Crater Lake to Eugene, Oregon

I always used to say blue was my favorite color. When my students asked me about my favorite color, depending on the day, I might say purple or green. Once I caught a glimpse of Crater Lake, I have to go back to blue. It’s an understatement to say that the lake is a beautiful blue. It’s the kind of intense blue that literally takes your breath away.

Crater Lake is the result of a volcano that blew about 7000 years ago. The top of the mountain caved in, resulting in this unique, very deep lake with 1000 foot embankments on all sides. In the lake, there is a conical island called Wizard Island. The water was entirely still and we could see the reflections of the surrounding mountains and clouds clearly in the water.

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The usual way to see this national park is to drive around the rim and stop at one of the many pullouts to look from different directions. Because Crater Lake gets over 400 feet of snow every year (673 inches last year), by the middle of October the road is usually closed (and we lucked out because there was snow here a couple of weeks ago that has mostly melted). The visitor center was all shuttered but we walked through a cavelike entrance to get in to see the video. We’ve been very impressed by the quality of the national park videos, giving us information about the history of the parks before we head out to explore.

There we found that the signs around the park had all been removed so we would be navigating a little blindly. Along the roads were the tallest snow poles I have ever seen, rising about 24 feet. Sometime in the spring, the road crew will be out looking for the road.

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We drove down the road to find a good place to eat our leftovers for lunch and sit for awhile to write and reflect on this gorgeous place. We found a beautiful spot, climbed up a bluff and settled in. We were startled by the sound of hiking feet and four backpackers came by, doing a section of the Pacific Crest Trail that goes through the park. We traded cameras for a photo op near the lake.

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As the day wore on, it was time to take a quick peek from the other side of the lake before we left for Eugene. We headed over to Cleetwood Cove, the only place on the lake where you can get down to the water, 1000 feet below. Earlier we had talked about hiking down to the water but with the warnings about climbing back up being the equivalent of 65 flights of stairs, we had decided to just hang out on top. Now that we were there though, it was 4:30 and the sun was headed down, it seemed like we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see the lake from another perspective. Once again, without water or hiking boots, we headed down the trail.

Sometimes impulsive decisions are the best. The trail down was easy with lots of switchbacks and the views and colors changed as we descended. Undeterred by the few people we saw coming back up, sweating and breathing heavily, we continued downhill.

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The water was really cold. There was a young man standing in the water who later told us that he had made a mistake getting wet. At least we didn’t make that mistake! With the sun sinking down the horizon, we started back up. I didn’t need to touch my neck to feel my pulse after the first switchback,but soon we settled into a nice climbing rhythm and were back at the top in no time. No regrets about doing that hike!

We stopped one more time on the way out of the park. It was a golden moment.

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It was a two hour drive to Eugene. We were in the dark most of the way so we missed the views over another pass. It was a disorienting drive as Janie insisted we were driving downhill when we were actually going up. We found our way to our friend Patti’s house without a glitch, settled in with a glass of wine and stayed up late telling stories and reminiscing about our bike trip to Prince Edward Island in 2005. Patti told us she had rented a little cottage at the Oregon shore for a girls getaway with our mutual friend,Pat. Many years ago, Pat had organized a hike on the Rogue River that Janie and I had done with Oregon hiking friends. On our way into Crater Lake, we had seen the headwaters of the Rogue, crashing through a beautiful gorge.

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Time to head back to the Pacific, this time to dip my toes instead of a bike tire.

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