So we made an executive decision to make that drive to Crater National Park in a day trip. It might be crazy, but we got in the car around 8:00 in the morning and set the GPS. It will take almost 4 hours to get there, but it looked like it was going to be a good traveling day. We drove from our place at the beach, and headed into the mountains on winding roads. As we got to higher elevations, we began to see snow beside the road.
The snow banks got taller until they were easily taller than the car. It's a good thing we dressed warmly today!
Driving straight through, we got to the visitor center before noon. It was interesting to see that all the buildings are embedded in drifts of snow.
But we were excited about the sunshine today, because we had read that sometimes the view of the lake can be completely shrouded in clouds. We were blessed with clear skies for our first view of Crater Lake.
It might be crazy to drive 379 miles today to see a single attraction, but we think this view was worth it. We have definitely wandered into another of God's wonders today! At 1,946 feet deep, it's the 9th deepest lake in the world, and the deepest in the United States.
Crater Lake was formed 7700 years ago when Mount Mazama turned into Volcano Mazama and blew her top. The magma inside spewed rocks hundreds of miles away, and the sides of the mountain collapsed. That formed a round water-tight bowl that started collecting water. It was surprisingly cold on the rim of that caldera today. Between the snow and the breeze, we were glad to have our biggest coats and gloves with us this afternoon.
This area obviously gets plenty of moisture in the form of rain and snow that started to fill up that new bowl. They average 45 feet of snow each year, and much of that melts and drains into the lake. Unlike other lakes, this new bowl didn't have any rivers or streams flowing into it. That means it also doesn't have any river sediment like other lakes. So that is why Crater Lake is perfectly clear and beautifully blue.
When we asked the ranger about possible hikes, he gave us the usual once-over to determine our durability. He recommended that we rent snow shoes, that would enable us to walk a couple miles to overlooks over the lake. He mentioned that going without snow shoes would be very difficult. He added that some times college kids try "post holing" it around the lake, but that wouldn't be his idea of having fun. The snow is very packed at the first overlook where everyone takes their mandatory picture. But the further away from the traffic, the less packed the snow. We could understand what "post holing" meant as our feet would randomly go through the snow up to our knee. Here is Mark in his best post hole pose, standing with snow up to his knees.
Walking on the snow was a bit like playing Russian roulette, as we never knew what step would stay on the surface, and what step would sink deep into the snow. But we must be like a couple of crazy college kids, because we got to hike as far as we wanted without renting snow shoes. This picture shows that Mark walked to the edge of the volcano cauldron as far as anyone had since the last good snow fall. There are no foot steps in the snow behind him.
Denisa took this picture from the side. That's when we found out that the swell of snow Mark had been standing on didn't have much support from the bottom before it dropped down into the cauldron.
We have to admit that most of the people that ventured this far had on snow shoes or cross country skis. We talked to these two girls on skis with the heavy packs. They had spent the night in tents on the other side of the lake. They reported that the night was cold, but the stars were glorious.
We also took pictures with a snow man that hikers had made earlier today.
As you can tell from the next picture, it really wasn't a very big snowman!
As we walked back towards the visitor center, we decided to build a full-scale snowman. Maybe we should rephrase that: Denisa decided to build a snowman. The interesting part of that decision is that Mark did most of the work in this construction project.
We didn't have any branches for arms, and there weren't any laying around on top of all that snow. So we had to improvise with the arms.
We even got some shots of an extra tall snowman that looked very familiar.
We gave our snowman some facial features before we left him to brave the cold on his own.
We were also totally impressed with the mounds of snow in the parking areas. The usual angled parking spaces are covered with snow, so cars are now parking in a straight line on the center line of the park road.
The snow drifts are close to twenty feet tall around the national park. By this time of year, most mounded snow is dirty and grimy. But the snow in the national park was all sparkling white from top to bottom.
The three-story visitor center has snow covering the first two floors, and bathrooms in the parking lot are buried in a snow drift.
It got cloudier and windier while we were enjoying the views of the lake. We feel very blessed that we got the views of the United States's deepest lake on this road trip! The weather forecast predicted 18 additional inches of snow over the next two days, so we definitely got here on the clearest day possible.
We also watched the 20-minute national park film and checked out the gift shop. After several hours, we were ready to head back towards our home on the coast. But we had read about a couple hikes to break up our trip home. The first is a hike to the "Vanishing River." Mount Mazama wasn't the only volcano in Oregon, because there is an old lava tube that runs under this forest. It's going to take some imagination to picture what this river looks like in the summer. Under normal river flow, the river disappears into that lava tube underground and is completely hidden from view for about 200 feet.
Then the river flows out of the end of the natural lava tube, and continues its flow--just like it had vanished. Here is the picture at the trail head that pictures what we were supposed to see.
But today, the river is so swollen with snow melt and spring rains that there is too much river to fit into the lava tube. So there is still continuous water in the riverbed. We could still see where the water was rolling out of the underground lava tube, but the magical vanishing river today was not performing its magic trick as convincingly as it will later this summer.
This one-mile hike turned much longer because the road was closed at the highway because of snow. So we got some extra exercise walking through the snow on the forest service road today. After walking gingerly through these sections of snow at first, we came up with a more efficient way to move through the snow. We held hands for more stability, and then ran through the large sections of snow. So much easier and steadier than walking! That got our hearts pumping!
We still had daylight, so we could make another stop at the town of Prospect, Oregon. The Rogue River is also swollen, and we knew the waterfalls in that area would be spectacular. We hiked out to see the Barr Creek Falls, which drops 240 feet from the side of that mountain.
It's a short hike to also see Mill Creek Falls, with an impressive 175 foot drop.
We also got to see the Avenue of the Boulders. These large boulders were part of the debris that flew when Mount Mazama exploded over 20 miles away. Mark is actually standing on a cliff high above these motor-home-sized boulders in the picture below.
We made a stop for a meal and some groceries as we drove through the city of Grant's Pass. The sun was setting as Mark drove the long final push back home to the coast. He had driven 379 miles and was behind the wheel almost 8 hours today. But we got to wander around more of God's wonders today. We thought the road trip was worth the incredibly blue views of Crater Lake!