Saturday, August 15, 2009

One last stop - ёжик в тумане

What do China, India, Bolivia, Indonesia, Russia, and the US have in common? That's right, they are all places where I've taken an overnight train on this trip - what, not obvious? After nearly a full week in San Francisco and Tahoe, I hopped back onboard the Amtrak and headed on North for Crater Lake, a National Park near the Southern border of Oregon.

Amtrak #14 - Coast Starlight: my ride from San Diego to Seattle - probably a bit more comfortable than the alternatives in all those other countries above. Definitely a lot more expensive.

Oregon and I got off to an uneasy start - I picked up my rental car in Klamath Falls and headed into town for breakfast. Eating, I got to watch my car get pummeled by hail. Yes, in the beginning of August. The locals thought this was a little out of the ordinary as well - the day before it had been sunny and 85. Undeterred, I drove off towards Crater Lake itself.

We've got fancy entrance signs in out National Parks - take that, the rest of the world!

And here's the lake itself - complete with Wizard island in the middle of it.

As that last picture may suggest, the weather didn't improve a whole lot by the time I got to the park - it was gray, dreary, and drizzly here as well. In fact, we got more hail while I was having lunch... (I'm happy to report that no precipitation occurred during dinner). I carried on, and the weather did cooperate somewhat, improving marginally as we got later into the day.

Now, a bit of background on Crater Lake. About 7,500 years ago, Mt. Mazama sat in its place, and was the tallest mountain in the Cascade range. It was, of course, a volcano, so eventually it blew up (an eruption many orders of magnitude larger than St. Helens in 1980). With the volcano's magma chamber now empty, the big mountain collapsed upon itself forming the caldera (which is different from a crater, but I can't recall the specifics) that we see today. A short time later, geologically speaking - within another thousand years - the caldera was filled with water. Crater Lake has no inlets or tributaries, so the entire volume of water is the result of snow melt and precipitation, while the lake loses its water only through evaporation and some seepage through the softer surrounding rocks.

Owing to its volcanic origins, Crater Lake is one of the deepest lakes in the world (9th deepest to be exact at 594m), the deepest in the US. Not the deepest on the continent, however, as Canada's Great Slave lake in the NW Territories checks in at 20 meters more. California's Tahoe also makes the list at #16. Baikal, deep in Russia's Siberia is #1 at almost three times the depth of Crater Lake. This is what wikipedia is for, so a complete list, for the curious... Random trivia gleaned from that list: Antarctica has lakes! In fact, lake Vostok is the 5th deepest in the world. Unfortunately, it's buried under thousands of meters of ice, so you can't exactly go for a swim... Back to Crater Lake - it's also rated as containing the clearest water in the world (since all of its supply comes from precipitation and snow melt) - the measuring method might seem a bit hokey, but the water certainly looks incredibly clear to the naked eye. The waters are also some of the purest in North America in terms of the absence of pollutants...

Now that we're done with the geology lesson for the day, back for more pictures... The National Park surrounding the lake isn't really all that big, so while you can do a bit of hiking, the primary activities are to take a drive along the rim and to take a boat ride on the lake itself. So Day 1, I set off on a drive:

That little formation is called Phantom Ship

And these are the Pinnacles - fossil fumaroles created by the Mazama eruption

The night was spent camping. Your camping guide for Crater Lake - the 'good' campsite in the park charges only $10 for the night, is located in a quiet little bit of the forest on the way to the Pinnacles, but only has space for 16 tents, so it was full. The less good site is gigantic (and thus less good in mind) and charges $23 for a tent site. And those were all full (the tourists were clearly not swayed by the less than perfect weather), so I was offered an RV site for a bargain price of $28... Paying almost $30 to put up my tent next to a bunch of RV's seemed like the worst idea in the world, so instead I paid $5 to stay at a campground in the nearby town of Fort Klamath, where I could listen to the river gurgle right outside my tent. Peaceful...

The following morning, time to get down to the lake itself, which, by the way, can be dangerous:

Danger, Will Robinson! Take the one and only path we have to get down to the water. It had been a while since I had seen a truly amusing warning sign.

The weather wasn't exactly encouraging as I got to the boat, but five of us decided to persevere and set off for the ride to Wizard Island. For a while there, I thought that turning back really wouldn't be such a bad idea. We did not, however, and were instead rewarded by rapidly improving conditions once we landed on the island, which the five of us had all to ourselves for the next three hours.

At the top, it was getting downright sunny as I was looking down into the crater (Wizard Island is also a volcano, of course)

Still some clouds behind me

But overall, very clear - enough to bring out the bright colors of the deep waters of the lake

There's a few emerald ponds on the island - an intriguing sight even if you do have to crawl over a bunch of loose volcanic rock to catch a glimpse of them

Back to the dock to have a little lunch - the chipmunks on the island are well aware that this is the very place where tourists [with food] arrive

And on the way back across the lake, cruising a little closer to the Phantom Ship rocks

Back at the car at top of the caldera, I found myself once more enveloped in a dense cloud of fog. On occasion, it would shift just enough to expose a glorious view of the lake:

Wizard Island peaking out of the fog

Most of the rest of the time, I was feeling a little lost in the fog, which made me think of ёжик в тумане - check out that post title... If you are not up on your Russian, that means 'Hedgehog in the fog,' which is a famous old Russian cartoon about ... you guessed it, a hedgehog lost in the fog! Thanks to youtube, you can now actually watch the whole thing for yourself here. According to Russian wikipedia, the cartoon was recognized as the best of 'all time and all nations' ... by a panel of 140 film critics and animators.

A couple of hours later, I was back in Klamath Falls, trying out the local cuisine at Applebee's... and departing the following morning for Seattle. Not before catching this site:

Perhaps the American rail system still isn't all that much more advanced than the Indian one?

The weather Saturday morning as I was waiting for Amtrak's late-running Coast Starlight? 75 and sunny - that's right, I was at Crater Lake for just about the two worst days they had had this summer - sigh... on the bright side, I did have a few not-entirely-cloudy days in San Francisco, which is equally uncommon this time of the year!

At 5:04PM on August 8, 2009, I crossed back into Washington State (without an onward ticket this time), and by around 9 that evening I was back in Seattle, bringing the almost 20 months of wondering around the world to a successful (I think?) conclusion. My bag had by now accumulated a pair of jeans from Colombia, my French towel, my Thai swimming trunks, my 'dress shoes' from Tenerife, an Antarctic t-shirt, Czech toothpaste, Peruvian shaving cream, a camera lens from Bolivia, a pocket knife from Russia, a jacket from Kathmandu, Nepal, a pair of socks from Japan, and sunglasses from a Shell station in Klamath Falls, Oregon... so, yeah, I guess I'd been around a bit.


b mathew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b mathew said...

Great pics of crater lake! I'm going to ride the Amtrak in a few days, my first trip (not the starlight but the cascades).
Random sighting - saw Dave and Olivia on capital hill this morning. They didn't see me wave!