Lava Lands of the Central Oregon High Desert
Driving south from Bend towards Crater Lake we were on the road again. I think in terms of tourism, this part of Oregon really gets overlooked. It’s not Portland and it’s not on its beautiful coastline. This area of the state is special unto itself. Only about 10 minutes south of Bend lies Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the “Lava Lands” of the central Oregon high desert. This includes over 54,000 acres of lava flows, lakes and very unique geologic features. While we didn’t stop, it was just so unexpected to see. Driving the roads north of Bend you are in the high desert, passing tall pine trees as well as sage bushes and the occasional tumble weed. We expected that on the way south, and it does have it, plus the unexpected but exciting addition of ancient lava!
The drive from the lava lands to Crater Lake only took a little over an hour so before we knew it we were passing through the entrance gate and we were in. Julie and I had wanted to check out Crater Lake two years prior when we were cruising down the Oregon Coast but as it was late November and Bubbles can’t handle temps under 32 degrees Fahrenheit, we were unable to check it out. As it was August this time around, we had no temperature issues.
Driving up to Crater Lake was a bit different than in other National Parks. There was no huge mountain that you could see for miles away, moon like landscape or crazy rock formation. Until you got to the rim road, found an overlook to park at and walked up the path to the edge you could not see this lake. When we finally reached the rim after hiking up a short path…..damn, it just takes your breath away.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the USA and one of the country’s most pure lakes. There is no stream or river into or out of the lake. The lake is fed purely from rain and snow melt. Because of this, on sunny days, the lake is one of the most intense blue colors that we had ever seen. It is just amazingly blue! The lake is also different from any other lake in the country (and the reason that it’s a National Park) is that the lake sits in the base of what used to be a volcano. Over 7000 years ago a huge eruption triggered the collapse of what was a high peak into what is now Crater Lake.
We spent most of the afternoon circling the lake stopping at overlooks and just gazing out at its deep blue water. It is truly amazing and awe inspiring. As our KOA campground for the next two nights was about a half hour drive away, we couldn’t stay till dusk, so we headed out. We were staying at the Lemolo Lake/Crater Lake North KOA Campground and as it turned out it was one of the more remote USA campgrounds that we would stay at. Half an hour from Crater Lake might not seem that far but from the time that we left Crater Lake we did not see a single thing except for thick forest before we got to the campground.
This campground turned out to be one of our favorites. It was so deep in the woods that you could not see anything around you minus the few other RV’ers staying in the lush woods. The Campground was also just a few minutes’ walk/bike ride from Lemolo lake. This was extremely secluded which meant that besides our campground there were only a few small cabins or camping spots on the lake. We set up camp and as Julie prepared dinner I walked into the woods collecting some firewood. This is why I really liked this campground; it had all the free firewood that you could want. One of my camping pet peeves is buying firewood so with all the free wood surrounding us, this campground went to almost the top on my list of favorite campgrounds. After I finished collecting firewood, we ate dinner, then started up the fire and roasted some marshmallows. It was the end to a perfect day.
The next day we woke up, ate breakfast and we were off for another day at Crater Lake. Unfortunately for us the weather didn’t want to cooperate as much as it had the day before. The weather was overcast with occasional showers and wind. No matter for us though, as we have learned one thing while RVing, you can’t control the weather.
Rim to Lake Hike
As we did not do much hiking the day before we really wanted to do a hike in the park and especially one down to the lake itself. This is another very unique feature of Crater Lake. Unlike most other lakes in the world in which you just simply walk on mostly level ground to the lake, Crater Lake sits deep inside a crater. From the rim to the lake is a drop of 1,000 feet. To add intensity to this hike the lake itself sits at over 6,000 feet above sea level. This is more or less climbing down a mountain to get close to the lake surface.
Julie and I were determined to do the hike, so we drove over to the Cleetwood Clove Trail, put on some rain gear (because of course it was raining) and set out. From the road the path immediately started down. The path until the very bottom zig zagged back and forth, again and again and again. As it was cloudy today the lake did not have the intense blue color that it had the day before, but it was still pretty amazing nonetheless the closer that we got. After about half an hour of walking downhill, legs burning we reached the bottom. At the bottom are a few bathrooms as well as a tiny marina and a few tour boats that take people around the lake as well as to the lakes only island, Wizard Island. We caught our breath for a few minutes as we watched people line up to get on the boat. The boat was not tiny, it looked like it could carry around 50 people. We really could not figure out how in the world they got the boat down the 1000-foot cliff to get down here. We were a bit too tired to really look into it though.
After sitting for a while looking over the lake, we knew that we had to go back up. We gathered our things and slowly but surely made our way back up the zig zagging path back to the van. It took a bit more time going up than down. The altitude really made its presence known as well as Julie and I huffed and puffed our way to the top. Finally, though we made it as we took a long gulp of water and gave each other a high five. It wasn’t the easiest hike, but it was very rewarding.
We drove around the lake a bit more but as we were a little beat from the hike but wanted to go and check out Crater Lakes historic lodge. On a clear day you can see straight across, 6 miles to the other side. Unfortunately for us the weather had gotten a bit worse and fog had rolled in. We walked into the lodge and checked its deck, check in area before having a seat in its lounge. Julie ordered a spiked hot chocolate to stay warm while I went with an old fashioned. While it was a bit of a bummer that the weather was not cooperating with us it was still an awesome experience sitting in one of the national parks grand lodges enjoying a drink.
After finishing our drink, we headed to the visitor’s center to grab a few souvenirs. By this point so much fog had rolled in you could not see the lake at all. We said goodbye to Crater Lake and headed back to the campground. Luckily it had not rained at our campground, so we gathered up wood, made dinner and roasted a few more marshmallows before heading to bed.
Cruising South Central Oregon
The next day after a quick breakfast we packed up and headed out. Today we were heading southwest with a destination of Crescent City, CA, in the extreme northwest corner of California. Again, like the drive from Bend to Crater Lake this drive turned out to be surprisingly beautiful. South-Central and South-Western Oregon are sparsely populated areas of the state. As we drove south and west from Crater Lake the landscape started to change. We started dropping in elevation and the landscape started to transition from desert browns to lush green forests and valleys.
We passed through some groves of redwoods and giant sequoias. This really surprised us as we did not expect to see this until we crossed the state line into California. The roads curved around mountains and through valleys. It was such a spectacular change from the past few days. We loved it!
State of Jefferson
One thing here that caught our eye though was a different flag and signs saying “Join the State of Jefferson”. We had no idea what this was, so we looked it up. What we found was that the “State of Jefferson” was people living in Southern Oregon and Northern California that were fed up with their state governments. They felt that they were ignored as they lived in the rural, unpopulated areas of each state and as such did not get the representation that they felt that they deserved. They wanted to create their own state. Julie and I thought that this was an interesting idea but one that probably would be always a pipe dream.
As we continued to drive, the road twisted around mountains and past a few more small towns. The mile markers on Oregon Route 199 slowly counted down to zero and then sure enough we could see the “Welcome to California” sign. We then thought – Thanks Oregon, it’s been a blast. See you again soon!
Next up…Julie’s favorite spot in the entire world – Northern California’s Redwood National & State Parks!