In Search of Crater Lake (OMG, SMOG)

“There’s a lot of smoke in the park today, so be careful,” warned the ranger, as we crossed the threshold of Crater Lake National Park for our second day of touring. Earlier in the day, I searched the National Park Service webcam aimed at Crater Lake from the Sinnott Memorial Overlook–with the intention of evaluating views of Wizard Island and Llao Rock–but there was no image…just a gray blob.

“Aw shit! Is this camera off-line, or could this really be smoke?” I wondered aloud.

While I craved the crisp cerulean air punctuated by wispy snippets of marshmallow clouds floating over a rippling realm, I knew from our 35-mile approach to the park that this was pie-in-the-sky thinking, since the valley was completely cloaked in smoke.

Yesterday, as we embarked on our ring around the 33-mile Rim Drive–with its multiple viewpoints along the caldera wall, overlooking magnificent cliffs that surround Crater Lake–our eyes could barely penetrate the haze that gave us gauzy views across a vast expanse of water.

Wizard Island

The fact that we could see anything at all, brought tears to our eyes, but that was probably caused by the irritants in the air.

Every vantage point brought a dazzling, yet indistinct impression of the landscape, elevating form over color and detail as the dominant design element.

Lookout over caldera
Grotto Cove
ice and water
Shell Channel

It was also an opportunity to reflect on objects closer to the lens.

a tree with an idea1

arms ans legs and limbs

unusual tree behavior

There were moments when the haze worked to my advantage, revealing a lake with a more mysterious and pastel personality.

Wizard Island ray
Wizard Island morphs into a giant ray
Phantom Ship ES
Phantom Ship sailing on Chaski Bay

Fortunately, the sun broke through at the right time, shining a spotlight on Pumice Castle,

Pumice Castle CU

Pumice Castle

illuminating the illusion of Phantom Ship,

Phantom Ship

and electrifying the Danger Bay coastline with lenticular textures.

Danger Bay

What a difference a day makes. Today’s scene had us wondering if Crater Lake was really down there at all, and maybe part of a bigger conspiracy.

where is the lake

Has Crater Lake been de-ported? Is Crater Lake being held hostage in exchange for Congressional funding of the “Wall”? Or is Crater Lake relying on a failing projection system that once led (b)earthers to believe that Neil Armstrong faked the lunar walk? Fake views. Sad.

I wondered if Park Rangers were doing enough to reassure the public that Crater Lake would reappear.  And had they considered putting out an A-P-B for a M-I-A lake that’s gone A-W-O-L?

“Be on the lookout for a large body of water that goes by the name of Crater Lake–measuring somewhere between five to six miles across, a quarter-mile deep with a deep blue complexion, sporting two enormous moles and a shaggy shoreline. Last seen yesterday, wearing a cloudy disposition.”

Poised at the Cloudcap Overlook and hoping for a miracle, it was the smoke, not the view, that took our breath away.

But being the intrepid explorers that we are, if the lake was invisible from above, then we would search for it beneath the shroud.

The Cleetwood Cove Trail drops 700 feet to the water’s edge through a series of sandy and steeply graded switchbacks.

trail switchbacks

It took us fifteen minutes to breeze down the the one-mile trail, until we reached the water’s edge with rewarding views of the penultimate infinity pool.

jump off point
Cleetwood Cove to Pumice Point

The cove is home to an outhouse-shaped instrument shed…

outhouse monitor

that monitors lake elevation levels for the US Geological Survey,


and a dock for concession boat tours that circle the lake or visit Wizard Island.

boat launch

But reservations sell out quickly. Leah and I considered bringing a credit card along in the unlikely event that seats would become available, but decided against it.

Instead, our afternoon entertainment was provided by young thrill-seekers who dared themselves and each other to take the plunge off a 25-foot cliff…



…into heart-stopping ice water.

Returning to the dock, we learned that seats had become available if we were willing, but without a method of payment, alas, we missed the boat.

aboard the Rogue

And so began the long plod up the mountain, and back to a sky that refused to yield.

We had gone in search of Crater Lake, and all the while it was right under our noses.

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