Crater Lake

Our visit to Crater Lake was a reminder to me of how our memories can be altered by subsequent events. I had visited Crater Lake before, when I was around 12 years old, and in my memory I saw dense evergreen forests surrounding a deep blue lake. The deep blue part was right, but the surrounding evergreens were a bit of an exaggeration, probably colored by many photos and postcard views I’ve seen since I was actually there with my parents and family so many years ago. As we learned by driving in the north entrance (closed in winter, again – we’re slow learners), the overall Crater Lake landscape is fairly barren. In fact, before you reach the lake from the north, you have to pass through an area known as the Pumice Desert, which looks like this:

The volcano from which  Crater Lake was formed, Mount Mazama, erupted 7700 years ago, and the pumice deposits in this area are still 100 feet deep. There are so few trees, not because there is no water (there’s actually plenty below the pumice), but because the soil has almost no nutrients, even today. After a few miles on another climbing and winding mountain road, we arrived at our first view of the lake itself:

Driving counterclockwise around the lake (the wrong direction unless you enjoy driving with dramatic dropoffs to your right side), we went through several views of Wizard Island, the only significant body of land in the 5-mile diameter lake, gradually changing from completely barren to somewhat forested:

In the first photo above, you can see a plume of smoke on the horizon. We were puzzled about this, and I checked various websites afterwards to see whether it might have been steam from one of the other volcanoes in the Cascade range, but there was no mention of any recent volcanic activity in the area. From reading various National Forest Service bulletins later, I finally concluded that there may have been a controlled burn of forest undergrowth going on. We stopped at the Village for a short break, and then decided to continue around the lake until Anita’s nerves gave out. Somewhere around the last overview of the Phantom Ship (a small island of spiky lava spines), we were met by a huge RV hugging the center line, and decided that we’d had enough tension for the day. This was the last viewpoint we visited:

Finally, at this point on the eastern side of the mountain, we were looking at the lake through dense forest, echoing my dim childhood memories. But I don’t think my family ever got to this overlook on that trip, so I’m not sure my memories are real. I found Crater Lake to be breathtaking, but almost sad at the same time. Like Mt. Rainier, this was another place where we’d have enjoyed staying in the park, to get a fuller experience with sunrise and sunset views and some hiking around, but I had been checking the park website for months, and all the lodging was showing full – which was still the case when we got there. We followed the Rogue River back to the Interstate, and found a room for the night in Grants Pass, where at least we’d have a head start on the next day’s journey to the Oregon coast.

Volcanoes and Waterfalls

Most people would go from Mt. Rainier to Mt. St. Helens by going back to the Interstate (I-5) and then getting off that at the Silver Lake Interpretive Center, and taking the 47-mile mountain road up to the blast area on the western slopes, where there is a Visitor Center. But that would have been too easy. Actually, it looked much quicker on the map to take the back roads to a sequence of viewing areas on the east side that starts with Bear Meadow and ends at a point overlooking Spirit Lake.

Bear Meadow is the spot where photographer Gary Rosenquist was standing on May 18, 1980 when he captured a famous set of photos of the explosion of Mt. St. Helens. As the marker at the site says, “Located 11 miles from the mountain, Gary began taking pictures shortly after the 8:32 AM earthquake which triggered the great landslide. He continued to take shots as the hot ash-filled cloud raced towards Bear Meadow at over 300 mph. The group quickly realized their danger. Within minutes they were driving northward, groping their way through the darkness caused by falling ash.” Hmm…maybe Gary and his friends weren’t all that quick.

Anyway, that’s the way we decided to go in, and we were rewarded by an ever-changing set of views as the road hugged the mountainsides. If you look at Mt. St. Helens today from a viewpoint on a line with Bear Meadow, you’ll see something like this:

(This shot was from much closer than Bear Meadow, but the line of view is about the same) Notice that the mountain slopes facing away from the blast are completely forested, while Mt. St. Helens itself is completely bare. But as you enter the blast zone, the story changes dramatically. This panorama shows how the view changes from outside to inside the blast zone (click on the photo for a larger image):

As you can see, even thirty years after the blast, the slopes facing Mt. St. Helens are only beginning to have a few small trees. Here’s a closer shot of one of those slopes:

This looks pretty barren, but when you get to the end of the road, only a mile or two from Mt. St. Helens, the landscape looks like this:

You’re looking here at a corner of Spirit Lake, which was raised 200 feet by the mile-wide landslide that followed the eruption. Spirit Lake was formerly a major recreation area. Mt. St. Helens is to the left of this shot, and from this same viewpoint looks like this:

I believe that’s steam from the volcano that you’re seeing above the mountain, but Anita says it’s just a cloud. Mt. St. Helens is still considered to be in a period of activity. If the dome of lava inside the crater continues to grow at its present rate, Mt. St. Helens will be restored to its former height in about 200 years.

We thought we were finished with our trip to Mt. St. Helens at that point, but we quickly found that the drive back down to Bear Meadow is much more harrowing than the drive up. On the way up, you’re hugging the mountainside. On the way down, you’re driving at the outer edge of the road, often with no guardrails and no shoulder. In fact, in a number of places, the ground underneath the outer roadway has eroded away slightly, and the pavement has begun to collapse. Sitting in the passenger seat, as I was, you look out your window to drop-offs that seem to go down forever. We were pretty much on edge for the next several hours, as even after we left the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, the road continued to be a narrow, winding two-lane mountain road with no shoulder, all the way down to Cougar. I guess the designation “Closed in Winter” on the map should have been a tip-off.

From Cougar, we followed the highway along the Lewis River back to I-5, and took that across the Columbia River to the Portland area, where we found a room in the suburb of Troutdale.  We dropped the bags in the room, and then went back out to nearby Hwy 30, which is labeled as a “Scenic Byway.” It more or less parallels the Columbia River, winding through the Columbia River Gorge and past a series of waterfalls. Our first stop was at Vista House, where we had this view of the River Gorge:

We might have stayed a little longer at Vista House, but we were being pushed around by winds that seemed to be gusting to 40 or 50 mph. The park ranger at the information desk told us this was just a typical day – nothing exceptional in terms of wind. We continued along the 12-mile waterfall run of Hwy 30, and visited six different waterfalls, finishing up with Multnomah, the most famous, and also the highest, with a 620 foot drop in two cascades. I wasn’t able to find a spot to shoot all of both cascades, but here’s a classic view that I was able to get:

As mentioned before, more images will be available on Flickr. Next: Crater Lake.

Mt. Rainier

We were very lucky, or I might even say “blessed,” by wonderful weather during the trip. In 10 days in the rainiest part of the country, we only really got rain one morning. But as we set off from Seattle for Mt. Rainier, we didn’t know that would be the case, and we were a little worried, as Seattle was foggy and overcast, and that continued to be the case throughout the morning. But as we neared the mountain around noon, suddenly the clouds lifted, and we had a gorgeous view; the rest of the day was crystal clear.

We stopped in Ashford to book a room, and the clerk there recommended we have lunch at Copper Creek Inn, where we found another semi-calligraphic expression:

Shortly after entering Mt. Rainier National Park, we pulled over at a viewpoint and took a trail down onto the riverbed of the Nisqually River. Here’s one of the views from there (as with most of the images on this blog, you can click the image for a larger view):

Over and over during the trip, we were awed by the forces of nature -it’s almost incomprehensible to think of all the glacial action and flooding which has taken place over the millenia to leave a debris field like that.

With stops for views and photography, it took us two or three hours to make it up to Paradise, which is the site of the main visitor center for the park, and the highest point you can reach by vehicle in this part of the park (Before entering the park, we passed Faith Baptist Church, whose motto was “If you want to make it to Paradise, you have to go by Faith”). Among the sites on the way were : Waterfalls

and one spectacular view after another of Mt. Rainier itself,

which was finally culminated by this view as we arrived in Paradise around 4:30:

In the light of the evening sun, the hillsides looked literally ablaze with reds and oranges. It would have been great to stay in one of the park inns and take time to hike some of the trails, but the park lodging was all booked up (which was why we had stopped in Ashford), and so we returned to Copper Creek for dinner, and then went to bed (no cell phone service, no landlines, no TV) so we could get an early start on towards Mt. St. Helens the next day. We were worn out, but overjoyed that the trip had gotten off to such a good start.


Our itinerary for the trip included flying into Seattle, spending the night and the next morning there, then moving on to Mt. Rainier, Mt. St. Helens, the Portland area, Crater Lake, and then returning up the Pacific Coast of Oregon. Since we were staying about three blocks from the Space Needle in Seattle, I had to get up early for some night shots of that. Here’s my favorite:

Those other-worldly pieces of metal framing the Needle are a nearby sculpture. This photo is what digital photographers would call a “High Dynamic Range” image – it’s made by blending one photo exposed for the sculpture with one exposed for the Space Needle. I made a number of photos from the top of the Space Needle on the return trip, but I’ll post those later.

The next morning before leaving for Mt. Rainier, we made a trip to Pike Place Market, where we stumbled across this delightful piece of calligraphy embedded in the asphalt near the main entrance:

I assume that the chop in the lower right corner is the name of the artist, but I can’t read it. If anyone knows what it says, please let me know so that I can credit the artist properly. I’d love to know who it is and see some other examples of his/her work.

Pike Place Market has something like 600 shops, and I’m not sure that counts all the fishmongers, flower merchants, produce stands and craftspeople who come and go. We were actually there before most of the retail shops opened, though, so we saw mostly the food and flowers. Here’s a brief taste:

We could easily have spent the day (or several days) there, but that was true of almost everywhere we visited during this trip. Next post: on to Mt. Rainier.

A larger collection of the photos from the trip will be available on my Flickr page.

On to something different

I’ve been writing mostly on calligraphic topics for awhile now, but yesterday we returned from a 10-day trip to the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon, that is), and I have tons of photos I’m dying to share with someone, so the next few posts will be a mini-travelogue. A larger collection of photos will be available for viewing on my Flickr page. As usual, if you see something you’d like to own, just drop me a line using the email link on my contacts page.

Since we’re shifting gears from lettering and calligraphy, here’s a transitional photo. This pile of seaweed with the seagull feather looked very calligraphic to me when I found it on Harris beach in southwestern Oregon:

I was amazed by the Oregon beaches – very different from anything I’ve experienced on the east coast of the US, and especially different from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is where 90% of my beach-going experience has taken place. Oregon is somewhat like the area around Bar Harbor, Maine and Arcadia National Park – lots of rocky beach, tidal pools, and mountains that drop right into the ocean. We were on a madcap tour, trying to cover too much ground in 10 days, but I could easily have picked one beach in Oregon and spent most of our time there. My favorites were Harris, Bandon, and Ecola/ Cannon, and even though I was doing a lot of “run and gun” photography, I came home with at least a few images from each spot that pleased me enough to share. Over the next week or two, I’ll highlight a few of my favorites.