National Park Number: 6 of 59
After a delightful week among the redwoods, we made our way to another giant: Crater Lake, the deepest lake in America and definitely one of the most impressive. For most visitors, Crater Lake is a drive-through (or -around, in this case) park, and we weren’t sure how much there was to do here beyond looking at the lake.
Short answer: lots. There is lots to do. Crater Lake isn’t the biggest park, but it does offer plenty of hiking (or snowshoeing) and geological sites aside from the lake itself, like Pumice Desert and the Pinnacles.
But because we visited in early June while there was still a lot of snow on the ground, most areas of the park weren’t yet accessible. The road was only open to Discovery Point, the first view of the lake you come upon when driving in from the main visitor center; everything else was closed to vehicles. Luckily for us, though, the road had been plowed for several more miles, so we hopped on our bikes and headed for Watchman Overlook, past which the road was well and truly snowed in.
Let’s just set the stage a little bit for this bike ride: David and I have no biked in a while. Meaning, in his case, since we lived in New York and he frequently commuted by bike and, in my case, since pretty much ever. I love the idea of biking and got really into cycling Graham around the city for a hot second, but then I had Margi (who couldn’t legally ride along til she was a year old), so my cycling days stalled out before I ever really got into biking shape, or got used to biking itself.
Add to this our 6-week diet of fries and pizza while building the bus, and you probably have a good idea of how very unimpressive we were as we attempted to climb the hills.
Giving ourselves some credit though: the road leading up to Watchman has a pretty swift and steady elevation gain, and loaded up with 40 lbs of child especially, it’s a tough ride.
So though we probably looked a fairly pathetic sight, we were pretty proud of ourselves for making it to the top, and we were rewarded with stunning views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island.
This place demands to be stared at, especially because the color of the water is constantly changing, reflecting the sky. As we played on the snow and watched the lake, we saw an incredible range of blues. The reflection of the surrounding crater is perfectly mirrored in the water, and the contrast of colors with the snow set the whole thing off perfectly.
So the lake itself deserves all the praise in the world, but the best part about our time at Crater Lake was celebrating Graham’s 4th birthday. We let him pick two things to buy at the visitor center and he chose a ranger vest and hat that he wore the rest of the day and proudly displayed to our fellow park-goers. By the end of the day, he’d worked up enough courage to tell a few of them that he was four, and he received some excellent feedback from people who enjoyed that year of their lives enormously. He earned his first junior ranger badge and was inducted into the NPS clan, and then he got a free ice cream at the Annie Creek Restaurant after dinner.
I can’t explain the feeling of watching my boy filled with so much excitement and pride. If you’re a parent, you know it—it’s such an intense feeling of happiness that it makes me catch my breath.
On this trip, I’ve found myself sometimes missing what’s around me because I can’t take my eyes off the kids. Yes, the redwoods are spectacular, but have you seen my children??? And giant calderas filled with unbelievably clear blue water are nice, but my kids, man. They are perfection. This isn’t a new phenomenon for me; in four years of living in New York, I think I spent one minute of every hour experiencing the city and the other 59 staring in awe at Graham and Margi. Maybe this is hubris: I contributed nothing to the formation of Crater Lake, but my stamp is all over my babies. I don’t know if I will ever get over this, if I will ever see anything beyond the tips of my children’s eyelashes and the curls on the backs of their heads. But if not, I can’t imagine a better view.