Saturday, September 4, 2010

Crater Lake, Oregon

It is with great upset that I announce my awareness that today is 90210 day. (September 2nd, 2010.) I hate myself.

But, I'm also leaving California for the great and wonderful city of Portland Oregon. All over the world people speak of Portland as the place to go. The new Oregon trail leads right to its front door step, and tonight I will sleep within the boundaries of such a great and remarkable city.

But first, I just need to find one of those Roomsaver magazines. My love of a state is proportionate to the ease with which I access one of these magazines. I need to know where to sleep, and how much it will cost. Without one I am naked. Without one, I am an unhappy hosteler devoid of free wifi.

Travelling up the secondary route 199, I was on the lookout for a Oregon welcome station. But there was none. I cursed myself, telling myself I should have gone a few miles out of the way to take the I-5 up. Surely that highway would have had a welcome centre looking to give me coupons and locations for places to sleep! But no, I took my chances on the 199.

My outrage was cut short when I saw a National Parks visitor centre. Maybe this would do the trick? It was at the threshold of the Oregon caves. Without our parks pass we could have taken the ninety minute tour free, but it said long sleeves, and pants were required. As were good boots. I had not the gear for this tour. Still, the visitor centre did provide us with a map of the southern state, listing all welcome centres. There were none near us, nor on the 5. The 101, which claimed to be a secondary road, that was where one was. Ai ya. There was no time to go there, we were headed to Portland! Wait – what was that on the map?

Crater Lake? Didn't I hear of Crater Lake somewhere recently? In an e-mail. There was something important about it... Never mind that that was a different Crater Lake, my mind was made up – we would diverge from our current path and take a day to explore yet another national park. We were making good use of our pass, for sure.

Before entering there was one lone restaurant – a pizza joint, that was also a bar, that was also a convenience store. The pizza was good, as were the people – but it was a sobering place indeed. Next to the trailer park, the girl who worked there knew all the rough edged teens that came in. I couldn't help but think this was the type of town you're born in, you live in, if you're lucky – you get a job in, and then eventually you die in it too.

The pizza was good – we had the Cougar Special. Medium was more than enough for two.

We claimed a tent spot nice and early, but quickly left before setting up camp. Katherine is slowly learning my neurosis for seeing everything there is to see before taking care of business. And this isn't something built on nothing – there is reason. Setting up the tent will be the same five hours from now, as it will be at this moment. Setting up the tent in the dark leaves nothing lost – but losing the light, that's everything.

We quickly made our way to the West Rim drive of Crater Lake. The first view point presented me with a sight I'd never before seen. A lake so clear, and so perfectly blue, it was as if a child coloured it in in elementary school. I knew water was blue. I know ice is blue. But to see the lake this brilliant – it was something else.

Crater Lake is a collapsed volcano. No rivers or streams feed the lake, only the snow and the rain. Six thousand feet up in the hills, it stands alone, the deepest lake in the United States. It also boasts the cleanest, most pure water, to be found in the country. You could drink straight out of it, so the tale goes. I wouldn't know – getting down to the water requries a trek seven hundred feet of elevation down. This part didn't concern me as much as the seven hundred feet of elevation back up again.

It would have been nice to jump in, and go for a swim, but I would settle with the views from the rim's edge.

Driving on we would, time and time again, come to view the same water from a slightly different angle, and yet each time this made all the difference. More photos were snapped, more breath taken away.

Deer ran through the fields, and small squirrels that looked suspiciously like chipmunks would scatter around the paths, playing and tumbling down the rock before scampering back up again.

The West Rim road became the East Rim road right about the time the crystal blue lake turned into a black hole, scarred with a brilliant streak of light. Surely this had nothing to do with the fact that we were now looking directly into the sun. While the lake may have been marred, there was still more to see.

A road diverging from the main path leads cars to a valley wall where tall spires have formed out of ash, left behind as the rock eroded all away. Another look out shows the pumice castle, where orange rock has formed in the shape of a medieval castle. At least, if you squint really hard, and forget everything you know about the shape of castles, then it looks like one. Last there was the waterfall trickling down the rock, fed from I can't imagine where, this high up, above the crater's lip.

When we had finished the thirty two mile drive we did not head back to our tent site straight away. instead I detoured to our initial position. I wanted to see how the light had changed the view. Gone were the spectacular colours, replaced with simply – a lake. A beautiful lake, with the Wizard's Hat island, and Phantom ship – but now, just a lake. The magic had faded with the lowering of the sun in the sky.

This is why I rush. This is why every second counts. Because nothing is ever the same again.

Feeling sorry for those just now arriving, we returned to camp where all the surrounding sites had been filled. From nothing, to full in only three hours. We set up camp, and Katherine finished reading the terrible Voyager book that detailed the history of Janeway. What a terrible, terrible, racist, person she was. My hatred for the series grew with every moment. But it's done now, never to hurt me again.

7:45 marked the start of the night's ranger led program – a talk about all the scary animals in the park. Apparently Wolves and Mountain Lions were all but unseen in this park for years – until, of course, this year. This week even. One mountain lion has been seen to stalk humans, and not fear them. When a talk trying to make us feel better about the animals around us (pointing out that vending machines kill more people a year than black bears) leaves the ranger saying quietly, “...we're a little worried about this one...” you know there could be trouble. Even still, that guy is out in the back counry.

The rest of the program was about owls, and deer, and cute little porcupine. The only other strange thing was that it recommended you 'play dead' if a black bear comes at you. This is bad form, and no other park still clams these old tips aside from Crater. If you play dead the bear will play with you, possibly killing you in the process. A bear comes at you? It's a fight for your life. And let no one else tell you otherwise. At least the other parks make visitors aware.

As much as I'd like to see one of these lumbering beasts, I'm more than happy to have them remain invisible as I make my way from park to park. Soon we'll be in Grizzly country. Joy.

As we slipped into sleep I couldn't help thinking how, sure, we still were hours away from Portland, and sure – this wasn't the same crater lake as in the email – but, boy was I glad I made it out this far.

It was just in passing that I learned how important this place was to the state. In the fifty quarter collection, it's this very place that fins itself etched into the coins face.

Never in my life had I seen such blue.

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