Exploring the Earth and Sky of the West


A Crater Lake Comparison

College and blogging go together about as well as tofu and….well…about anything. Keeping up with this site, which by definition requires photographs, is even more challenging. Apart from several thousand photographs of Whitman Mission National Historic Site (where I volunteer and write another photography blog), I take very few photos during the semester, given that pictures of classrooms are boring and I don’t often take to lugging a DSLR around to weekend frivolities.

It was a visit to Crater Lake in the summer two years ago that prompted me to start this website in the first place.  Somehow though, that attempt went fallow and I never got past creating an account and drafting a first post. That post, with the awe-inspiring title of  “Photography Challenges at Crater Lake National Park”, and packed with 576 words of my mind-numbingly painful drivel, still sits in my “Drafts” folder to this day, staring at me with sad eyes much like whatever this is.

Happily, I now have a second Crater Lake visit to share photos from.  If you’ve ever wanted to see snowdrifts engulfing multi-story buildings, you should visit Crater Lake NP in the early spring. Driving up Oregon Hwy 62 from Medford, my thought progression went something like this: “Hmm…not very much snow yet”, “Strange, I thought we’d be getting into some snow by now”, “Wow, maybe we’ll actually be able to hike around a little at the lake”, “Holy crap, the snowbanks are taller than the car”, “Whoa, now they are taller than my 6′ 3″ housemate!” I truly have never seen such quantities of snow in my life. Entering the few remaining open buildings required travel through snow tunnels in order to access the doors. The road to the rim of the lake is kept open year-round, and after seeing the massive snowbanks and realizing how much manpower must be required to accomplish this, I had to ask the question “why”?  The volunteer ranger on duty didn’t really have a clear cut answer, mumbling only something about “politics” and “tradition.” We were also informed that this winter had been “a dry one” and that the fact that we were even able to see the lake was rather fortuitous, as more than 50% of winter days are so cloudy that the lake surface is not even visible from the rim.

Crazy snow.

Crater Lake Lodge, closed for the season

Wandering around the shuttered Crater Lake Lodge area felt eerily like a scene from The Shining (filmed at the nearby Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood) with the Crater Lake Lodge buried up to the 4th floor by snowdrifts.  One advantage to the snow was the lack of the oppressing clouds of mosquitoes that plagued us during the summer visit.

Crater Lake Panorama, March 2012

For comparison purposes, here are some images from that July 2010 visit, starting with a shot taken from almost the exact same vantage point at the first photo in this post (note the position of the peak towering over the lodge). The only difference in that here I’m not standing on top of thirty feet of snow.

Crater Lake Lodge, sans 30' snow drifts

Crater Lake at Dusk

The Moon and Venus setting behind Crater Lake

Crater Lake Panorama, July 2010

I clearly remember being surprised on that visit at how much snow remained present, even in mid-July.  Several trails were still closed. After last week, this no longer seems extraordinary. If anything it seems a small miracle that it ever melts at all and that Crater Lake is not covered by some sort of permanent glacier.

Back to the Northwest: the Land of Homework and Geology

Yes, I am still alive. Although I imagine that someone who wasn’t would have marginally more time to attend to a photo blog than I have over the past few months.  Between a full class schedule, 15 or more hours of work a week, writing a thesis, and occasionally taking time to interact with other human beings in a social setting leaves sadly little time for photo editing and blogging.  But now that the annual bundle of happiness that is the four days off from school offered by Columbus Day weekend is here, I find myself with free time (gasp!) and no shortage of photos to sift through from the past several months.

My most recent excursion was the 4-day whirlwind of turtle tops, rock hammers, marshmallow volcanoes, humorous jokes, campfires, burritos, and all-around general merriment that is our bi-annual Regional Geology field trip.  This year we made a circuit through central Oregon to look at the ancient Cascade volcanoes and some of the best preserved fossil beds in the world. Rather then bore you with my umpteen pictures of rock outcrops with my lens cap or pencil in them for scale, I’ll share the ones that show why trips like these are the biggest perk of being a geology student:

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon: a rock climbers paradise and caldera of an ancient supervolcano.

Preserved ancient soils in the Painted Hills, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Mescall Overlook, John Day Valley, OR

Dogs in Oregon apparently like chasing flying moustaches...who knew?!

Thick lava flows beneath the US 97 Bridge over the Crooked River, near Bend, OR

My big fossil find of the weekend: ammonites native to Asia plastered onto North America via plate tectonics!

Community Hall in Izee, OR

P.S.  For those of you stumped by the marshmallow volcano reference, watch this to see what to see a geology department tradition and learn what happens when you stuff several bags of marshmallows inside an empty beer can.  Yes, this is how geologists entertain themselves.