Thursday, July 15, 2010

Crater Lake National Park.

I am in love with National Parks. To be honest I am kind of obsessed with them, and have a goal to visit as many of them as I possibly can, all of which I blame on the fact that not one has let me down thus far. In fact every one I've been to--Yellowstone, Yosemite, Acadia, the Badlands, Mt. Rainier--has exceeded my expectations and left me a little breathless. I love the uniform map they hand you at every entrance with the black band across the top with the name in white sans serif font; I love the immediate feeling of being somewhere special and sacred and far away from the rest of the real world; I love the squabble of voices of international tourists; I love the whole idea of the National Park. And this week I was able to check off another on my list: Crater Lake, the only National Park in Oregon.

Crater Lake lies in the caldera of a huge, distant explosion of the volcano Mt. Mazama, and since no rivers flow into or out of it, is made up entirely of rain and snowmelt, and the mountains which surround it are spectacularly steep. There is only one way to access the lake itself, via a very steep hike. Driving around Rim Drive, which circles the entirety of the lake, is enough though. I really cannot describe what it felt like the first time we viewed the lake: we parked and walked up a sandy hill and then, BAM. The bluest blue, surrounded by the craziest symmetrical mountains. I have seen a lot of stuff in my travels, but I am really tempted to say this place was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. It was just ridiculous. Kathy texted our friend Meredith who is originally from Oregon about it, and she replied: Crater Lake is a ridiculous made up fairyland that only Oregonians could believe in. Well said. Accordingly, and I knew this at the time like I always know this but it always disappoints me each time, none of the hundreds of pictures I took even captured what it felt like to really be there. Not only was the lake gasp-inspiring every time you viewed it, but the road winded perilously around what felt like the top of the world most of the time, revealing wide blue and green tinted tree filled valleys and a ridiculous number of distant white peaked mountains, including at certain points Mt. Shasta in California. There were a severely limited amount of guardrails and fences surrounding most of the road and viewpoints, which made my dad, who made this visit possible, exceedingly uneasy, being that it made you feel like you could plummet to your death in a number of ways with a possible slip. Oh, and there was also snow. Like, everywhere. In July. The park is only open to the public approximately three months of the year; feet upon feet of snow cover it the rest of the time. All of this seemed a little bit crazy, but the strangeness and the ruggedness of it all is a happy jolt out of reality, a reminder of the American West of our history and of our dreams, a reminder that our country, a lot of the time, contains more remarkable surprises than we can even imagine.

I mention somewhat frequently that my heart will always belong on the East Coast, which I still believe is true. It will forever remain there for a bunch of personal reasons which I can't even necessarily name or process, other than the fact that home is always home. And I do believe that so many different areas of the country have their own specific beauty than can't even really be compared to one another. But just in the last few days I have seen so many cool things in this state, some new ones and ones whose awesomeness I had already been aware of. And when I think of all of them combined--from the gardens and coffeeshops and bookstores and funky second-run theaters of Portland, to the vast array of breweries which exist pretty much everywhere, to the Columbia River Gorge, to the rugged and peaceful and well preserved coast, to Mt. Hood, to Bend, to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, to Crater Lake, and on and on--I can't help but think that this is the absolute coolest state I will ever know.

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