Harlan Hague


I had driven past Crater Lake National Park in Oregon a dozen times at least, en route to summers in Eugene and vacations in the Pacific Northwest. "The park is close at hand, and I can always visit it, any time I wish." You know the rationalization. I have friends in San Francisco who have never visited Yosemite, an offense against self, reason and humanity in general that surely warrants severe punishment.

I decided that I must stop casting stones and remove my own character deficiency. I planned a trip to the Northwest around a trip to Crater Lake. I was not disappointed.

I drove into the park on state Highway 62 from the direction of Klamath Falls. The approach to the lake  through cool coniferous forests gives no hint of the lake's existence. Mileage markers on the road inform you of your progress toward the rim, so you know precisely when you will get there, but the first full view of the lake is nevertheless breathtaking. It is easy to imagine how John Wesley Hillman, a prospector, felt when he discovered the lake in 1853.

The deep blue surface is usually smooth as glass. It can be seen on scheduled boat tours--there are no private boats on the lake--or from view points on the Rim Drive, a circuit of 33.4 miles. The drive must be made in a clockwise direction since the section on the eastern side from Cleatwood to the lodge is one-way. The rest of the drive is two-way.

To see the lake at its best on a sunny day, drive the east side in the morning and stop frequently to view the western shore. Likewise, the east side is best seen from the west in the afternoon or evening. This may appear to be an unnecessary emphasis on the obvious, but it is amazing how often people complain of a ruined view, and pictures as well, by an uncooperative sun.

I saw the lake one day from about two dozen points at least, then returned in late evening where I had begun, on the rim just across from the cafeteria in the southwestern quarter of the lake. The western slopes were in shadow, but the cliff face on the east side glowed like burnished gold. I watched as the shadow moved quickly across the lake's surface and up the eastern face. A wispy fog began to flow over the western rim and down toward Wizard Island and the dark lake. It was quite cool by this time. I put on my sweater and stayed until I could no longer see the lake, only the clear sky with the first stars beginning to appear from the gloom.

The rim drive and the park's north entrance are open from about mid-July until closed by snow, usually in late October. The south entrance and the road to the visitor center and cafeteria on the south rim are open all year.

Snow is sometimes a problem. The park receives fifty feet of snow annually. To see the lake in winter, you may have to walk through a tunnel excavated in the snow from the cafeteria building to the view point near the rim.  There was still a huge snowdrift on the lodge terrace last August.

For those who would prefer to enjoy the park away from the roads, there are over one hundred miles of maintained hiking trails. Elevation ranges from 6,000' to 9,000'.

However you travel, take time to enjoy the wildflowers. The variety is surprising. Last August I saw the yellow common monkeyflower, pink Lewis monkeyflower, both pink and blue penstemon, arrowleaf groundsel, aster fleabane, fireweed, and an abundance of hues and sizes of lupine.

There are only two campgrounds inside the park, and you have to be on your toes to get a site. Reservations are not accepted. The campgrounds usually fill by early afternoon on a first-come, first-served basis. Mazama, near the south entrance station, has 198 wooded sites. Lost Creek campground on the Pinnacles road from east Rim Drive has twelve tent sites only. But take heart; if all sites in the park are taken, note that there are scores of United States Forest Service sites nearby outside the park boundary. Lodging also is available in rustic cabins located behind the cafeteria and gift shop complex.

Since 1915, visitors from around the world have enjoyed the park from their accommodations at the Crater Lake Lodge. The historic structure, staffed largely by college students, is open from early June to early September. In addition to guest rooms, the lodge has a comfortable lounge, cocktail bar and restaurant.

The Lodge does not rate four stars--it is no El Tovar--but like old, rustic lodges everywhere, especially those in national parks, the Crater Lodge has a sort of quiet, informal atmosphere that brings guests back again. Sad to say, the lodge will soon be demolished. The cost of readying the lodge for opening each summer has risen steadily, and the expenditures for repairs to the aging structure have soared.

The U.S. Park Service announced recently that the lodge would be torn down, explaining that it was no longer economical to operate. There is another reason, an admirable one. The Park Service plans to remove the lodge and other buildings from the rim to return the caldera as closely as possible to its natural state.

The rental cabins behind the cafeteria will close in 1985. The removal date of the cafeteria and store has not been set. The lodge itself probably will come down in 1987. It will not be closed until a new lodge has been constructed elsewhere, probably at park headquarters just below the south rim. The new cafeteria, store and gift shop likely will be built in the same area.

Visitors will continue to find essential services and accommodations at the park in the years to come, but if you want to enjoy the view of the lake from your lodge window one more time, you must include Crater Lake in your vacation plans soon.

For reservations at the lodge or cabins, call (503) 594-2511. For information about the park, write: National Park Service, Crater Lake National Park, P.O. Box 7, Crater Lake, Oregon 97604. Get information about campgrounds in the National Forests from: Pacific Northwest Region, 319 S.W. Pine St., P.O. Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208. For general information about holidays in Oregon, write: Parks & Recreation Branch, Department of Transportation, 525 Trade St., S.E., Salem, OR 97310; and Tourism Division, Oregon Department of Economic Development, 595 Cottage Street, NI., Salem, OR 97310.

Your first stop on arriving in the park should be the visitor center. It is located on the south rim between the cafeteria complex and the lodge. The ranger on duty will answer your questions. Then step outside. The view of the lake from the center is memorable, especially in the evening.

Caveat and disclaimer: This is a freelance travel article that I published some time ago. Some data, especially prices, links and contact information, may not be current.


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