Every year as autumn rolls around, I get to brainstorming the best places to spend Lastleaf, where colorful leaves meet crystal clear water. This year, since I was preparing to visit my very last historical landmark way up in Crescent City, it made sense to take a detour and experience Lastleaf at America’s deepest lake, Crater Lake!
My good friend, Morgen, and I traveled to Medford on Allegiant Air, hopped in a car, and headed into the mountains, where Morgen marveled at the green! The green! Compared to drought-starved California, this was a magnificent change! When we arrived, the wind was gusting pretty fiercely, which I was sure would not stop our Lastleaf festivities. Then, as I gazed out over the exquisite blue waters from the overlook, a ground squirrel named Basalt ran up with some bad news: the stairs leading down to the lake’s only beach access had been closed!
So Morgen and I went back to the lodge to rethink our plans. There, we ran into some other traveling animals: a wolf named Moro and a lion named Chubblet! They had also gotten turned away from a tour of the legendary Wizard Island but were planning to go hiking instead. That sounded like a great idea, so we all set off to the eastern shore of the lake!
At 8,938 feet, Mount Scott is the highest peak in Crater Lake National Park with the kind of sweeping views in all directions that I love so much! It, and Scott Mountain in Douglas County, are named for Levi Scott, who helped lay out the Applegate Trail into Oregon from Humboldt River, Nevada, then went on to serve in the Oregon Territorial Legislature!
With only the second half of a day ahead of us, we charged forth onto the 2.5-mile trail! It was a gradual, sloping trail, well traveled and not too technical. We were surrounded on all sides by vast swathes of greenery, though off in the distance, we could see that even Oregon could not escape the fires of late summer! Chubblet needed help a few times along the trail to keep going, but as we got closer to the top, the little lion took off!
Atop Mount Scott stands the highest fire lookout in Oregon. Though the view was far and wide, it didn’t look like there was anyone looking! In any case, as we climbed the last slog and walked through a tunnel, we found Chubblet once again, and, buffeted by the chilly gusts of the mountaintop, took in the amazing views of the distant lake!
On the way down, Chubblet took off again and disappeared! He wasn’t back at the car, and no matter how we called, no roars came in response! So we backtracked, looking for him first at the Phantom Ship overlook! The Phantom Ship is a 400,000 year old fin of andesite that juts up from the surface of the lake and looks just like a haunted vessel doomed to cruise the lake waters for the rest of eternity! Still no Chubblet, though!
We tried again down the road at the Pinnacles, more monuments to the lake’s volcanic history! What we now know as Crater Lake was once a huge volcano named Mount Mazama! All around it, steam vents and fumaroles pushed hot gas up through layers of pumice, welding them together, and over time, the softer surrounding soil eroded away, leaving these spiny pillars sticking out of a canyon!
We walked the .4 miles to the viewpoint of the Pinnacles, tall and jagged, like an alien cityscape! They stretched all along the walls of Sand Creek Canyon and disappeared into the distance, just like Chubblet! Here, Moro and I parted ways. Wolves move much faster than beavers, and she needed to cover a lot of ground to find Chubblet. We would meet up again tomorrow at Oregon Caves!
Meanwhile, I had a few hours left in the day, so I headed to the other side of the lake to watch the sunset from Watchman Overlook! My legs were a little sore from the last hike, but the sky was too beautiful not to appreciate from atop another mountain!
The Watchman is a peak that looks like it could fall into the lake any day! It’s one of the best places in the park to watch the sunset and to see Crater Lake’s famous Wizard Island, where I would have gone to celebrate Lastleaf if the boats had been accessible! Named for its remoteness by William Gladstone Steel in 1885, Wizard Island rose up from a series of smaller eruptions after the collapse of Mount Mazama and is the only cinder cone that has reached the surface of the lake!
From the historic Watchman Observation Station, designed by Francis Lange and built between 1931 and 1933, I was able to take a seat and watch the sun turn the distant peaks and clouds into pink tapestries!
Crater Lake is truly an amazing place, with clear waters that came from fire, and though I was a little disappointed that my Lastleaf celebration hadn’t gone as I’d planned, I was super glad to have made some new friends and experienced the magic of this windswept remnant of a mighty volcano!
Ore-gone for now!
P.S. Morgen and I spent the night at the Cimarron Inn in Klamath Falls, where they doled out free potato soup and chocolate chip cookies in the lobby! Yum!