A year ago, when we were planning BigTrip, we agreed to put Crater Lake National Park at the top of our list. Neither of us had been to this central Oregon park and we’d heard it was worth a visit. But including Crater Lake in our itinerary meant making it to the west coast and then south through most of Oregon before the end of September, when the park campgrounds close in anticipation of snowfall that begins in October and piles to more than 40 feet each year. We planned accordingly, going quickly across the country and arriving in Oregon on schedule to make our Crater Lake reservation.
By this time, though, we’d been to a half dozen of the nation’s most beautiful national parks (plus more than a dozen state parks that were equally impressive), and we wondered what Crater Lake might offer. One review I accidentally happened upon said “it’s beautiful but it’s just a lake, so if you’ve been to beautiful lakes you probably won’t be that amazed.” After all of our planning, we wondered if it was worth another long mountainous drive to see another beautiful lake. Moving from place to place was interesting, but also exhausting.
We’d just stayed two nights outside of Portland in a shady not-in-a-treed-way RV park, where the cops came knocking one night to see if we were “Matthew” or did we possibly know Matthew, who was supposedly staying in our site. No, we said, but is there something we should know? No problem, said the officer, although it seemed clear to us that there were plenty of problems nearby. The trailer park that we neighbored was crowded with families who were clearly struggling to get by, day to day, financially and otherwise. Many of our RV neighbors were permanent or semi-permanent residents of the park, with welcome mats and potted plants set out in their gravely 5×5 yards and their kids lining up at the bus stop each morning. Directly next to us was an old camper van with newspapers piled up to block the side windows and three cats watching, as cats do, out a cracked front window. Our own lives, packed into our 2007 Winnebago and 2002 Subaru toad with its Sears car-top carrier and old bicycles hanging off the back, had never felt so fancy.
We felt less fancy in downtown Portland, where we sat with some maybe millionaire hipsters busy drinking midday beers in their clean jeans and messy hair at a pizza place across from Powell’s bookstore. Powell’s is possibly the coolest bookstore on Earth, with an incredible array of used and new books all mixed together in four stories of color-coded rooms. There’s a cafe attached, which allows you to browse while sipping, but we opted for the recommended Stumptown coffee up the block. So worthwhile, Stumptown coffee kept us up and out in Portland until past dark (perhaps this is when Matthew was at our campsite). We walked past city murals and sculptures and an impressive row of food stands that included the predictable tacos and Thai but also Polish, Transylvanian and a converted school bus called the Grilled Cheese Grill. We ate at a nearby brew pub called Deschutes, named for the river and forest we would soon pass through on our way out of Portland.
From Portland, we drove through the Columbia River Gorge area including a quaint town called The Dalles, an old trading post along the Lewis and Clark trail, where a recommended diner was sadly closed (though a very nice Bakery, called Bakitchen, served our needs with a delicious selection of fritters, doughnuts and pan dulce). We also drove through Hood River, a trendier version of The Dalles, which is home to Full Sail Brewing Co., a solar home community and apparently a lot of kite surfing and a cherry treatment pond (we haven’t kite surfed or had any Oregon cherries, but there are supposedly a lot of both in this area).
Taking this eastern route across Oregon, by the Gorge and then down through the towns of Sisters (eat at Sno Cap!) and Bend, was all part of getting to Crater Lake. But this path also gave us a better sense of what is called the “Oregon Outback” with the Cascade mountains in the distance and rivers winding their way through this country.
At the Crater Lake entrance, we were cautioned that a fire was still smoldering in the park. We might come upon smoke or flames or fire fighters, signs read. No fires at the beach, I thought. But we’d come this far and it was only mid-afternoon when we began to climb up the mountain, driving through wooded areas and then by a dry barren area that looked like some sort of moonscape.
And then, around a corner, we saw the lake. Bluer than the sky. Bluer than any ocean. Bluer than blue. People had said it was beautiful but no one had described it in terms of blue. It deserves its own color name, Crater Lake Blue, which all paint stores should carry and which, from now on, is our family’s favorite color.
Grateful we decided to make it here, we spent the next few days exploring new views of the lake, which was created 7,700 years ago when Mount Mazama, likely looking a lot like Mount Rainier back then, literally blew its top off and then sunk inward creating a massive crater. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., and among the deepest in the world. Each year, snow and rain replenish the lake’s water, which is as pure as water can be. No rivers or streams feed into this lake, so no impurities reach it either. We drove around the park, passing signs that told us to Beware of Avalanches (is there something we could do if one occurred, other than be crushed or plunge off the narrow cliffside road?), took short strolls through the woods, ate lunch at overlook spots, and enjoyed our campsite, which included full hookups thanks to G’s Access Pass. We also continued to fail in our attempts to take decent selfies, but that’s fine because we’re not looking so great these days anyway.
Our last night in Crater Lake was the night of the lunar eclipse. We were joined by a neighboring RV couple, who explained to the kids that the “blood moon” was not uncommon, but that the 4th blood moon to occur in a row, at intervals of six months, was truly a sight to see. Standing in the cold (temps dropped to 35 degrees at night), this couple went on to explain to the kids that Reverend Someone or Other had made it clear to all of the Internet that the Apocolypse was upon us. “Seven years,” said the man. “It will all be done and gone in seven years.” “I’m not going to live past the next seven years?!” asked G, panicked. “Well, to be honest, honey,” started the man. But I quickly redirected and starting talking about the night sky as the man, annoyed, moved away mumbling something about killing good Christians. We’ve met so many people on this trip, each with something to offer. This was the first time we shut it down before we might figure out what that something might have been.
But we did see the red moon, framed by huge pine trees in the brightest night sky we’ve seen, although our pictures are only a little better than our selfies.
And, now, we have finally reached the Oregon coast. We will spend a couple of nights in Coos Bay and then head to Bandon, where we plan to settle in, at last, for a few weeks on the shore. We will put out our awning, maybe hang some lights from it, and yes, get the kids to write more blog posts!