Timeline: September 25-26
The next morning, we drove back to Crater Lake, entered the park and headed down the East Rim just past the Phantom Ship viewpoint to the turn off to the Pinnacles. A few miles down the road we parked and did a two mile out and back hike to Plaikni Falls. Not very large, they were still impressive in scope given the setting they were placed in. Back at the car, we drove to the end of the road and the parking lot for the Pinnacles.
Formed when the very hot ash and pumice from the Mt. Mazama eruption came to rest near the volcano, it formed 200-to-300-foot-thick gas-charged deposits. For years afterward, hot gas moved to the surface and slowly cemented ash and pumice together in channels and escaped through fumaroles. Erosion later removed most of the surrounding loose ash and pumice, leaving the tall pinnacles and spires that exist today.
We spent some time viewing these unique formations from various angles and walked on a path a short distance, thinking we’d discover some great viewpoint only to find that it led us to the park boundary and a trail that appeared to head miles to the south.
We opted to return to the car, make a quick lunch and push on, back to the East Rim Road and the trail head to the summit of Mt. Scott, the highest point in the park at 8,929 feet.
We parked and checked to make sure we had enough water as it was pretty warm out and we’d be hiking some distance, then set out on what would be a pretty gradual trail up, totaling 5 miles round-trip with 1,325 feet of gain. For most of the way the surface is hard packed dirt without much stepping up and over boulders, allowing us to keep a steady pace, stopping periodically to take a drink of water and to catch our breath.
At one spot, we noticed a sign warning hikers to stay on the trail, as if anyone in their right mind would venture out on crumbling boulders overlooking a sheer drop of thousands of feet.
Just as our enthusiasm began to flag we passed some folks heading down trail who advised us that we were near the top and that the sights were incredible. Revived we pushed on up a few switchbacks and hit the first of what would be a couple of incredible views of the lake and the surrounding area. Our initial stop was just short of the summit, with the the lake and the area directly to the north and west spread below us.
We took a few pictures and then pushed up another switchback or two to get to the summit, or at least the one that would be the end for us. We could have gone a bit further to the fire lookout station, but deemed it not necessary when a father and daughter came from down there and said it wasn’t worth the effort as the station was closed.
And so we paused for a few moments, a brisk wind rushing past our faces, the grandeur of the lake and its surroundings filling the horizon no matter the direction we turned. We snapped off some pictures, took a selfie, drank some water and then started back down, returning in half the time it took us to ascend.
Our last stop in the park would be the lodge; a number of folks had recommended sitting on its outdoor patio with a drink in hand and that is exactly what we intended. The grand lodges at our National Parks are treasures, most built decades ago, many utilizing a style referred to as National Park Rustic, a blend of the Arts and Crafts movement and American Picturesque styles of architecture. Its intent is to create structures in harmony with the environment that surrounds them. Many of these buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and include such iconic lodges as the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, and the El Tovar at the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.
The lodge at Crater Lake was built in 1914 directly on the crater rim approximately 1,000 feet above the lake using local materials in an attempt to integrate with the site and it draws the eye given its location so close to the water. We parked and entered the lobby, turning right to go through the lounge towards the restaurant, and then left out the back doors to the patio. It is as spectacular a view as can be imagined and we snagged two chairs at the edge of the patio, settling in for a relaxing drink.
We ordered and soaked up the atmosphere, a little tired from our day’s activities but pretty happy that we could unwind in that beautiful setting having accomplished quite a few miles of hiking combined with great sights. Once we finished our drinks we drove back out of the park and made way for the junction of highways 138 and 97 to stop in at the Diamond Lake Junction Café, rated number one in Trip Advisor for food in the area. When we arrived we found the place closed, open only for breakfast and lunch, just like the restaurants back in Chemult.
So we pushed north on 97 the ten miles it took to get back to town, debating whether we’d eat at the Pilot/Subway again or give the last remaining restaurant, Loree’s Chalet a try. Hungry for something a bit more soul satisfying than a microwaved hot dog from the Pilot, we opted for the latter, pulled into the parking lot and entered the establishment for an experience we won’t soon forget.
It’s a fairly large place and we were seated in a dining room adjacent to the bar. Our waitress took our order and all was going well. But then things started to go downhill. We decided to split the Chicken Fried Steak and get a bowl of the soup of the day, the bean and ham that our server had raved about. Our first clue about the meal came with the soup; it was bland and would have needed a high resolution microscope to find any meat. When the salad came out, it was comprised of soggy lettuce and a few random other ingredients smothered in what had been described as homemade blue cheese dressing with a slightly metallic taste and nothing in it that resembled blue cheese.
As we were beginning to question our decision to dine here instead of at the Pilot, out came the waitress with the Chicken Fried Steak. I was looking at my phone and not paying attention when I heard and felt a large crash as the loaded plate hurtled onto the table, spilling its contents but fortunately missing Joanna and I. The plate had been hot and the waitress had attempted to bring it out without a towel or hot pad and once she got close to the table lost control as it slipped from her grip.
She apologized profusely, and would continue to do so throughout the remainder of our stay, promising to bring us out a replacement. Thus began a long wait and during this time we overheard the waitress tell some customers she had just seated that she could only serve hamburgers as the bartender was now cooking, given that the owner/chef had to rush home for an emergency. We began to wonder if we shouldn’t just ask for the check and accept our losses when the meal finally arrived.
All in all, it wasn’t that bad. The meat was tender, the mashed potatoes done nicely and the gravy, while there was again way too much of it (a theme here, sauce drenched food), tasting almost homemade, but in a good way. We finished up, paid the check, and left for the motel, her apologies ringing in our ear as we walked out the front door. So not a nightmare and we didn’t get sick, but still not a highlight of a meal. If we were camping, we would have described it as better than a bug.
Crater Lake had been an unplanned visit for us, not originally on the itinerary but when our Northern California Coast plans fell through we jumped on the opportunity to visit this park we’d not been to before. In our day and half, we’d covered its breadth and scope, hiked the tallest peak, enjoyed drinks on the patio, become fully informed on an entertaining tram tour, and survived one of our most unique lodging and dining adventures to this date.
We felt like we’ve experienced the park in sufficient detail to not warrant another visit during its regular season, but the southern part is open during the winter, when snowfall averages 44 feet a year. It could make for spectacular viewing and fun outdoor activities (snow shoeing, etc.) we’ve not regularly engaged in. Who knows when we might return. Only time will tell.
National Park Rustic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Park_Service_rustic