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.