(As always, you can click on the pictures for a better view.)
The next morning greeted us with gloomy skies, so we decided to visit Oregon Caves rather than Crater Lake, reasoning that weather doesn't matter so much underground. So we drove to Cave Junction, then along a winding forest road to the Caves, where we forked over $24 for the three of us and entered the black gash in the mountain:
These caves are called the "Marble Halls of Oregon," formed by rainwater from an ancient forest. I kind of expected something like the marble Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, which looked like this:
Instead I got this:
Seriously, it looked like snot was dripping off the walls. Now we all know I like rocks — there's no way you can read this blog without dealing with the rock talk — but the Oregon Caves left me cold, and it wasn't just the 40-degree temperature. I spent the whole time silently going "Ewwww …" while watching Benny clamber along steep, uncertain paths ringed by bottomless chasms. After a while I felt I was walking through Moria with Frodo, except Moria was much nicer, even if you throw in the lake monster and the Balrog.
Here's a creepy ceiling shot:
I couldn't wait to get out of there, but Benny and Ron seemed to like it all right. We topped off the day at a Black Bear Diner, where Benny ordered a big stack of chocolate-chip pancakes.
The next day dawned bright and sunny and we praised Ron for suggesting we wait another day. It was Crater Lake day! Since the first time I saw Crater Lake 12 years ago, I have considered it one of Nature's most perfect places. The crater is gracefully round, the water is stunningly blue, the perky little island in the middle is a shiny green. Ron and Benny had never seen it so they had no idea what I was going on about. I wouldn't let them look at pictures or enter the visitor's center. No, we must first go straight to the lake — no detours.
Benny was a little jaded by this time after 11 days of natural wonders, and wasn't enthusiastic about climbing another mountain. Ron just patiently wound the Honda Fit through curve after curve, lined with Oregon's ubiquitous pine trees. The Fit chugged up the mountain like a champ -- after all, the little car had already traveled the Sierras, Cascades and Klamaths mountain ranges. It had tackled San Francisco hills and forded streams. It would take more than a 8,000-foot mountain to scare our little compact car.
But Benny's attitude changed completely when we we crossed the snow line. At first it was a little streak of white lining the road, then bigger clumps between the trees, until finally we entered a winter wonderland. I insisted we drive directly to the visitor center on the Rim, where the ground and trees were blanketed in snow. Crater Lake gets more than 30 feet of snow every winter, and the snowplows were still working to clear the Rim Drive.
It was nearly noon. I ran ahead of them and scrambled up a snowbank. "Come on!" I yelled, as if the mountain was going out for lunch or something. Ron and Benny followed, pelting each other with snowballs.
And there it was:
We posed for photos, squinting into the glaring sun:
Benny made a snowman:
Crater Lake was created when Mt. Mazama blew its top 7,700 years ago. Its summit collapsed after all the magma was released, forming a huge caldera. It took about 250 years of rain and snow to form the pristine lake. Cinder cones like Wizard Island formed on the bottom of the crater. The water is so intensely blue because the lake is so deep (589 feet deep, the deepest lake in the U.S.) and the water is so clear.
Crater Lake was the last official sightseeing spot of the trip, although we did admire Mt. Shasta in the distance as we drove south to San Francisco. We left the tumbled landscape of the Oregon-California border and entered the Sacramento Valley, with Lassen Peak on our left and the Coast Ranges on the right. We chose to drive around the northern rim of San Pablo Bay, turning south through Marin County and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. (Dealing with Bay Bridge traffic is no way to end a vacation.) We loved the trip, but after 12 days on the road, we were so glad to be home again.