The blue waters of Crater Lake, Oregon

The still waters of Crater Lake, Oregon run deep, and are as blue as all the brochures claim.

Above and below: Crater Lake from Merriam Point, with Wizard Island on the right.

Steph and I had opportunity of visiting Crater Lake just a couple of weeks ago while vacationing on the West Coast in Oregon and northern California. Formed less than 8,000 years ago when volcanic Mt Mazama exploded and then collapsed in on itself, Crater Lake is a large caldera, some 5-6 miles across, the remnant of what was the volcano’s cone. Crater Lake is only sleeping, not extinct, apparently. And who knows if or when she might blow her top again.

Crater Lake (Mt Mazama) is one of the many volcanoes in the Cascades of Washington and Oregon: Mt Baker and Mt Rainier, as well as Mt St Helens in Washington, and a string of volcanoes close to Crater Lake that are considered as potentially active. As a student of geography, I’d known about Crater Lake for decades, and it had always been an ambition – given the opportunity – to visit. But having researched how to get there and stay overnight, I was surprised about some of the lake’s statistics:

  • As I mentioned earlier, it was formed less than 8,000 years ago, and they have found native American artifacts buried beneath the pumice and pyroclastic flow fields which means they witnessed the explosion.
  • Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US, with a maximum depth of almost 2,000 feet.
  • The rim of the caldera lies at an altitude of between 7,000 and 8,000 feet.
  • No rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake. All the water comes from snow or rain.
  • And until fish were introduced into the lake several decades ago, there were no indigenous fish populations.

What’s more, Crater Lake is a stunningly beautiful natural feature of the Oregon landscape.

The Pumice Desert to the north of Crater Lake, with Mt Bailey on the left and the pointed peak of Mt Thielsen on the right.

Looking west southwest from Crater Lake.

From our beach-side holiday home near Tillamook in northwest Oregon, it was a 340 mile drive to Crater Lake, down US 101 on the coast to Florence, before heading inland and up into the mountains; a long 8 hour but exhilarating drive.

We arrived to Crater Lake National Park around 16:15. much to my relief, since I wanted to get there before dark, and in any case I’d read several poor reviews about the Mazama Village Motor Inn where I’d booked us a cabin, and that there could be problems with registration and even getting a meal if arriving after 20:00. As it turned out everything was fine – in fact, better than fine, and we experienced no problems with the accommodation whatsoever. The cabins were quite basic, but very clean and comfortable, with four rooms per cabin. I had originally tried for a reservation at the Rim Lodge, but that was booked up months before – and much more expensive. So if you do decide to visit Crater Lake and want to stay overnight, I can recommend the Mazama Village Motor Inn.

A Mazama Village Motor Inn cabin – each with four rooms.

I also wanted to take advantage of the afternoon light from the west for some photo opportunities from the rim. Only the western road of the Rim Loop was open; the eastern road was still blocked by snow in places, and we were told that it had snowed at Crater Lake (which gets more than 550 inches per year) only two days earlier. We first stopped at Merriam Point, then moved on to Discovery Point where I managed to lock us out of our rental SUV. I have no idea how this happened, but once we’d marshaled the help of Park Rangers, they were able to ‘break into’ the vehicle in less than 3 minutes! What a relief, and a moment of great embarrassment for me. Talk about mortification.

The following morning we had a quick breakfast in our room since the restaurant didn’t open until 08:00. We headed to the Rim again before 08:00, and were able to take advantage of the sunrise from the east, and the perfectly still morning to see Crater Lake at its best.

By 10:15 we’d reached Merriam Point once again, and completed our ‘tour’ of Crater Lake. Despite the long drive to get there it was definitely worth the effort. I’d checked the Crater Lake webcam just a couple of days before we visited and the clouds were so low it was hard to see any details at all. The gods were on our side, however, as you can see from the photos.

Make Crater Lake one of your destinations if you are ever on the West Coast! You won’t be disappointed (weather permitting). We weren’t!

A Minnesota monsoon . . . and more

Tempestuous weather is not uncommon in Minnesota in the late Spring and early Summer. And further south, well into ‘Tornado Alley’ severe storms occur on a regular basis as cold air from the north collides with warm, humid air moving north from the Gulf of Mexico. Just the ingredients for some lively weather.

Fortunately, the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St Paul), where our daughter Hannah and her family live, are only occasionally hit by tornadoes. In fact, last year (or was it the year before) during one of our visits, the sky began to take on a rather ominous tinge late one afternoon, and soon the tornado sirens were sounding. A tornado did touch down just a couple of miles away, and caused damage in one residential street.

On the other hand, severe thunderstorms seem to be two a penny. But there’s severe and then there’s SEVERE. And we experienced a couple of those last weekend, just as we were preparing to return to the UK after a great vacation in Minnesota, with a side trip to Oregon and northern California.

Early on Friday morning I woken up by the sound of thunder and brilliant flashes of lightning. On a walk later that day we saw some branches had been torn off a number of trees, but nothing untoward. That evening, Hannah, Michael, Steph and I went out for a meal in downtown St Paul. Hannah had arranged a baby-sitter for Callum and Zoë. Even so, we left the house early, as we had a table reservation for 18:15 (it always amazes me just how early Americans tend to eat out).

About 19:30 the sky began to darken and within minutes there was a deluge. I’ve only seen it rain harder in the Philippines during a typhoon. When we left the restaurant (around 20:00), the rain had eased a little – enough to scramble into the car. Even so, the volume of water was lifting manhole covers in the street. Hannah had also by then received an SMS from the baby-sitter that the power had gone off.

On the way home we saw more damage to the trees (and St Paul must be one of the ‘leafiest’ cities in the USA – flying into MSP International all you see are trees, trees, trees), but were completely gob-smacked when we turned into Cretin Avenue South (pronounced Cree – tin). There were trees down everywhere, and across the road from Hannah and Michael’s house trees had been felled onto two houses. Further down the avenue, trees had come down across the road, on to vehicles, and demolished one garage. Everywhere, huge trees had been uprooted as if they were matchsticks. And on Mississippi Boulevard (a couple of blocks or so from Cretin Avenue South, several very large trees had been felled. Most damage was caused it seems to the many ash trees planted along the sides of the road. They appeared to have rather shallow root systems, and maybe the long period of wet weather in the Spring also contributed to their downfall. But even some majestic oaks were not spared. Fortunately Hannah and Michael’s house was not affected at all.

The power did not come back on until 14:00 on Saturday. We were lucky. Some parts of the Twin Cities were affected on Thursday evening, and some had not had their power restored when we left on Monday afternoon. The power company, Xcel, reported that this was among the most serious power outages ever experienced. Teams of linesmen worked long hours to restore power, but the downing of power lines by fallen trees certainly caused considerable chaos. Unlike the situation is most UK cities, where power lines are underground, most in St Paul (and many other cities in the US) are above ground, and whenever there’s a storm, there’s always the chance of damage to the power supply.

It’s only when it goes off that you realize just how dependent we are on electricity for everything. Yes, it was an unusual experience for Twin Cities residents – at least being without power for so long. For Steph and me with our Philippines experiences (where brownouts are rather common) and typhoons and tropical depressions occur with expected regularity, being without power was an inconvenience but not something novel.

With severe storms expected to become rather more frequent as a result of climate change, it’s time for St Paulites and Minnesotans to assess the continuing risks and plan accordingly.

How costly can the letter ‘e’ be?

Dlta Air Lins
Booking air tickets online should be simple. Right?

Wrong! Not if our experience is anything to go by. Having agreed dates with our daughter and family in Minnesota for our trip here this year (which we’re currently enjoying), I began the search for the best deals way back in February. Unlike last year I found that I could get the best fares directly with Delta Airlines from Birmingham (BHX) to the Twin Cities (MSP) via Amsterdam (AMS) rather than working through a price comparison site.

Having duly selected our preferred route and dates (with the BHX-AMS sector operated by KLM), and at convenient departure times, I proceeded to make the reservations and purchases.

That’s when the nightmare began (although I didn’t know it at the time). Having completed all the passenger and debit card information, I then printed the receipts and e-tickets. And that’s when I discovered a ‘small’ error in one of the tickets. My wife’s middle name is Claire, but the receipt printed only ‘Clair’. I was certain I’d typed her names correctly, and when I checked the background security information held on file by Delta, everything was ship-shape and Bristol fashion – no errors.

Knowing that even a small spelling mistake can be costly at the time of boarding, I decided to contact Delta and have the error corrected. In Europe, all Delta reservations are handled by Air France (part of the Skyteam alliance). So the 0845 (and costly per minute) number I dialed connected me with someone in France. Yes, I was told, the error could be corrected – at a cost of £60!!! What choice did I have? And with that I thought all would be in order.

Later that same evening I received a call from an Air France senior supervisor who told me that Steph’s reservation had been transferred to the Air France system (with a new confirmation code), and since I’d advised the airline of the error immediately, the fee was being waived. And I received an email confirming all this.

Two weeks before departure
A couple of weeks before our trip I needed to check a detail of our itinerary so went to my account on the Delta website, only to discover that the AMS-MSP sectors of our trip were not registered. Yet if I checked the Air France site with the other confirmation code, everything was there including our selected seats.

Another phone call to ‘Delta’ – unfortunately Delta in Europe does not have the very convenient call back system it operates in the USA. So once you are through, you have to wait on line – with the minutes and pennies ticking away – until a representative attends to your call. When finally connected, the representative was somewhat confused by the information she found in the Delta / Air France system and informed me she would sort it out and call me back. Which she did, almost two hours later. ‘All sorted’ she told me, but told me to check-in online through the Air France web site.

Check-in time
On Sunday 2 June I received an email from Air France advising me to check-in online (and I also received an email from KLM later the same morning with the same information). But I only received boarding passes for the BHX-AMS sector. Oh well, I thought, I’ll get the AMS-MSP passes in Schipol. But when we got to Birmingham Airport the following morning, the agent could see our reservations but could not check us in for the MSP flight from AMS, and advised us to sort it in Amsterdam. It took more than an hour in Schipol to get new boarding passes – but not for our preferred seats (we were initially given two seats in the very last row!). And the agent spent time getting the information configured between the Delta, Air France and KLM systems. Then it was off to the gate with a printed Delta confirmation of our return flight from MSP to AMS, and seats.

More problems in the Twin Cities
The day after we arrived to St Paul, I decided to check if everything was fine with our return reservations. Nothing on the Delta web site, but OK with Air France – but not the seats we’d been assigned in Schipol. A phone call to Delta again, and when I did get through all the changes that had been made in Schipol were nowhere to be seen in the Delta system. A very helpful agent, Kathy Beard, spent more than an hour working with one of her colleagues (fortunately at Delta phone expense) to reissue the return tickets. But again we’ve lost our preferred seats – at least we’re on the flight home (we were still the last time I checked). Let’s see what happens next Sunday when I attempt to check-in online.

And the outcome?
On all our boarding passes so far, Steph’s middle name has been abbreviated to ‘C’, ‘Cla’ or the like – never her full name. We also traveled to Oregon and California, and when I booked those tickets with Delta I was super careful about filling in Steph’s data correctly. Yet the system returned a ticket for ‘Stephanie Clair Jackson’! Well, I asked Ms Beard about this, and she told me not to worry. Provided that the security background information that Delta holds matches the information in Steph’s passport – which it does – then there is no issue.

All that hassle and heartache, and for nothing. Now why the Delta system won’t recognize ‘Claire’ instead of ‘Clair’ beats me.

Apart from that, we’ve had a wonderful time with Hannah, Michael, Callum and Zoë, and our trip to the West Coast was awesome.

Dr Joe Smartt

Dr Joe SmarttJoe Smartt, an old and dear friend, passed away peacefully in his sleep on Friday 7 June, in Southampton, UK, just three months shy of his 82nd birthday. He had been in poor health for several years, and towards the end of 2012 he’d moved into a care home. I last visited Joe in July 2012, and although he was essentially bed-ridden by then, we sat and reminisced over old times while drinking many mugs of tea (a ‘Joe favorite’!).

Groundnuts and beans
A geneticist by training, Joe obtained his BSc from Durham University, took a diploma in tropical agriculture from Cambridge University, and spent time in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) working on groundnuts. He completed his PhD in the Department of Genetics at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1965, submitting a thesis Cross-compatibility relationships between the cultivated peanut Arachis hypogaea L. and other species of the genus Arachis.

In 1967 he was appointed to a Lectureship in the Department of Botany at the University of Southampton, and remained there until his retirement in 1996, having been appointed Reader in Biology in 1990, and awarded the DSc degree by the university in 1989 for his significant work on grain legumes – the area of scientific endeavour for which he will perhaps be best remembered. He authored two books on grain legumes, edited a major volume on groundnuts, and was invited to co-edit a second edition of the important Evolution of Crop Plants with the late Professor Norman Simmonds. In the late 60s he worked on cross compatibility relationships of Phaseolus beans, and also published a series of strategically important synthesis articles on grain legumes, which did much to re-energize interest in their development and improvement.

In the latter part of his career Joe turned his attention to the genetics and breeding of goldfish, co-editing one book and authoring another two which became essential texts for goldfish enthusiasts.

L to r: Russell Meredith, Mike Jackson, Steve Jordan, and Joe

Sticks, bells and hankies
I first met Joe in 1968, which might seem strange as I began my undergraduate studies at Southampton in 1967 in the Departments of Botany and Geography. Joe taught a second year class on genetics, so it wasn’t until the autumn term in October 1968 that I was faced with ‘Smartt genetics’. But by then I had made myself known to him, as I have described in another post on this blog. Joe and I were the co-founders of the first Morris side at the university in autumn 1968 – the Red Stags, and our common interest in traditional music (particularly bagpipe music – see this post) was the basis of a friendship that lasted more than 45 years. Many’s the time Joe and I sat down with a beer or a wee dram to enjoy many of the LPs from his extensive music library.

A friend indeed
But Joe was more than a friend – he was a mentor whose opinions and advice I sought on several occasions. In fact, it was a suggestion from him in February 1970 that I apply to the University of Birmingham for a new MSc course under the direction of Professor Jack Hawkes that got me into genetic resources conservation and use in the first place, and the start of a successful career in international agricultural research lasting more than 40 years.

Physically, Joe was a big man – but a gentle person and personality. I’ve seen him slightly cross, but I never saw him angry. It seemed to me that he had the most equitable of temperaments. He married Pam in 1970, and they had two daughters, Helena and Fran (about the same ages as my two daughters), and both have been very successful academically. Joe often told me of his pride in what they had achieved. I know that was a source of great comfort to him in his latter years as his health declined.

While I feel sadness at his passing, I can also celebrate the many scientific contributions he made, and his true friendship over so many decades. He will be missed by many colleagues in legume and goldfish circles, but particularly by his family and friends. Friends like Joe come along very few times in one’s lifetime. It’s been my luck – and privilege – to be among his.


I wrote this obituary in 2013:

Jackson, MT (2013). Dr. Joseph Smartt (1931–2013). Genet Resour Crop Evol 60, 1921–1922 (doi:10.1007/s10722-013-0044-7


Click here to read the Order of Service for Joe’s funeral on 21 June 2013 in Southampton. Several homilies were delivered during the service by Joe’s brother and his daughters Helen and Fran. You can read them here.