I woke with the sun, more or less. The morning was both cloudy and hazy, as if a fire was burning somewhere in this pine-tinderbox of a forest. But if it was, I couldn't see it through the trees. After decades of artificial protection, the forests around Crater Lake are unnaturally thick. Ecologists, you see, didn't realize until halfway through the park's existence that wildfires are a natural (and beneficial) occurrence in the fir forests of the Cascades. Prior to that, park policy had been to immediately extinguish all fires, whether natural or human-caused, which left nothing to thin the young trees and clear away dead wood. Natural fires are now allowed to run their course (though kept in check so that they don't escape the park or destroy its structures), but they've still got lots of catching up to do. Parts of the park haven't burned in over a century, including (I'd bet) this one.
It turns out I'd spent the night at the head of the Pinnacles Trail, a short trail built to showcase a line of pumice spires sprouting from the side of a steep river valley. Might as well take a look, I figured, since I'm here. So I rolled out of my car-bed and headed down the trail:
|Rather phallic, aren't they?|
Afterwards, I headed back up to East Rim Rd. to see the rest of the park. The road climbed once more to the rim of the crater, where I had my first view of the lake:
|That island in the mist is called the Phantom Ship. Spoooky...|
I continued down the road, stopping briefly at various other overlooks:
and arrived around 8 am at a picnic area below Mt. Scott. The mountain, a distant satellite cone of Mazama's, was largely spared damage from is eruption and is now the park's highest point. Since the high point of Oregon, glacier-capped Mt. Hood, is still well beyond my ability to climb, I figured I'd hike Scott instead. The pines above the parking lot were filled with large, noisy, white-and-black birds picking at their cones--Clark’s Nutcrackers, as I later learned.
The 2.5-mile trail began at the road:
It ran along the edge of an ashy-soiled meadow:
then ducked behind the mountain to ascend its gentler (though still quite steep) eastern side. I followed the switchbacks up through the pines:
and over loose pumice scree:
|Like that (seen near the summit).|
|Did LarLar obey that sign? Do hummingbirds swim?|
|Seen from the opposite direction.|
|Om nom nom...|
The trail ran briefly along the mountain's ridge:
|A "butter-knife edge," I'd call it.|
|In its entirety--apparently Mt. Scott is the only point in the park where one can fit the whole lake into a standard camera viewfinder.|
and directly below was Mt. Scott's glacial cirque:
|Well, not entirely...|
The descent was uneventful, aside for a brief break for pinecone-play:
and a visit from a ground-squirrel:
|Or, rather, we visited it.|
I stopped at a few more overlooks to see the lake:
|It doesn't seem all that far down... and then you notice how tiny the waves are.|
|Sorry, Derek, I can't survey your future supervillain-lair this time.|
|10 AM and already clogged with traffic...|
From there I followed OR-138 down (literally) from the Cascades. They hadn't seemed quite so high when approached from the mile-high eastern plateau, but it’s a long way from 7000’ to sea level. The road was narrow and twisty, lined at first with pines, then, below 3500', with the first deciduous trees I'd seen in several weeks (not counting the upper Sandias). It descended deeper and deeper into a narrow river valley (the North Umpqua, I later learned), with the Cascades looming clifflike above it. It was all quite beautiful, I must say--and the two separate pair of RVs I wound up stuck behind, all four hauling cars, gave me pleeeeenty of time to contemplate that beauty at 15 mph below the speed limit. I really can't
The land below the mountains was savanna-like: yellow fields dotted with copses of dark trees. I hit I-5 at Roseburg and followed it up the Willamette Valley through the afternoon. Though the countryside stayed largely rural, I could tell I was on a coastal highway again by the heavy traffic and constant passing-games required to keep a steady speed. I hit Portland around 4:30 and spent the next hour and a half inching my way forward through its rush-hour traffic. Fed up, I pulled off for a brief rest at this place that billed itself as the "World's Classiest Truck Stop":
|Though, really, all that meant was that everything in the convenience store was overpriced.|
On I drove through the sunset. I passed Olympia and Tacoma in the dark; Mt. Rainier, Washington's high point, was no more than a shadow to the southeast. The day's traffic had dissipated by the time I reached Seattle proper. I veered onto I-405 and followed it up the eastern isthmus to Bellevue, where I was greeted by the lights of a different set of skyscrapers. My friend's temporary apartment was deep in the city--a shock to my system after so much rural traveling--but at that point I was ready to crash on any horizontal surface that would take me.
And so my journey ended.
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