Thursday, August 4, 2011

Jed has cholera... Jed has died.

Way back in elementary school, when we finished our work early we got to play games the computers (mostly Apple IIe’s, but a few state of the art Macintoshes). By far, the most popular were from the Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail. In the Oregon Trail, you were a 19th century prospector who wanted to go west to mine for gold. Your job, as the player, was to assemble a party of 5 people and get them all to the Northwest alive. Along the way, you faced thieves, natural disasters, hostile natives, river crossings, and disease. If all went well, hopefully, when you had 1 person alive and 1 clinging to life on starvation rations, you would make it to the Willamette Valley and win the game.

Today, I won the real-life game of the Oregon Trail.

I woke up this morning somewhere near Klamath Falls, Oregon (not in a ditch or anything – the same place I went to bed), a town at a brisk temperature of 45 degrees. I’ll take waking up shivering over waking up drenched in sweat any day of the week. I quickly saddled my Hyundai and set out to make the last 60 miles of the trip to Crater Lake.

I arrived shortly before the visitor center opened (on account of waking up early since it was 45 degrees), so I decided to take the rim drive first (yes, people, make all the rim jokes now and get it over with). Stopping at the first viewpoint, I realized that I hadn’t quite been able to fix my camera yesterday as well as I had thought. If you look carefully at the corners of this picture you might be able to see why.

It turns out that when the lens slammed into the ground, something inside got misaligned, and now even though the centers of pictures looked fine, the edges were always out of focus. The wider the angle of the picture, the more pronounced the problem. Also, I hadn’t quite gotten all the dirt off the sensor, and there were still spots in every picture, particularly near the upper right corners. All this meant 2 things: I needed to replace the lens and I needed a real sensor cleaning kit. I wasn’t too worried about either, because the lens is basically the cheapest one Canon makes, and any place that would have it would also have a sensor cleaning kit, which is not as dangerous as the way I tried to do it yesterday. The real problem, though, was that now, instead of being free to leisurely explore Crater Lake at whatever pace I wished, I had to get out of there by 1 or 2pm so I could get to a camera store before it closed. This didn’t completely destroy my day, but it did take away the idyllic notion that I could do whatever I want whenever I wanted, which has so often been a hallmark of this trip.

Anyway, I still had more than enough time to drive around the lake and stop at all the viewpoints. My first reaction to it was that this lake was big. The 2 small islands in the lake only look small, until you notice the size of the trees on them, and how small they look even compared to the island. Then you look at the island in comparison to the rest of the lake, and you get a better sense of how much water we’re talking about. The height of the surrounding cliffs, too, was deceiving. The information along the route warned that many of the viewpoints were 1,000 feet above the water level – a statement that I refused to believe. The key to this mystery, as well, is the trees. If a tree is 150-200 feet tall, and the cliffs are 5-6 trees high, there’s your 1,000 feet, even if it doesn’t look it.

The second thing that I noticed about Crater Lake was the color. In addition to being the deepest lake in the western hemisphere, Crater Lake contains the clearest water in the world. If you drop a 9-inch metal disk into the lake (bad idea), you’ll still be able to see it over 140 feet down. This makes the water a brilliant blue, far brighter than the sky. Despite how it looks, I took this picture looking down. The blue is the water, not the sky.

Near the shores, where the bright blue water meets the yellow and tan bedrock, it turns green. But not a nasty dirt green, a kind of neon green that looks like it must have been made by Crayola, because nature would never come up with something that color, except maybe on a South American plant.

The third thing that struck me about Crater Lake was the fact that it’s evidence of volcanism in America. I’ve always watched footage of mountains with gaping holes at the top, spewing smoke and lava, and it’s always seemed completely foreign. This happens in far-off lands, like at Vesuvius and Mt. Pinatubo. But walking around the remains of Mt. Mazama (now filled with water and known as Crater Lake), the ground was littered with pumice and volcanic glass. I’ve never seen young igneous rock in its “natural habitat” and certainly didn’t expect to find so much evidence of a volcanic eruption at a lake.

The fourth thing that stands out about Crater Lake is the snow. In stark contrast to the bright blue water are the enormous patches of snow. Apparently the Cascades had a record snowfall this winter, likje the Sierra, because the amount of snow still on the ground was definitely unusual. Keep in mind, the lake is not at a particularly high latitude, not at a particularly high elevation (only 6,000-7,000 feet) and wasn’t particularly cold (it reached about 75 while I was there). Nevertheless, in several places along the rim drive, there were 2 feet of snow just off the roadway. At the visitor center, two boys were having a snowball fight, just because they could. So, sorry Pikes Peak, now I’ve seen snow in August, too.

To further this idea that this really was a volcano at one point, I took a short side hike to the Pinnacles – ancient volcanic fumaroles buried by ash and uncovered by erosion from a nearby stream. Interesting, but nothing to write home about (oh wait, isn’t that what I’m doing now?). The trail kept going but I turned around once I decided that I had seen all there was to see of the Pinnacles.

After a morning at Crater Lake, I was off to scour the Beaver State looking for a Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS lens. There were moments of stress in the search because, along the highway leading out of Crater Lake, there are long stretches of absolutely nothing. Even though I left around 1:30, I couldn’t have lunch until nearly 4, stopping at the first eatery I could find. This being-out-of-snacks situation will need to be rectified as soon as possible.

In that time between leaving and eating, I drove through the Willamette Valley along the Willamette River for several miles. You know the Willamette Valley is way out west because in the Oregon Trail video game, it was the last place you reached, you could rarely make it there before you had to stop playing at lunch time, and because often you never reached it at all before all your party members died. In short, the Willamette Valley was the end of the world. And I drove right through it today. I still can’t quite wrap my head around that. 

Hopefully I’ll have a similarly mind-blowing experience tomorrow visiting a place I’ve read so much about – the most active volcano in North America – Mt. St. Helens.


  1. Most people remember where they were when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon on July 21, 1969. They remember watching it on a tiny little black and white TV.

    My experience was different. I was at Crater Lake National Park that day and rather than watching, I had to settle for listening to Armstrong's first step on a crummy car radio while gazing at the magnificent view of the lake out the windshield.

    To this day, this is what I think about when I hear Crater Lake National Park.

  2. Hey Greg, were you able to purchase the lens? Aunt Ellen

  3. Oh yeah. I found a place that had it and now all is well.