Day Sixteen

June 14, 2007

Klamath Falls, OR to Prineville, OR

Since I didn't expect many services on the way to Crater Lake National Park, we headed downtown in search of breakfast. We found a little café on Main Street that was good, but I can't remember the name of it. Then we headed north on US 97, passing huge Upper Klamath Lake, the largest freshwater body in Oregon.

Our first stop at Crater Lake was a deep valley with a waterfall, but it wasn't easy to see from our vantage point. We drove further into the park and stopped at a Fred Harvey operation (the company is best known for Harvey Houses along the old Santa Fe Railway) comprised of a gift shop and a restaurant. The gift shop was fabulous, probably the best of the entire vacation. The T-shirt designers succeeded in creating shirts worthy of displaying the beautiful lake. I could have bought at least three shirts if I hadn't been rationing myself. The restaurant offered an Italian lunch buffet, so we knew we'd be back in a few hours.


We paid our fee and stopped at the visitor center. There we heard the disappointing news: we were too early in the season for not only the eastern Rim Drive but also the hiking trails. Everything was still covered with snow. It was supposed to open in a week or two, but for now we'd have to be satisfied with a few scenic overlooks and a drive up the west side of the lake. I had assumed that by mid-June closures wouldn't be a problem, but I was wrong.

In the gift shop, I pointed out a book called "Hey Ranger!" that I knew my wife would like. It was filled with humorous stories about being a National Park Service ranger, and she read bits and pieces to me for the rest of the day. Then she really shocked me -- she walked up to a ranger and asked how to apply for a job! When we got out to the car, she asked me what I thought. I said, "I can't imagine what you were thinking -- it was all I could do to keep from cackling with laughter when I heard you ask." As a lifelong city person with few outdoors skills, she laughed at my reply.

It was a short drive to the lake from the visitor center. If you've ever seen a postcard or photograph of Crater Lake, you probably think the photo was enhanced somehow because the lake is so blue. Well, I can report that the lake really is that lovely shade of blue (here's why). And even though many viewpoints were close together, each seemed to reveal the lake in a new way. So although our experience was limited by the season, it was still worth the price of admission.


Wizard Island lies near the western rim of Crater Lake. A boat carries tourists to the island during the summer, but it wasn't running this early in the season.




Crater Lake is 1,958 feet deep. It is an isolated body of water with no streams flowing in or out.



Here'a my "wildlife" photo for the day. We didn't see any large animals at Crater Lake.

We did indeed return to the Fred Harvey restaurant for a buffet of pizza and lasagna. I was surprised how good the breadsticks and lasagna were. The pizza was about average. After lunch we drove north along Rim Drive, stopping at a few more turnouts to look at the lake and the caldera rim surrounding it.





Outside the park, we returned to US 97 and headed toward Bend. I was getting sleepy so I let my wife drive for an hour or so. At OR 31, we turned southeast to collect Lake County. Unfortunately, the county line had no sign so we drove an extra ten miles into Lake County. My wife said the trees along the highway were the prettiest forest she had seen on the whole trip, so I guess it was worth it (I should have taken a picture).

US 97 grew crowded as we approached Bend. The highway is a scary pseudo-expressway through the city, but we survived. Then we had to take U.S. 20 west to Linn County, which I had thoughtlessly missed five days earlier. I was on track to visit every county in Oregon, so I didn't want to leave a big hole in the middle of the state. We followed the road to Santiam Pass and then turned back. We stopped at a turnout to admire Mount Washington and read about the forest fires that struck the area a few years ago.


My wife got back in the car and I began searching for an inconspicuous place to water the bushes (doing my part to help prevent forest fires) when another car pulled into the turnout and screeched to a halt. A man jumped out and ran toward me.

"Dude, you've gotta take my picture!" he exclaimed, thrusting a disposable camera into my hand. I was a little surprised but happily obliged, framing his head next to the peak of Mount Washington. He said thanks as I handed back the camera, and then he jumped in his car and took off. I hopped over a low fence and did my part to prevent the next forest fire. We drove back down to Sisters and headed due east on OR 126 to Prineville. Darn, I hadn't brought along a John Prine CD for this momentous occasion (the Oregon connection would be that Todd Snider is a big John Prine fan). We checked into the Rustler's Inn because I knew it was a long way to the next major town and didn't want to risk getting stuck out of luck later at night. My wife pointed out that we were in Crook County, which is a derogatory nickname for our home, Cook County (thanks to a long line of corrupt politicians). Although it was only 8 PM, our dining options in Prineville were quickly disappearing. We headed east to a pizza joint recommended by the motel clerk, but the lights were off -- too late. Then we stopped at a grocery store so my wife could pick up some things. I bought a tube of Western Family brand toothpaste, which was made in Korea. It turned out to be virtually flavorless.

We went to an Arctic Circle restaurant for a change of pace from Dairy Queen. We got there less than 15 minutes before closing, which was at the odd hour of 9:45 PM. Arctic Circle is a western chain dating back to 1950 whose claim to fame apparently is their " Original Fry Sauce" for dipping. I tried it and it wasn't bad, a little like thousand island dressing. I also had a black angus beef burger. I liked it well enough, but my wife thought it tasted funny. I really wanted a shake for dessert; I should have ordered it with my meal since they were closing. The nearby Dairy Queen wasn't open any later, so I was out of luck. I could afford to skip a few desserts anyway.

Our room at the Rustler's Inn was nicely appointed, but it had airflow problems. The large front windows didn't open, so we had to open the door to let in the fresh, cool evening air.

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