Moving to Hawaii, Jess and Charlie Edition • Crater Lake National Park • Chasing Waterfalls • September 22, 2017
My third day of traveling solo began with a 2 hour drive from Crescent City, California to Medford, Oregon. This drive was very scenic, but also the hardest for me with so many narrow roads, hills, and construction zones. The sky was a little hazy, but the reports on the nearby wildfires were positive: they were starting to get this particular fire under control.
I made it to Medford around 10. To be honest, when I was planning my route, this city was the center of my attention, and it shaped my entire itinerary. What’s so special about Medford? Why, it has the only In-N-Out in Oregon! Ok, you got me, I planned my trip around a fast food restaurant. I drove over 800 miles to eat a burger. The truth is out. Well let me tell you, it was worth it!! As I drove into the parking lot right at opening, John Legend’s song “All of Me” started playing on the radio. It was the most beautiful, pure moment I’ve ever experienced and I called Curtis immediately to include him in it. For all the time that I’ve been missing In-N-Out, and for all the miles I’ve driven, it feels like I should have ordered more than one burger. But no, I got one burger and I enjoyed every bite, then said goodbye for who knows how long.
Next, I began the drive up to Crater Lake National Park. Of course this had been on my bucket list for a long time, but today I was so excited to be going because they had just gotten their first snow of the season! I had hardly seen any fall colors on this entire vacation, and now here we were, driving up to “winter” at 8000 feet above sea level! We made a few short stops on the way to the national park to do short waterfall hikes. Mill Creek Falls is near the small town of Prospect, OR right off of state highway 62. There are several trails here, but Charlotte and I just walked to one vista for the waterfalls, and were blown away by the size and the heavy stream of water crashing down. We also stopped to see the Natural Bridge in Umpqua National Forest. Here, there is a river that flows through a tube of lava — when the water level is low enough (as it was when I was there) you can’t even see any of the river. I was very impressed — there are signs all around the interpretive trail that teach about how this came to be, but unfortunately I don’t retain this information as well as Curtis so all I can tell you is it’s worth the stop. 🙂
While I was driving, I was trying to decide which rim of the crater to visit, because I knew there was road construction and parts of the rim drive would be closed. The North side would mean less driving since I was planning to continue driving North afterwards, but the South side would get me an extra county. In the end, the decision was made for me when I saw a sign saying the North rim was closed due to the snow. South rim it is! I drove through the woods, slowly gaining elevation and watching the temperature drop — it made it down to 27º at the top! Thankfully all the roads to the top were cleared of snow, but that was about it. It turned out that the entire rim drive was closed, and since Charlotte can’t be on the trails we were limited to the rim walk right along the South Rim parking lot. I didn’t care at all though — the beautiful, untouched snowy scenes were so worth every extra mile. Up until just recently, there had been a fire in the area, but the snow seemed to be helping it become contained and there wasn’t even a hint of haziness in the air.
After getting my national park stamps, I put on my brand new hiking boots for the first time and took Charlotte for a little walk in the snow to check out the lake. The lake was bright blue, the evergreen trees still had fresh snow lining every branch, and the mountains in the background were all snow capped and gorgeous. Charlotte absolutely loved bounding through the snow and receiving attention from all other tourists. At one point, I made her stay still so I could take some pictures, and she decided to jump up on top of the short stone wall to get a better view. People all around turned their focus to her, and started taking pictures of her. This was definitely one of my happiest “puppy parent” moments, seeing her take in the beauty and thinking about all the incredible places she’s been. I took a few pictures of her, and had someone take a picture of us together as well. 🙂
Once we had our fill of playing in the snow (for the last time for a while!) we returned the way we came and continued driving East on 230. At one point, I rounded a bend in the road and was completely awestruck by what I saw: The most stunning, prominent, snow-capped peak. A view so great, I literally gasped and exclaimed praise out loud. Unfortunately there wasn’t a good spot to pull over, so I had to settle for a pull off a ways down the road, but I’ll never forget the mental image. The peak is Mt. Thielsen, and what sets it apart from every mountain surrounding it is how narrow and pointy the top is, compared to the rounded mountain tops around it. I read a sign that said that it became this way because of many lightning strikes. It is definitely one of the most impressive peaks I have seen — someone nearby said they had just returned from Switzerland and it reminded them of the Matterhorn.
As impressed as I was, I don’t know if I actually would ever want to hike it. What I really want to do is return and hike every mountain surrounding it, just to get better views of this peak. It was undoubtedly one of my favorite parts about my trip, mainly because I had never seen pictures of it before and had no idea it was waiting there around the corner. (Side note — the pictures I do have didn’t turn out great, so I am not sharing them. I want everyone to go and have the same experience I did here instead!)
It was getting later in the afternoon, so I started looking for campsites in Umpqua National Forest. The map indicated that there were a few on highway 138, and I knew of another waterfall hike there, so we drove West on 138 for around 30 miles. We went for a short hike to see Toketee Falls, a waterfall I had seen all over Instagram and Pinterest. It was an easy hike, the water was a beautiful shade of blue, and the basalt rocks were a maroon shade, and the two tier falls were beautiful. However, they were exactly what I was expecting, so I wasn’t blown away and impressed as I was over Mt. Thielsen. I told myself to not let popularly photographed places on Instagram direct my travels any more.
I found an empty campsite off of 138, and stopped there for the night. It had been a very busy day of driving over 200 miles and seeing so many places inbetween, and between that and a lack of sleep, I was starting to become more worn out. I decided that since the next day would be the halfway point in my week alone, I would take it easy and find a hotel.