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Day 51: Lava Tubes and Snow Covered Craters

Day 51: Lava Tubes and Snow Covered Craters

Today was going to be a detour from the carefully planned itinerary I had developed for this trip. It has been over 50 days since I started this journey and there is one important thing to understand about road trips: The plan is secondary to the journey. If you take a vacation your agenda should be created as a tool in case you fail to find adventure. Something to guide your trip rather than dictate it. I was now armed with the information of local lava tubes and a magnetic pull towards the famous crater lake. Neither were on my itinerary, but both are certainly part of this journey of a lifetime.
Using the hand drawn map provided to me by the hotel manager I headed along a high desert gravel road towards my first lava tube of the day. Off-roading trails were abundant in this area and I took my fair share of them along the way. In my attempt to avoid people for the day, driving around a truck parked in front of a hill, I managed to put myself on the other side of a makeshift shooting range. The view was beautiful as the wine blew through the dried grass, and the sun was warm and welcoming after spending so many days in the cool northwest. I spent a good amount of time sitting on my Jeep’s hood taking in the sunlight, but the gun fire prompted me to move on. Turns out in avoiding company I had failed to pay attention to the fact they were target shooting and I was on the wrong end of the line of fire. I drove out here to see lava tubes, anyways.

Me in front of Skeleteon Cave June 29, 2011

Boyd cave was the first lava tube I found along the dusty dirt road. The cave, surveyed in 1969, has only 1880 feet worth of passage. The subway tunnel-like passages are pretty typical of a lava tube and Boyd’s was no exception. In contrast to the limestone caves I consider home these were bland and boring. I stopped at Skeleton Cave, another lava tube, but did not go in. It was gated and access is by permit only. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much.
I mean no offense towards the cavers of the lava tube persuasion,  but speleothems are kind of my passion. Not only do the lava tubes I have seen thus far lack any significant decorations (although I hear there are a few lava tubes capped by limestone that do have speleothem development. I have not had the pleasure of visiting these yet) but the passages are too predictable. Caving, for me, is a curious adventure with twists, turns, and a wonderment at the chaotic and complex nature of a cavern’s path. Why water chose to follow one joint instead of another has always been a curiosity of mine. The lava tube is so straight forward that it reminds me of a man made subterranean tunnel, and thus lacks the fantasy of a wild cave.

Entrance to Skeleton Cave, June 29, 2011. Oregon.

The warmth of the high desert plains reminded me it was time to head towards to golden coast. Oregon’s volcanic history sculpted the terrain I was driving through, fields of pumice and lava flows. The northwest is a vulcanologist ideal vacation spot, full of volcanic wonders. There was still another place of interest to visit on today’s impromptu journey: Crater Lake.
I stopped to get gas again and if there is one thing you need to know about journeying through Oregon in your vehicle it is this: You aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. Yesterday I thought the gas station attendant was just being nice, and today I learned it is against the law to pump your own gasoline. Travelers be aware: full service only in Oregon.

The Pumice Desert near Crater Lake in Orgeon. June 29, 2011

On the approach to Crater Lake I drove through the pumice desert. Almost 8000 years ago Mt. Mazama erupted, forming crater lake and this desert of pumice that is nearly 100 feet thick. Vegetation has been slow to return in this area since the lack of nutrients don’t allow for a suitable growing environment. Today the pumice desert was covered lightly in snow, and as I headed up the winding road to the top of Crater lake the snow was even deeper. Throughout this trip I have been reminded that the entire continent received a large amount of winter precipitation, but  it never ceased to amaze me how much snow was still here. It is the end of June and as I head up to Crater Lake National Park the RV in front of me is SHORTER than the snow piled along the sides of the plowed road.

Snow pack on road up to Crater Lake June 29, 2011

The weather was misty, and foggy. When I arrived at the top of Crater Lake I could see nothing. The water that everyone claims is so blue and clear, some of the deepest water in the country, was hidden behind the thick blanket of fog. I spent a short period of time there, then retreated back down to a warmer area.

Mt. Thielsen, Lightening Rod of the Cascades June 29, 2011

I drove past the Mt. Thielsen, the lightening rod of the Cascades. This former volcano’s core attracts lighting strikes so often that the rock atop the summit is actually melted. I arrived at my hotel and decided to get some rest. Tomorrow I would be back on the coast, gazing at the beautiful Pacific. While the geologist in me was fascinated with the volcanism of the Cascades nothing could compare with the tranquility brought to me by the crashing waves of the Pacific. Maybe it was because I was born next to this ocean’s breeze, but nothing ever feels more like home.

The foggy view of Crater Lake June 29, 2011.


The tunnel to the bathroom at Crater Lake (meant to keep snow out) June 29, 2011

June 29th, 2011 | 1 Comment

One Response to “Day 51: Lava Tubes and Snow Covered Craters”

  • 01/02/12

    Mongo says:

    i kinda wanted to visit skeleton cave, though i doubt any of the bones are still in there, but fossils would have been neat to see outside of a museum setting.

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