Northern California- Day Seven

I was up at 5 A.M. on Day Seven, mostly so I could watch some of the 9/11 ceremonies from New York, and still be on the road by 6 A.M. It was surreal to be driving to visit a remote National Park, the same thing I had been doing 10 years earlier on that fateful day. 
I was rewarded for my early start with a fantastic sunrise.
In the past, I have risen early on trips to photograph sunrise, but it usually is over water. In the future, I hope to get more sunrise photos in other areas.

My first stop of the day was National Park I knew very little about going in to, Lava Beds National Monument. It was another park I had very little expectation of , but another where I was pleasantly surprised. It’s hard, sometimes, to know what you are going to get out of the many national parks that preserve various volcanic features. Some like Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake are really unique. Others like El Malpais in New Mexico, are harder to appreciate.

The most popular activity at Lava Beds is cave exploration through the many lava formed tubes and caves within the park. The visitor’s center has everything needed for caving for sale or rental- including flashlights & helmets.

For being such a stark type of landscape, volcanic fields often have some of the most beautiful flowers growing in them, as the Rabbitbrush seen above.

I’m not much of a caver, but I did enjoy the lighted Mushpot Cave Trail located near Visitor’s Center. The trail is lighted in red to represent the lava that formed it. A lighted trail is a great idea, as it allows people who don’t want the adventure or complications of caving. Signboards along the way explained how the cave were formed and what life is like in this unique ecosystem.

The highlight of my visit to Lava Beds, though, was the hike up to the Fire Lookout on Schonchin Butte. The 7/10s of a mile trail is rocky, but can be climbed fairly easily, even by people as out of shape as I am. The climb too me about 25 minutes and the rangers at the top made me feel better by telling me that was a completely respectable pace.

I love views from lookouts like this. That day was a little hazy but I was still able to see 14,104 ft Mount Shasta from the lookout. There were lava fields and cinder cones on view in every direction. I enjoyed a conversation with the ranger and volunteer staffing the fire lookout, and learned quite a bit about the park and the surrounding area.

The Schonchin Butte Fire Lookout

Heading out the northern side of the park, I passed lava bed after lava bed. What surprised me the most is how many plants still grow amongst the rocks of the lava beds. I’d also learned in the visitor center that they are lots of animals that call the lava beds home, too.

Bordering the north side of the park is Tule Lake, which I learned is an intermittent lake, meaning it only has water for part of the year. During the months when the lake has water, it a habitat for thousands of birds. I was especially fascinated by the flocks of small ducks that drag their feet in the water to turn up their food from the lake bottom (bottom picture).

There had been rain in the forecast, and I could see the thunderclouds forming in the southeast (pictured left), so I headed north toward southern Oregon, and one of my favorite National Parks, the only one on this trip I would be revisiting.

A younger, thinner version of me at Crater Lake in 2005
A smoke obscured view in September of 2011

I drove 2 1/2 hours north to Crater Lake National Park. I should have done a little research the night before, but since I had been there before, I didn’t figure I needed to read any about Crater Lake. What I would have found out probably would have caused me to save the miles.

What I would have learned was that in late August, a lightning storm had left part of the park west of the lake burning. In many parks, fires in such a remote area would have been a minor inconvenience, but with the prevailing winds blowing the smoke into the crater, it left Crater Lake and it’s uniquely colored water under a thick haze.

To say I was disappointed when I got to the park is an understatement. I had driven a long way out of my way to get there and I had been looking forward to the visit, having such fond memories from the visit in 2005, in which I had a perfect (if not a little hot) day for viewing the lake. On that day, I’d arrived around noon, and felt like the half day’s visit was too short, so I vowed to return when I returned to the area to visit the parks of Northern California.

“The Ghost Ship”

I was there so I made the best of my visit, driving around the lake in the opposite direction I had in 2005. There were areas where it was clearer than others, but it was almost impossible to see all the way across the lake from any of the scenic viewpoints.

My favorite part of Crater Lake, besides the color of the water, is the cinder cone that forms an island in the lake, known as Wizard Island. If I ever make it back, I am going to take one of the boat tours that drops people off on the island and gives them time to hike to the top of the cone.

Knowing that I’d made a disappointingly long detour for a park I couldn’t really photograph properly made the drive to Grant’s Pass, Oregon for the night seem even longer, and it was well after dark when I got in. Fortunately, I was going to be able to sleep in past 7 A.M. the next morning for the first time on the trip. For most that doesn’t sound like much, but for me, that’s spoiling myself.

Here’s my Day Seven photo gallery.

Click Here to read about Day Six or Day Eight

3 Responses to “Northern California- Day Seven”

  1. Oh wow, what a bummer about Crater Lake. I'm getting such a kick out of reading about your trip, though – I was born in Grants Pass and grew up around there!

  2. Leah Travels says:

    That cave shot is awesome. Love the red light. The dead trees and grass make me sad. It looks like all of Texas. 🙁

  3. Kris Koeller says:

    Great photos and recap. That's a real bummer about the fires. I love the shot of Mount Shasta. It looks like its erupting. Nice work!

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