Monday, June 28, 2010

Crater Lake & the Pacific Coast of Oregon

Day 1

Got up at 7am to be ready to pick up our rental car around 8am. Thankfully, it was a beautiful, clear & sunny day with the temperature quickly climbing above 70F. Despite a minor snafu with Hertz (they ran out of cars at their downtown location and were having to transfer them from the airport location), we finally started heading south around 9am. Driving I-5 was pretty easy; I set the cruise control at the posted 65mph speed limit and zoomed along without encountering too much traffic. Shortly after Salem, we passed a convoy of logging trucks, each carrying 7 or 8 massive trees already trimmed of roots and leaves. After a quick break at a rest stop just north of Eugene, we continued on past miles of farmland (orchards, vineyards, fields of grain, some cows & sheep) until we reached the exit for Hwy 58. From there it took us another 30 minutes or so to reach the town of Oakridge where we had planned to stop for lunch. This part of the drive was particularly scenic, with a covered bridge, the Lookout Point dam & reservoir, and the Willamette River all on our left. We even caught glimpses of Diamond Peak up ahead.

I had done some research in advance and wanted to eat lunch at Brewer’s Union 180, a local authentic English pub & brewery. We arrived at 11:30 but discovered they didn’t open until noon. So after a very quick look around town (it’s a one red light kind of place), we decided to kill some time at the Corner Bar. We bellied up to the bar and joined the locals who all knew each other. The space was filled with video poker machines and other gambling paraphernalia, but they did have one tv, which was tuned to a game show. After ordering our beers (they actually had a couple of Deschutes brews on tap!), I politely asked the barmaid, a lady in her 60’s, if she could change the channel to ESPN so we could watch the soccer match. Mission accomplished, we enjoyed our drinks and watched the better part of the first half of Denmark vs. Japan.

When we finished our pints, it was time to walk over to Brewer’s Union, but not before we bought a Powerball ticket at the bar. We get a kick out of being able to buy lottery tickets at bars & restaurants in Oregon! Being a traditional English pub where you have to place your food & drink order at the bar (ie, no table service), we marched up to the Brewer’s Union taps to have a look at the selection. The barkeep was really nice and enthusiastic about their cask-conditioned beers and he let us try as many as we wanted (there were a total of 6 Brewer’s Union beers on tap plus 4 assorted guest beers). I eventually settled on their version of a Dry Irish Stout and Greg ordered a Hoppy Ale. We both ordered fish & chips, but Greg got the traditional version and I got the special which was referred to as spicy fish with sweet potato fries. We also ordered a cup of freshly made beer cheese soup to share. We took our time eating our tasty food and were back on the road around 2pm.

We kept going west on Hwy 58, gradually climbing in elevation, past lots of forested area and some snow parks. Eventually we reached Hwy 97 and started heading south, through the touristy town of Chemult, then east on 138, and finally we were at the north entrance of the park. Total drive time from Portland including a couple of 5 minute rest stops was 5.5 hours. As we had purchased an annual parks pass at Yellowstone, we did not have to pay the $10 entry fee for Crater Lake National Park. From the north entrance it was only about 15 miles to the lodge, but we stopped at virtually every pullout to take pictures as the scenery was so beautiful. There was still 10-20 feet of snow in a lot of areas, and the bright white contrast with the almost cloudless blue sky, the evergreens and the deep blue of the lake was breathtaking. At some point along the way, Greg said he was disappointed that we hadn’t seen any animals. Just as I was about to retort that we had only been in the park for 30 minutes (and what did he expect; this isn’t Yellowstone!), we came upon a deer in the middle of the road.

As it was almost exactly 4pm when we walked into the lodge, we were able to check into our room immediately. It is imperative to book accommodations months in advance as everything sells out quickly for the short summer season. We booked ours in late March and at that time there were only a few rooms still available for pretty much any weekend in June or July. We stayed in a standard room on the 4th (highest) floor of the lodge, with one queen bed and ensuite bath (tub only, no shower) and a valley view (could see all the way -- approx 40+ miles -- to the ranches of Ft Klamath from our bedroom & bathroom windows). Staying at the lodge isn’t cheap; our basic room was just over $200/night.

We settled in & unpacked and I realized I was feeling the effects of the high altitude so decided to relax in the room while Greg took a short walk. By the time he came back, the dizziness/headache had given way to nausea. We had dinner reservations in the lodge’s formal restaurant (also made well in advance) at 6:30 and I hated for Greg to eat alone. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat a regular meal so I just sucked it up and went to the dining room with him and had a few bites of bread, mashed potatoes & root vegetables. Again, prices were steep. The average entrée is over $30.

As I was starting to feel a bit better, we decided to go for a short walk around the lodge & crater rim after dinner. What we never expected were the mosquitoes! As soon as we stepped outside, they were swarming around us and covering our clothes & bare skin. There is a lot of standing water from the snowmelt but I thought with the cooler temperatures at this altitude (7100 ft), we wouldn’t have to deal with too many bugs. I couldn’t have been more wrong! It was so bad we didn’t stay outside more than 10 minutes.

Back in our room as we were winding down for the day, I happened to look out the window and see the pink glow of the sunset and the fast-rising, almost full moon. Not wanting to miss a great photo op, I tried to cover up as much of my skin as possible and ran outside to take some pictures. The mosquitoes were still awful, but I think I got some great shots. We came back inside, took a nice hot bath, and went to bed.

Day 2

Woke up to the brightness of the sun reflecting off the snow. We slept with the windows open last night which kept the room a comfortable 70F even though it was only about 45F outside. Got dressed and took our collapsible bowls, sporks and instant oatmeal down to the Great Hall for a budget breakfast. Sat inside at a table by the window in the sunshine with a nice lake view.

After breakfast, we packed up for our hike to the base of the lake. We drove from the lodge to the Cleetwood trailhead. The trail is 1.1 miles long one way and descends over 700ft. Which is a little hard on the knees & shins going down but a butt-kicker in every other way going back up! But this is the only way to get to water level and to take the boat ride around the lake, which unfortunately for us was not scheduled to run until July 2nd. In fact, when we reached the boat dock, the U.S. Coast Guard was there inspecting the boats.

Despite having to battle swarms of mosquitoes, we thoroughly enjoyed the hike down. The surrounding cliffs (sides of the crater), some still covered in snow, were reflecting perfectly in the blue water of the lake. There is no way to describe how clear & blue this water is. You absolutely must see it for yourself! When we made it to the bottom of the trail, we took a quick look around (the trail ends just past the boat dock) and then settled onto a bench to munch on some granola bars & turkey jerky. We kept looking over the edge into the water to watch some schools of fish. Eventually the Coast Guard took the boats out and we were able to walk out onto the dock where I dipped my dusty feet into the ice cold water. After lounging on the dock for a few minutes, we summoned our strength for the hike back up. Surprisingly, it only took us about 30 minutes to get to the top, which is about the same as going down but then we were stopping for pictures every 5 minutes.

Sweaty & dusty, we returned to the lodge to clean up and fix our peanut butter & jelly sandwiches for lunch (also brought from home to save money). We were hoping to do some light hiking in the afternoon, but after stopping by the Steel Visitor’s Center, we discovered all the trails with the exception of the one we hiked this morning were still covered with snow. So we watched a short film about what it takes to clear the roads of snow every year and then another about the park’s history. Needing to kill some time before dinner and with East Rim Drive still closed for snow removal, we decided to head south out of the park and see where we ended up.

Once we exited the park, we descended through miles of national forest and then suddenly we were in a wide valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. This is serious cattle country; I can’t begin to guess how many head of cattle we saw. We continued past the town of Ft Klamath (don’t blink; you’ll miss it!) but soon decided to turn back because the next point of interest was Klamath Lake and the town of Klamath Falls which was still another 30+ miles south.

Back in the park, we stopped at Annie Creek Restaurant for dinner. They serve an all-you-can-eat buffet after 5pm for only $16.25 per person, half the cost of a dinner entrée at the lodge. The food was pretty good and varied enough to satisfy most palates -- a couple of soups, a salad bar, fish & chips, tofu stir fry, marsala chicken w/rice, baked pork loin w/mashed potatoes, veggie lasagna, fresh baked pizzas, some kind of carved-to-order beef, and desserts (apple & peach cobblers, assorted pieces of cake, soft serve ice cream). After about an hour feeding at the trough as my dad likes to say, we drove back to the lodge to relax and catch up on our writing. For a nightcap, we went down to the lobby and sat in front of the (gas) fireplace while drinking a beer.

Day 3

We got up just before 8am and went down to have our breakfast (oatmeal again) in the Great Hall. It was another beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. After eating, we sat on the back porch in rocking chairs overlooking the lake and finished our complimentary coffee. Back in the room we packed up and checked out around 9:15.

Sticking to our plan to be in Roseburg by 11:30 to watch the USA’s World Cup match against Ghana, we only stopped a couple of times during the 2 hour drive west along Hwy 138. This is another scenic route with lots of turnoffs for lakes, waterfalls and rafting or fishing on the Umpqua River. We found the McMenamin’s Brewery @ Roseburg Station without too much difficulty thanks to Greg’s use of Google maps on his cell phone. It’s in a converted train depot near historic downtown Roseburg. We settled in at the bar (the only place in the restaurant where they had tv’s) and watched the disappointing match while drinking a couple of beers & eating lunch.

Since the weather was so spectacular and the rental car wasn’t due back in Portland until Sunday morning, we decided to take the scenic (and much longer) drive all the way west on Hwy 42 and up Pacific Coast Hwy 101. There is not much to see between Roseburg & Coos Bay, just a long & winding road through semi-logged forests and some farmland. In fact, when we made it to Coos Bay, we were disappointed that 101 was not right on the coast, so our first view of the ocean wasn’t until we reached the Umpqua Lighthouse another 27 miles north. We stopped to have a quick look around the small Coast Guard museum then continued north through the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Again, we could only intermittently see the dunes from the road, but it looked like it would be a lot of fun to rent a dune buggy from one of the small shops along the roadside. We did stop at Jessie M. Honeyman park to climb one of the dunes and watch a few sand boarders.

The drive was much more scenic between Florence & Newport. We stopped to check out the sea lion caves but they had just closed for the day so we could only enjoy the windy view north to Heceta Head Lighthouse and south to the beaches & dunes. We stopped again at the Cape Perpetua Visitor’s Center which was also closed but the wrap-around deck offered nice ocean views. I would have loved to walk along a sandy beach but it was well past 7pm and we still had many miles ahead of us. We stopped in Newport for a drink at Rogue Brewery then crossed the bridge and ate dinner at Local Ocean Seafoods on the bay. You can read my review of our delicious meal at

By the time we finished eating it was almost 10pm and the sun had finally set but there was still a pink glow over the ocean along the horizon. We continued north to Lincoln City where we turned east on Hwy 18 and took it to 99W then up a brief stretch of I-5 to Portland. It was a pretty easy drive despite having no street lights and there wasn’t much traffic. It was totally dark so there wasn’t much to see, but I did notice we passed through more developed areas than we had earlier this spring when we drove the north coast from Astoria to Pacific City and came back on Hwy 6. We walked in our apartment at 1am, tired but glad we took the extra time to drive up the southern & central coasts.

Trip Summary

We drove 720 miles in 3 days! Compared to the 700 miles we covered over 9 days during our Yellowstone & Grand Tetons trip last month, that’s a lot of time in the car. We could have shaved off almost 200 miles by not doing the coast but we had to take advantage of the beautiful weather and we didn’t have anywhere else we had to be.

I loved seeing Crater Lake with the snow still on the ground. The payoff was we couldn’t drive all the way around the lake as Rim Drive was still closed for snow removal from the Cleetwood Trail parking lot to Steel Information Center & Park Headquarters. Also, only Cleetwood Trail was open for hiking; all the other trails were still covered with snow. Despite the extremely rewarding hike down Cleetwood Trail to the tour boat landing, the boats were not yet in service (tours scheduled to start July 2nd). Thus, our activities were limited to the one strenuous hike, stopping at the overlooks along the western portion of Rim Drive, checking out the Rim Village & Steel Visitor Centers, and hanging out around the lodge. In addition, the mosquitoes were a complete nuisance pretty much everywhere, day & night. Applying some repellent (DEET or similar) did seem to help avoid bites, but did not diminish the swarming which makes it very hard to enjoy being outside for very long.

I would definitely like to visit Crater Lake again, as it makes a nice 2-4 day trip from Portland or could be incorporated in a driving tour of the northwest National Parks. But I would probably wait a bit later in the year, maybe even late August or early September when the snow is gone but the weather is still good enough for hiking & other activities. It would still be critical to make lodging reservations far in advance.

Pictures probably don’t do the scenery justice, but I have posted some on Facebook and here:

Crater Lake & Coast 24-26JUN10

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