Although Under Western Skies has covered a lot of the western U.S., we’ve given scant attention to our neighbor to the north, Oregon. Let us go then, you and I.
Despite a vast landscape of mountains, forests, desert, spectacular coastline and a lifetime’s worth of things to see, the state has only a single U.S. National Park: Crater Lake. One of the world’s iconic sights, it’s worth the modest drive to get there from Interstate 5, Medford or Klamath Falls. If you’re on foot, it’s accessible from the Pacific Crest trail. A massive lake contained in a volcanic crater: It doesn’t get any more dramatic than this (click on photos for larger images):
One could devote days to exploring the park. If you have less time, a well-engineered road circles the entire crater (33 miles), with plenty of overlooks, and you can cruise around in a few hours. There’s a large visitor center, although be advised that in the summer months it can be a crowded, cacophonous place full of families queueing for a table for lunch. In the off-season, you’ll have far less company, although snow can close the roads for long periods. You may see snow any time of year, even in July, as we did in the experience I mentioned HERE.
There is plenty of information available about the geology, biology, archaeology and flat-out spectacular sights you’ll see as you circle the lake. Start with the National Park Service site. When you’re there (or at any U.S. National Park), ask any Ranger you encounter a question: they’re among the most informed and passionate naturalists on the planet. Our goal at UWS is always to point you toward something you might miss. At the southern edge of the crater is a sight worth seeking out: The Pinnacles. From the Phantom Ship Overlook at the southeast portion of the lake, drive southeast on Pinnacles Road. You’ll descend along Sand Creek through pine forest. It’s a paved road that ends at a parking area 6 miles later. Easy walking trails wind through the pines on the bluff tops above Sand Creek canyon. From there, you’ll see the sides of the canyon are lined with eroded fantastic spires: They’re extinct fumaroles:
The American west is full of eroded “hoodos.” You see them in the Utah canyons, New Mexico’s Bisti Wilderness, and elsewhere, but they’re typically formed when hard caprock prevents the soil and rock underneath from eroding. The volcanic origin of these dramatic pinnacles makes them especially noteworthy.
You’ll also have the opportunity to listen to the forest silence and the sound of Sand Creek rushing through the canyon below. It’s another perspective on the volcanic forces that produced Crater Lake, worth the drive, and you’ll only add an hour or so to a day of spectacular travel.
If you’re on a tour, you might go to Paris and see only the Eiffel Tour and the Mona Lisa, or to Rome and see only the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel ceiling, but it always pays to look at the map or ask someone, “Anything else we should see?” Keep asking. Have a favorite slightly-off-the-beaten-path discovery you’ve made? We’d love to hear about it.
This post is the first in a series about traveling in Oregon. Use the navigation below to see subsequent posts.
© Brad Nixon 2015, 2016