Crater Lake Pan-o-rama
This, my friends, is Crater Lake. At 1,943 feet, the deepest lake in the United States, and Oregon's lone National Park. Visiting Crater Lake in the wintertime has long been on my bucket list. And in late February, I was able to realize my dream. Not only did I get two days to explore this incredible natural wonder, I was lucky enough to hit the good weather jackpot.
|A bucket list item realized!|
Crater Lake rests inside an ancient caldera, formed 7,700 years ago when a 12,000-foot-tall volcano (Mt. Mazama) collapsed during a major eruption. It's thought this eruption was the largest in North America in the past 640,000 years. The lake, fed only by rain and snow, is considered to be the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world. Due to it's depth and purity, Crater Lake is often a very bright shade of blue.
|Frosty trees bow down to the lake|
Summertime is busy season at Crater Lake National Park. Visitors stream in from all over. Although half a million people visit each year, the bulk of these arrive between May and September.
|My hubby is happy too|
But winter is quiet season at Crater Lake. The park is known for it's wet winters, which dump an average of 44 feet of snow per year. Due to the extreme difficulty of removing such a large snow volume, most of the park roads and trails are closed November to June. Only the South Entrance and the road to Rim Village stay open.
|Crater Lake Lodge, shuttered for the winter|
Winter weather here is unpredictable. Roughly 50% of the time in winter and early spring, storms completely hide the lake from view. On many winter days, strong winds gust across the water, creating whitecaps. Calm winter days are few and far between. Although cold temperatures are common, due to it's extreme depth, Crater Lake rarely freezes. During extreme cold snaps, ice may form around the shore, but the last time this lake totally froze over was in 1949.
|Nothin' but blue and white|
If you're a snowsports enthusiast, winter at Crater Lake is amazing. The unplowed 31-mile Rim Road, which circles the entire lake, is open for skiers and snowshoers. And although the lake is plenty beautiful in summer months, with a coating of glittering white snow it's absolutely stunning.
|Calm waters mean great reflections|
After a week of continuous snowstorms, Friday dawned dry and clear. My hubby and I rose at o-dark-thirty and made the long drive from Portland to Southern Oregon. We arrived at Crater Lake by noon, just as blue sky was taking over. Talk about perfect timing! The newly fallen snow and white frosted trees made a nice contrast to the blues of the lake and sky. Jaw-dropping beautiful!
|West Rim Ski Route trailhead|
Up until late February, the entire West Coast had endured an extremely dry winter. When picking dates for our visit, I was unsure if we'd have sufficient snow for winter touring. But boy, did hubby and I hit absolute perfect conditions! The sky was blue, the snow was deep and powdery, and the lake calm enough for killer reflections.
|Time to explore!|
Our plan was to follow snow-covered West Rim Drive clockwise. I'd heard the best viewpoints were in the first few miles. Due to our noon arrival, the first day was more of a shakedown cruise. We'd follow the road as far as daylight and stamina allowed before turning around. Roger brought snowshoes, but I chose cross country skis as my method of travel.
Oh - views were magnificent from the very beginning! A short walk from the parking lot takes visitors to the first overlook. Crater Lake spreads out before you, it's waters an eerie deep blue. The steep lakeshore rises up from water's edge, punctuated by tall peaks. Tall trees, covered with thick icy coatings, added terrific accents to an already lovely place.
|A most lovely day|
As mentioned earlier, on Friday, Crater Lake's waters were so still, picture perfect reflections could be found everywhere. The steep snowy sides of the caldera shimmered in duplicate at water's edge. Adjacent mountain peaks, and Wizard Island formed twins in the still blueness.
Continuing from our first viewpoint, Roger and I followed a well-trod path through glittering fluffy snow. Even when the lake wasn't in sight, the white snow-flocked forest, blue sky, and thick blanket of snow were absolutely gorgeous.
Crater Lake has a small island located near it's southwestern shore. Wizard Island is a cinder cone that was formed by later eruptions, spewing lava out sporadically, until it rose above water level. The island got it's name because it was thought to resemble a sorcerer's hat.
|Hiking through the snowdrifts|
In the summer, the park offers boat rides to this island. There's a short hiking trail on Wizard Island, and visitors are allowed to disembark and explore. But you don't dare miss the last boat of the day! There's a stiff fine if the park has to send someone to get you. I'm hoping to return in the summer and check out the hiking trail here (Crater Lake bucket list item No. 2!)
|More great views around every corner|
About 1.2 miles of tromping and sliding brought Roger and I to Discovery Point. Here we found more great views of the lake's steep rim and Wizard Island.
|I did a lot of this|
And, as you can guess, I was doing a lot of this! Roger had his point and shoot camera too, and it took some great photos. With scenery like this, you can't go wrong.
|The icy trees were amazing|
The frost-crusted trees were amazing! The wind blown snow and ice made fantastic patterns on their trunks and branches. I took almost as many photos of the trees as I did the lake.
|Wizard Island overlook|
Beyond Discovery Point, the road snaked through a narrow canyon. The wind had blown snow into here, creating massive drifts. There were two tracks, at the very bottom of the drift, and one following the sharp ridgeline of the top. Afraid the drift might collapse on me, I chose to ski along the narrow ridgetop.
|Fabulous place to cross country ski|
It wasn't easy to ski through some some of the narrow, drifty sections. For one, it's hard to control your speed on long, narrow cross country skis. I was used to my wide, fat downhill skis with sharp metal edges. And I also wore a heavy backpack, which further threw off my balance. There were more than a few hairy traverses, some of which resulted in wipeouts. Luckily, the thick newly-fallen snow made for soft landings.
|Yet another amazing overlook|
Another mile brought us the Wizard Island overlook. Through the trees, I could glimpse a different view of the funny little cinder cone, now much closer.
|White trees frame the lake|
Although I was ready to continue further down the trail, it was nearing late afternoon, and we could see the sun sinking low. Knowing there was a two mile trek yet to reach the car, Roger and I decided to turn around. Tomorrow we had an entire day, and could spend more time exploring.
|Glittering, untouched snow|
On our return trip, the late afternoon sun glinted on the untouched snowy expanse, making frosty ice crystals shine like diamonds. Our lone set of tracks through this untouched canvas made my hubby and I feel as if we were the first humans to set foot in this wonderful wilderness.
|Late afternoon light turns the lake a dark blue|
Nearing the parking area, I captured a few final shots of late afternoon light illuminating this spectacular lake. It's waters, still as glass, gleamed a brilliant dark blue. I couldn't think of a better way to end such a perfect day.
Stay tuned for a complete day two recap in my next post!
Sharing with: Our World Tuesday. and also Weekend Reflections