28 Aug 2016

Road-trip in Oregon - Driving to Crater Lake

It was time to leave the coast behind us and head inland, to see what the heartland of Oregon had to offer. I'd been a bit disappointed with the lack of storminess while we were on the coast, having been keen to witness some massive waves breaking over the little islets. Oh well, the weather had certainly been pretty pleasant, and continued that way as we departed.

We set off south, briefly dipping across the California border. Our route for the day was to drive along the Redwoods Highway from Crescent City north-east back into Oregon, stop for a burger in Medford, before heading north to Crater Lake (Oregon's only National Park), and then staying in Diamond Lake, a little further north, for the night.

The drive was lovely once we turned inland, driving along a narrow road (the 197) lined with massive redwoods every once in a while. We didn't stop to photograph them for some reason, possibly because the road was fast and windy with no pull-outs. Soon we reached the 199 which heads up into Oregon, and we stopped briefly at a state park, but didn't feel like paying $8 just to see a couple of trees (a bit silly really, as we didn't get a chance to see any redwoods after that!), so we drove on without parking. Onwards we went, the road lined with fir trees and beautifully windy.

We stopped at a large pull-out on a big curve in the road with a steep hillside above, and a pretty river valley down below. Some of the trees were covered in a strange plant that almost looked like coils of thin rope or hemp. It was extremely picturesque and I loved the swirly road behind us.

We carried on, feeling a little peckish and looking forward to our burger (in a high-rated place), back in Oregon. The road became a little less interesting as we crossed the state border after our brief detour into California, passing through a series of rather dull towns and strip malls. The occasional mountain appeared on the horizon.

We arrived at Jaspers Café in Medford at around 1.30pm and it was still bustling, with a reasonable queue outside. We waited about 15 minutes before being seated inside. We ordered a couple of different burgers, peanut butter milkshakes and tater tots (we were going for it!). It was all pretty tasty, although not remotely healthy! We had been eating reasonably healthily, so felt that we deserved a little treat.

After lunch we drove straight up the Route 62 to Crater Lake, which was still some distance away. We stopped about an hour before the lake at Cascade Gorge, which reminded me of the waterfalls and gorges I'd visited in Washington state on my first US road-trip - picturesque, but not massively memorable and tricky to photograph effectively. The highlight there was the tree stump that had continued growing and sealed over the site of the chop.

After another hour or so we reached the turn-off that took us uphill to the crater and paid our entrance fee that would allow us in for the next two days. I was quite excited to see the lake, having seen some pictures of its ridiculous blueness - matching some of the crazy coloured lakes we'd seen a few years earlier in the Canadian Rockies (Peyto and Kinney Lakes, for example!). Unfortunately we were too early in the season to be able to drive around the whole of the crater rim, as there was still a large amount of snow. The west rim road had only just been opened a week or so earlier, so at least we were lucky to be able to drive that much of it (and also it meant that the north entrance was open, which took us the quick way to our overnight stop at Diamond Lake).

The air grew colder as we approached, winding up the Munson Valley Road. Eventually we reached the Rim Village Visitors Centre but continued on the Lodge where we parked. I got the odd glimpse of the lake but couldn't really see it properly or make out the blueness until I got to the overlook. The sky was mostly cloudy, so my first impression wasn't of "Wow! That's so blue!" as much as "Oh, I was expecting it to be bluer!" Initial disappointment aside, we hoped the sun would come out and increase the colour, as we set out to hike up to the Garfield Peak viewpoint.

The trail took as along the rim for a little while before heading steeply uphill looking over expanses of forest to the south, away from the lake, with beautiful sweeping views. It was fairly strenuous, and the air was noticeably thinner. The rock was very red and crumbly. There were a few nice viewpoints on the way up, with the water looking bluer when the sun came out.

At one point we came across an incredibly steep section which I found extremely unpleasant and scary - walking across a snow section on a very steep scree slope, which probably wouldn't have been particularly enjoyable without the snow either. I took it very slowly, placing my feet carefully in the existing footprints, one step at a time, my left hand down in the snow on the uphill side of the slope to balance me. I got to the other side feeling miserable, my heart racing, knowing that I'd have to go across it again on the way down; my left hand was also uncomfortably cold (felt a little frost-nippy). The rest of the journey up wasn't too bad, although we had to climb up more snow-covered hills. Finally we reached the viewpoint and the lake looked stunning. I felt calm enough now to get my camera out again! When the sun shone on the water it did look a very intense blue.

The journey down was a little challenging, and I ended up sliding down part of the snowy sections on my bottom (not by choice!) - but at least they weren't sheer slopes and I was able to stop eventually. When I got to the snow scree crossing Murray took my bag and went ahead of me. I felt nervous watching him as he raced across. I took it really slowly again, walking steadily in the previous footprints, the right hand this time clutching at the snow for balance. I counted about 40 steps and finally got to the other side - to safety. Murray volunteered to go a couple of steps back across the snow so I could snap a photo of the horrific ordeal on my iPhone!

We got down pretty quickly after that, got back to the car and drove northwards around the rim road, stopping at various viewpoints. The cloud was thickening, and the odd shower passed over us. As I looked at Wizard Island, illuminated briefly by a patch of sun, I noticed a rainbow. Not the most impressive rainbow ever, but not a bad setting for it.

We drove the last of the journey with the roof down, the showers now behind us and the sun low in the early evening sky as we headed north to the exit and onwards to Diamond Lake.

As I'd left it so late to book the trip the only place I could find to stay that was reasonably close to the lake was Diamond Lake, a resort about 20 miles north. I'd had to phone up to book, and they then sent me a credit card slip that I had to complete and mail back to them (a little old-fashioned and laborious in these days of technology and usually instant payment and confirmation!). It had pretty lousy reviews and it was clear why when we arrived. It was an enormous lakeside resort, with all sorts of lodging options, from motel-style blocks that we were staying in, to bigger apartments, cottages, and camping. Our room was pretty atrocious, without even any soap, which seemed a bit tight for a $99 per night room. It looked as if it had been fitted about 20 years earlier. We headed to the main building to get supper, hoping for a pizza, but the pizza place turned out to have been at a different location at the southern end of the lake. We ended up ordering a couple of different salads, which weren't too bad, and they did at least have a decent craft beer selection, and the staff were friendly.
It was a pretty setting, but there were so many mosquitoes around that I couldn't be bothered to get deeted up, get the proper camera out and take any decent photos, so I just got a quick iPhone shot of the post-sunset sky. We bought a couple of beers in the shop and headed back to our miserable room and watched some rubbish on TV before nodding off fairly early.
Map of the day's drive from Gold Beach to Crater Lake

Click here for my Samuel Boardman blog
Click here for my blog on the drive from Crater Lake to Bend

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