That time I willingly jumped into 55°F water – Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (part II)

Day 2 at Crater Lake dawned clear and calm, which was perfect because this was the day we’d been waiting for – boat tour day! We’d hemmed and hawed over this for quite a while because the $42 per person tickets didn’t really fit in with our MO of budget travel. But in the end, we made the tour reservations because we knew that if we didn’t we’d end up regretting it.

And it was worth every dollar!

The only access to Crater Lake is on foot, by descending an incredibly steep 1.1-mile trail to Cleetwood Cove. This strenuous trail drops 700 feet in this short distance; going down isn’t too difficult, but climbing back up at the end of the day is a different story. After a long day in the sun, our legs were not pleased with what we were asking of them.

From the dock at Cleetwood Cove, Volcano Boat Cruises offers two tours: the Standard Lake Cruise (a guided tour around the perimeter of the lake), and the Wizard Island Cruise (which also circles the lake but includes a 3-hour stop on Wizard Island). We took the Wizard Island Cruise, which departed at 9:30am and got us back to Cleetwood Cove by about 3:00pm. The lake portion of the tour is narrated by a park ranger; on the Wizard Island part of the tour, we were left to our own devices.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, and we learned a lot about the geology and history of the lake. Of course, this was 4 years ago so I don’t remember all of what we learned. But I remember that we learned it. Continue reading

Crystal Clear – Crater Lake National Park, Oregon (part I)

After leaving the Columbia River Gorge, we turned south at Hood River, OR and began the 4.5-hour journey to Crater Lake National Park.

Crater Lake was formed about 7,000 years ago when Mount Mazama erupted so violently that it collapsed. The top of the mountain was blown off and what remained formed a caldera that is 5 miles across and nearly 4,000 feet deep. A few subsequent eruptions were small enough to form the 755-foot tall Wizard Island in the middle of the caldera. The mountain has not erupted since. Many Native American tribes actually lived in the area when Mount Mazama erupted; this event is still alive in some of their legends, and Crater Lake is considered sacred.

Because the lake is in a caldera, there are no inlets or outlets. The only source of water for the lake is precipitation – either that which falls onto the surface of the lake directly, or that which is absorbed into the ground of the caldera and eventually seeps out into the lake. The only way out of the lake is by evaporation. Due to these factors, Crater Lake is home to some of the cleanest and clearest water in the world. Clarity readings range from 115-175 feet, which is incredibly unusual. Continue reading

“Gorge”ous – Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Highway, Oregon

After four fabulous days exploring Mount Rainier National Park, we packed up our car and headed off. It was a bittersweet parting; I was sad to leave when so much of the park remained unexplored but also excited for our next destination: Crater Lake!

After much cajoling on my part (and some whining – not on my part), I convinced my family to take the long way there and drive the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Highway. It added at least a couple hours to our already long drive, but in the end I think we all agreed that it was well worth it.

The Columbia River originates in British Columbia and is the fourth largest river in North America in terms of volume. It travels over 1,200 miles and drains part or all of seven states plus a large portion of British Columbia. Along the way, it travels south through eastern Washington before curving around to the west and forming much of the border between Washington and Oregon as it flows out to the Pacific Ocean. Throughout much of Washington and along the border with Oregon, the Columbia River has cut a deep gorge. Continue reading

A Day in Paradise – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part IV)

I’ve been a lot of cool places. The US map on my bedroom wall is covered in pins; I’m up to 43 states and 57 National Park Service sites, not to mention 7 Canadian provinces and numerous national and provincial parks up there as well. So when I say that the Skyline Trail at Mount Rainier is quite possibly the most beautiful hike I’ve ever done, I have a decent number of locations to compare it to.

In fact, it’s one of the two Skyline Trails that can be found on my All-time Favorite Hikes list.

Of all our days in Mount Rainier National Park, this one was the warmest, sunniest, and by far the best. It began with a cloudless view of Mount Rainier from the main road as we drove from Cougar Rock Campground to the Paradise turnoff.  Continue reading

Feeling Small – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part III)

Day three at Mount Rainier was full of lakes and waterfalls. Once again, we were greeted by blue skies as we headed out of Ohanapecosh, traveling west down Steven’s Canyon Road to Cougar Rock campground, which would be our home base for the remainder of our time here. We took the entire day, stopping along the way at the multitude of pullouts as well as taking a few short hikes. The first stop was Grove of the Patriarchs, an interpretive trail that leads through giant old-growth forests and across the Ohanapecosh River on a suspension bridge.

If ever there was a place to do a handstand, it would have been on the bridge. My bad. I’ve learned my lesson for next time.

Continue reading

First Glimpse – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part II)

The next morning we woke to blue skies, the fog of the previous afternoon long gone. This was excellent news for us, as we were headed up to the northeast section of the park to catch our first glimpses of the mountain. 

From Ohanapecosh, we drove north to the White River entrance. Five miles in, the road forks; left leads to White River ranger station and campground and right leads to the Sunrise area of the park. We went left. 

From the White River Campground, we followed the Glacier Basin trail; one mile up, it intersects with the 1-mile Emmons Moraine trail, which leads to an overlook of Emmons Glacier. Continue reading

At the Edge – Mount Rainier National Park, Washington (part I)

Mount Rainier is a giant, snow-capped peak located in the Cascade Mountains of Washington state. It rises to 14,410 feet above sea level and, though not the tallest mountain in the continental US, is the most topographically prominent one. The summit of Mount Rainier is often above the clouds; on a typical day, you’re probably more likely to see it from your flight into Seattle than from the ground. A glance at the peak reveals numerous glaciers and snowfields. A lesser-known fact, though, is that Mount Rainier is actually an active volcano. Luckily there are no signs of an imminent eruption.

The mountain and surrounding area form the beautiful Mount Rainier National Park, a highlight of the Cascade region. The mountain is encircled by the 93-mile Wonderland Trail (it takes 93 miles to get around the mountain – that gives an idea of just how big it is!). In addition to backpacking this trail and summiting the mountain (neither of which I have done), there are many other hiking and sightseeing opportunities in the park. In the summer of 2012, we set out to accomplish some of these. Continue reading