Posts Tagged ‘volcano’

Okay, I had a little delay in posting the photos from the next stop on our itinerary, Crater Lake.  I’ll explain why in a future post, but right now, I just want to show you some photos that I hope will do Crater Lake justice:

Crater Lake

That’s Llao Rock in the background, and Wizard Island to the right.

The cleanest, clearest lake I've ever seen

Thousands of years ago, a volcano that is now called Mount Mazama blew up with the force of Mt. St. Helens times 100, and collapsed on itself.  The ash it spewed spread as far as Canada, Yellowstone Park and Nebraska, and it could cover present-day Oregon eight inches deep.  In the Sinnott Memorial Overlook on the lake’s rim (an interesting and informative visitor center) there was a tiny, poignant exhibit in a corner — a replica of a pair of sandals found buried under a deep layer of ash in a cave.  I can’t imagine the terror of the Klamath people as the mountain exploded.

What remained after this cataclysm was a caldera that eventually filled with rainwater and snowmelt — over 500 inches of snow a year.  Crater Lake is incredibly clean and clear, thanks to no development or runoff.  At almost 2000 feet deep, the deepest lake in America, it swallows all the colors of the light spectrum except blue.

Wizard Island is actually a dormant volcano lying within the caldera of dormant Mount Mazama, and there are about twenty more cones hiding underwater.  There are vents heating the water at the bottom of the lake — Mazama’s sleeping, not dead.

The entire 33-mile Rim Drive was snow-free and open, and we took advantage of it. There are so many beautiful overlooks, so many trails:

Castle Crest Trail had wildflowers in a meadow and bridges over rushing streams.

We spent a couple of days at Crater Lake.  On our second day, work crews with a drilling machine were installing ten-foot tall snow poles at the edges of the roads.  The poles had strips of reflective tape around the tops; snow was in the forecast and time was getting short.  We had spent the first night in the visitors center parking lot, but got kicked out the second night.  🙂  As we headed down the mountain toward the closed Mazama campground (and another, slightly less illegal parking place), the tops of the snow poles twinkled in the headlights, guiding us down through the pitch black night.

I liked the Maxfield Parrish light on these grasses and trees

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Where were we?  Ah, yes, leaving the June Lake Loop, heading north on the 395, and overnighting in Alturas.   It’s an exhausted old town, the kind of place with lots of charity and thrift shops on the main drag, empty storefronts, mean stray dogs — just a clapped out place.  We parked at the south end of town next to a green, pretty little park behind the Veterans Memorial Building, and I took a walk to stretch my legs.  Monday night, 6PM, and it was all locked up tighter than a drum, except one Mexican restaurant and a liquor store.  A lot of small town America is having a hard time, and Alturas is no exception.

Anyhow, next morning we took the 299 to 139 north.  There was a notation on the map:  Lava Beds National Monument.  We hung a left into the south end of the park, and had no idea how astonished we were going to be.  Some of the road looked like a patchwork quilt of repairs, and the drive was long and slow, but it was worth it.

My favorite cave photo

The entire area is a huge 600 square mile dormant shield volcano with a long, tumultuous history that left the place riddled with lava caves.  There are handouts that group the caves into easy, medium and difficult, maps to get you to the caves, maps of the interiors of the tricky caves — Labyrinth or Catacombs, anyone?  Not me, baby!   Cave Loop Road alone has over a dozen caves; there are more than two hundred in the area.

We joined about a dozen other people and Sara, our ranger guide, for a tour of the Sentinel cave, an easy cave (meaning no crawling on hands and knees, lots of headroom, etc).  Sara was great , an enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide who explained what we were walking through and what we were looking at.  We all had flashlights, and needed them:

Sentinel Cave’s flowing lava had carved tunnels, long shelves alongside us, balconies above us; rooms where ceilings had caved in, letting light in from the surface; and in one area, we looked down through a hole in the floor, revealing another tunnel underneath — our floor was the ceiling of the tunnel below us.  In fact, we had been walking (carefully, using our lights) on lumpy rubble of a ceiling that had fallen eons ago.  It cleared, and then we were walking on the frozen ropy flow of lava that had solidified, called pahoehoe lava.  It reminded me of icing on a cupcake, swirled in patterns with the edge of a knife.  If the curves of the flow look like a smile, you’re heading back the way the lava came in.  If the curves look like a frown, you’re following the flow.

The other kind of lava is a’a, Hawaitan for “ouch!”  It’s spiky, rough, clumpy stuff.

A'a lava field - don't try walking on it barefoot!

Sara told us a funny story about how much the early cave explorers hated the cave rats. They’re pretty cute, she says — big ears, furry tails — but the men would wake up and discover their shiny pocket watches and little bits of equipment were missing, replaced by stones and sticks the rats swapped for them in the night.  Decades later, the rangers looked with dismay at the rubbish tourists had left everywhere in the caves — gum wrappers, cigarette packs — and they had an idea.  They left piles of lovely little sticks in front of the caves, which quickly vanished; then, the sticks reappeared in the nooks and crannies of the caves where the trash had been.  The little rats cleaned all the rubbish out of the caves, which is something humans could have never accomplished.

J.D. Howard, who popularized the caves, wrote this one's name in blue

Many caves have ladders, etc., to help you get around:

Watch your step...

It was 55 degrees in Sentinel Cave.  I suspect the area aboveground is hotter than hell in the summer, but September was a great time to visit.

By the way, we exited past the north entrance kiosk and followed the sign that said “Klamath Falls.”  The road took us through pretty agricultural land in the Tule Lake area and ended at a T-junction that said 161; no east, west, Klamath Falls this way, nothing.  Hang a right for Klamath Falls and — next stop — stunning Crater Lake…

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