30th BLOG! Nevada-Oregon (Crater Lake)

“Attitude is the difference between an ordeal, and an adventure!” – Bob Bitchin

Note the bullet holes in the sign… 😀

After our amazing hike on the outskirts of Salt Lake City with our nephew, Caleb, (Read about it here),we drove hours and hours across the expansive Great Salt Lake. I would recommend, if you ever find yourself making this drive, to fill the gas tank before leaving the city. There isn’t a gas station anywhere until you hit the Nevada State line.

As we approached Oregon, we came upon the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge at the northern border of Nevada. We stopped at the entrance and picked up a pamphlet that described the types of wildlife in the area. Hoping to see the wild burros and wild horses that were noted in the brochure, we saw only one antelope…a little disappointing.

It is a vast, high plains desert, and as we descended from that elevation, the expansiveness grew exponentially! We had no idea how high up we were in Nevada! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to capture any fantastic photos since the weather was overcast and drizzly. Nevada has some really beautiful areas, and we would love to go back and explore more of them in the future.

Winding our way down in elevation, we could see the lower plains with the forests of Oregon appearing in the distance. The view blew our minds!! We passed beautiful ranches, rapidly flowing mountain streams, and miles upon miles of beautiful timberland! Stopping for lunch, we decided to take a short hike out into the Fremont National Forest and explore. Hiking to the top of a ridge, we sat and watched for wildlife. We saw signs of deer and elk, but after not seeing any animals for awhile, hiked back down to the van and pushed on into the wilds of Oregon.

Reaching Klamath Falls about mid-afternoon, we pulled into a gas station to fill up. Just as Phil was reaching for the pump, an attendant approached him and told him he could go to jail for that. Phil froze in his tracks. Then, the guy explained that it is illegal for anyone to pump gas in Oregon, except for employees of the station. Someone had warned us about that awhile back, but we had forgotten that little tidbit. For Pete’s sake, we’d been pumping our own gas our entire lives… it’s a tough habit to break! Phil, being the gracious man that he is, happily submitted to the law and talked to the nice attendant, asking him questions about the area. According to him, there was a great place for pizza just down the road, and we were having pizza withdrawals!

We reserved a room at the Quality Inn and drove down the street to the Stagecoach Inn, ordering a pizza to go. The Inn was very cozy with a large, 360-degree fire place occupying the center of a spacious dining area. While we waited on the pizza, I investigated the back room which had several, gaming, slot machines for the gamblers. We found as we traveled through Nevada, that every restaurant, hotel and even gas station had gambling opportunities. No thanks, Nevada… I like to keep my money. 🙂

The weather forecast did not look promising for our next day’s adventure of hiking to Crater Lake. The weatherman was saying rain, rain and more rain. We were feeling disappointed and actually looked at the map and thought about going back to Utah to explore Zion or Bryce Canyon, whichever was closest. We missed the bright, warm sunshine we had experienced in Utah and the gloominess of Oregon was affecting our outlook. As Phil and I sat at the desk in our hotel room, we analyzed the map, calculated the distances and discussed, at length, the pros and cons. We finally concluded that we would keep pushing on with our original plan to drive through Oregon, making a few stops along the way, then crossing the border into California.

The next morning, May 16th, we drove to Crater Lake National Park. We had not made any reservations, so we were looking for a camp site on our way up to Crater Lake. Just before entering the park, we came upon the Winema National Forest. As we turned into the drive, we came to a large parking lot with a really nice, fairly new, log cabin. Wondering what its purpose was, and finding it unlocked, we let ourselves in. We read on a sign that it was there for people to use that were camping, skiing, or snowmobiling in the area. It’s open all year long and is heated by a wood stove, furnished with picnic tables. We were impressed by this free, first-come, first-served, Oregon hospitality!

At the end of the parking lot, there was a drive that we decided to follow that took a turn towards scary when it abruptly descended down into a dark, wooded area. I was feeling some anxiety when the asphalt turned to gravel, became washed out and very steep. Phil was confident the ole Vandura could handle it, and I just needed to have more faith in the old girl. Like many times before, she proved she had what it took to get the job done and my husband beamed with pride. 🙂

We found several campsites along a river, and only one had a tent occupying it. The other two sites were larger and SO private, we quickly decided the largest one that went deep into the old growth pines was perfect! It could actually have been a group campsite, but fingers crossed, we would be the only ones there for the night. We got out and walked over to the very full, fast-moving, Annie Creek. What a beautiful area!! Pine forest surrounded us and the monstrous, pine tree that had fallen across the creek, forming a natural bridge, was calling to me… “Come, Lori, and explore all this land across the river!” Oh yes, this was the place we would call “Home” for the night!!

Phil and I had “hiking to Crater Lake” on our itinerary for the day, so we took off down the road, hoping that this campsite would be open when we returned for the evening.

*One interesting piece of information I forgot to mention is that our fan in the van (for defrost, heat or cool air) decided to stop working shortly after we left Michigan. There wasn’t much we could do about it, and were confident we could stay warm enough without heat… our only worry was surviving the heat of California and Nevada with NO AIR! We hadn’t even given a thought to the rain, fog, and general moisture of Oregon and Northern California and what that would do to our windshield. Subsequently, my job was to keep the inside of the windshield fog-free, toweling off the condensation, so that Phil could navigate the narrow, winding, and treacherous, mountain roads… Lordy Lord!! It’s all part of the grand adventure. 😀

The drive up to Crater Lake is gorgeous with towering, old-growth forest lining the drive. We stopped once or twice to check out deep gorges cut out by mountain rivers. Spectacular!! The deep, rich, pine and mossy aromas wafted through the crisp, clean and pristine air. Temperatures were dropping and snow was beginning to get deeper the higher we drove. I watched for any animal movement I could see in the expanses between the pines as we drove the several miles between the campsite and the Park. There is very little undergrowth in these huge forests, and a person can see a long, long way.

For those of you who don’t know me very well, I have a fascination with the First Nations’ belief in Sasquatch (Bigfoot). Oregon is one of the States with the most sightings of Bigfoot by both Native Americans and others. I wouldn’t say I am “obsessed” by the stories and first-hand accounts, but it has become something I am always thinking about when I’m hiking, riding my quad, snowshoeing in the woods, or even driving through the wilderness areas. I’ve never had my own experience (that I can be certain of), but am hoping that someday, the big guy, or gal and I, will cross paths.

Once we were through the entrance to Crater Lake, we drove to the Visitor Center to find out how far we could hike. We were shocked that the parking lot was nearly full, with it being a Thursday and well before schools let out for summer break. This area had received 400 plus inches of snow that winter and there was still three feet of snow on the ground! No one was hiking to Crater Lake without snow shoes. The park employee asked us if we needed to rent snow shoes (they had them there), but as I had anticipated us needing them out in California in the high elevations, we were prepared. 😀

At the Visitor Center, we could walk to an overlook and get a view of the Lake, with Wizard Island in close proximity. This place was amazing!! We took some pics, then climbed aboard the Vandura and drove as far as we could… Discovery Point. There were a half dozen cars parked here and we could see the lake and Wizard Island from this point. Stuffing our packs with snacks, water, and various items, we hoisted them onto our backs, then fastened our snow shoes to the outside of the packs and began our hike.

We passed a young family with several small children on their way back from the hike. There weren’t too many people out on the road, though. We hiked at least a couple of miles from Discovery Point to the end of the plowed road. From that point to Watchman Overlook, another mile or two, it was deep snow, but packed down so that the snow shoeing wasn’t terribly difficult.

Phil’s snow shoes were brand new, never been worn, and this would be his first time EVER snow-shoeing! I had gotten them for him as a present in anticipation of future snowy adventures, and he was taking to them like a duck takes to water. Following two sets of fresh snow-shoe tracks, we hiked on through the vast, white wilderness, noticing that someone with more kahunas than us had skied down the treacherous-looking mountainside we were passing!

Being very careful to stay on the trail cut before us, one wrong step to the side could have had us sliding down the bank of a very steep mountain, we made it to Watchman Overlook and joined the only other two people there! A young, friendly and outgoing couple from Chicago, who had rented snow shoes and had brought a bottle of beer to drink in celebration of their epic hike, were sitting at the Overlook, taking in the scenery. We took turns taking pictures of each other, chatted for a short time, then they hiked back down the trail and we were alone… we had Watchman Overlook all to ourselves! 😀

We stayed awhile longer, exploring as much of the area as was safe to do so. The restrooms at that overlook were half-buried with snow, but thankfully, were still operational. We found a place to sit, just outside the parking lot that was sheltered from the wind. Time for snacks! While we munched on trail bars, we watched in amazement as a little finch flitted around us, searching for seeds in this winter wonderland. Catching movement out of the corner of our eyes, a wiley ole marmot came scuttling out of his den.

Crater Lake is magnificent, and scientists believe that this lake, which is the deepest lake in the United States, is actually the cleanest and clearest lake in the entire world! We took in the spectacular view and marveled at how amazing this experience had been. I made a mental note that in the future, on a much warmer day, I’d love to bring our kayaks here and explore the water and shoreline of this immense, volcanic crater.

The sun was shining on Crater Lake, but dark clouds with snow showers were moving in on both sides of us. These menacing-looking clouds had been visible from the beginning of our hike but had been kept at bay for the entire two-hour hike, until now. They seemed to be encroaching, bit by bit, persuading us to make the journey back to Discovery Point where the Vandura awaited our return. Time to put on an extra layer of clothing, strap on the snow shoes and high-tail it back down the mountain!

Ice pellets were the first form of moisture to make their appearance, stinging our faces, then transforming to enormous, fluffy snowflakes, filling the sky and turning the landscape into a magical, gigantic snow-globe! Once we made it to the paved asphalt and changed into our hiking boots, the snow became more intermittent and Phil was able to take a picture of a soaring, bald eagle that was just below us in elevation. Such a powerful and regal bird!!

From the time the Chicago couple had left us, we had Crater Lake and the entire hike back to Discovery Point all to ourselves. Thinking back to our epic hike on,(read about it here), The Road to the Sun, in Glacier National Park, we gave thanks for the incredible adventures we have had that are just, simply, mind-blowing!!

In retrospect, if we had turned back and taken the road to what we perceived as the “sunnier, more pleasant” State of Utah, we would have missed this adventure of a lifetime! Remember the weatherman’s forecast of rain, rain, rain? Not once did it rain on us through the entire hike. Frozen rain, yes, but not until the hike back and it certainly didn’t put a damper on our attitudes. We were so thankful we didn’t let the forecast deter us from this experience!

On our drive back to Winema National Forest, we became so emboldened as to make plans to hike to Watchman Overlook the following afternoon, staying overnight in our backpacking tent, at 8,000 plus feet elevation! We felt we had the right gear for the undertaking and we looked at each other, the thrill of the adventure radiating from our ginormous smiles. 😀

In my next blog, read about our harrowing experience at Annie Creek campground, in the wee hours of the morning…

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