Flying through the sky.

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