‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy‘ composed by George Gershwin for Porgy and Bess (and made famous by many, including Ella Fitzgerald) sorta sums up the land of my birth and the land that is still my home, though my travels have taken me far and wide. The more I travel, the more I realize that I was born and raised and still live in some of the best country on the planet: Klamath County in Southern Oregon. Summer is the perfect time to live in, and also to travel in, Klamath Country. A friend of mine once said (he was then the Public Utilities Commissioner for Oregon), “There are many places in Klamath County that would receive attention as possible national parks or monuments if they were located back East.” I limit my summer travels to elsewhere because my front and back door is as good as it gets…so let’s explore a little of it, but not all of it (some will always remain secrets!).
CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK
Surprisingly my home county is the home to Oregon’s only national park: Crater Lake National Park. I’m surprised that my home state does not host any other national parks. Many call Crater Lake one of the Wonders of the World, and wonderful it is! It is at the top of the list for the Seven Wonders of Oregon (www.traveloregon.com). Many call it the Crown Jewel of Oregon, and I will not dispute that, though my son is named after the Steens Mountain of southeast Oregon…obviously, a very special place in my heart.
Crater Lake (www.craterlakenationalpark.com) is achingly blue, especially when viewed from one of the three tour boats on the water (brought to the lake via helicopter but housed permanently in boat houses on Wizard Island). It is America’s deepest lake at 1943 feet and only Canada’s Great Slave Lake (by seven feet) is deeper in North America. Crater Lake is the world’s ninth deepest lake. The water in the lake is pure and amazingly gin clear.
In late July this year, my brother-in-law Rob Crawford, my nephew Max Crawford and I hiked down Cleetwood Cove Trail (the only legal trail to access the lake) and boarded the tour boat Umpqua at 8:30am.. The boat took us directly to Wizard Island where we would spend the next six hours hiking, fly fishing and exploring. We would return on the Klamath boat. In the trilogy of tour boats maintained by concessionaires Zanterra, Rogue is the name on the third boat. The headwaters of the famous Rogue River begin as springs in the national park.
FISHING CRATER LAKE
Crater Lake was once stocked with a variety of fish but stocking stopped and the only fish remaining are rainbow trout and kokanee. No license is required and fisherman are encouraged by the park service to keep their catch but we returned everything back to the lake. That said, the best trout I’ve ever eaten came from Crater Lake. Flies and artificial lures are allowed but no bait. The best patterns will mimic a crayfish. Because of the water clarity, the trout are very wary and highly selective. They fight like steelhead. Wizard Island is a volcano in this collapsed caldera (technically, it should have been named Caldera Lake) and its distinct feature gives an unforgettable signature to this lake. It is my preferred place to fish as opposed to the area around the Cleetwood Boat Dock.
This was Max and Rob’s first outing to Wizard. “I hear that the trail down to Cleetwood is one mile but seven miles back,” laughs Rob. “Sure enough,” I reply, “because that is what it feels like when you’re hiking out of the crater back to the Rim Road after a long day on Wizard.”
We gave ourselves an hour to hike down the trail with our gear, though we made it in a half an hour. Within half an hour, the tour boat dropped us off at Wizard. “Let’s hike to Fumarole Bay,” I said. “It is more picturesque and the trout fishing has always been good to me there.” We kept our provisions to a minimum: fly rod, one box of flies, spare tippet, water, sandwiches, power bars, an extra pair of socks and photography equipment. Good boots and a walking staff are essentials as you are walking on lava rock the entire time.
The beauty of the lake, viewed from the Island, is arresting. Multiple stops to gander at the grandeur is essential. The water surrounding the island is mindful of Belize, Honduras and Hawaii, the color varying depending on depth.
Though a few other tourists showed up, we had this part of the island relatively to ourselves. Many people take the Wizard Island Summit Trail after embarking from the boat. There are boat tours throughout the day, including interpretive tours. They are a bargain in my book for what you get. Book early though, yet a certain amount of tickets are released from the Crater Lake Kiosks 24 hours before departure (http://www.craterlakelodges.com/activities/volcano-boat-cruises/).
I took both wet and dry fly lines and I had skillful luck with both. The largest trout was around 20 inches. From the rock perches along the shore, large shadowy trout can be viewed. Casting to them always gets a look but not always a take. I love wading in the water for casting but too much time spent might make you numb. The rocky bottom can be a challenge so corkies are recommended if you don’t mind the extra weight.
Our day was stunning with broken clouds, plenty of sunshine and a vast palette of water and topographic colors to absorb. In no time our six hours expired. It felt like we had been there but one!
After embarking from the boat, we huffed and puffed our way back to the rim road and the vehicle. Though a margarita was on our mind, we rewarded ourselves with one gin and tonic. There was a flotilla of fresh tourists going merrily down the trail but I knew their ascent would not be so merrily! Take plenty of stops, enjoy and view, and ascend deliberately. Max (he did not have a gin and tonic) continued on to Portland. Rob and I took our time and drove around the rim road, periodically stopping a lookouts, each having their own view of topographic magnificence. I especially like the lookout views of Mount Thielsen and the Phantom Ship, a small island in Crater Lake that looks like a ghost ship.
Check out historic Crater Lake Lodge. Be warned: make reservations way in advance. There are several campgrounds within the park and there are stores (and gas) at Mazama Village and on the Rim near the Lodge. The nearest airports to Crater Lake are Klamath Falls and Medford. The Lake can be accessed via road from Highway 97 (Klamath Falls), Highway 38 (via Roseburg), Highway 140 (Klamath Falls) and there are several other routes with signage from the Rogue Valley. Summer is a great time to visit but my personal favorite is autumn as less folks are out and about. And if you get a chance, climb to the top of the Watchman and Mount Scott for some grand views of the Lake.
WOOD RIVER VALLEY
Since I live in the county, I generally access Crater Lake via the Wood River Valley and Fort Klamath. Having said that, take some time to explore and visit this historic valley, north of Klamath Lake, which is Oregon’s largest lake. It is also a great place to stay, using it as a staging area for Crater and other places. Accommodations are available at www.josmotel.com, www.theaspeninn.com, www.craterlakeresort.com, http://www.sunpassranch.com/contact-us, www.craterlakecountrysuites.com, Crystalwood Lodge and www.thewilsoncottage.com. Several of these areas have rv and tent camping, too. And make sure that you give Robbin and Jim some business at their Jos Motel Organic Food Store.
The mouth of Wood River is as clear and pure a water that you’ll find in the United States. It begins as springs from the lower flank of Sun Mountain. Crater Lake is its underground source. Kayaking and fly fishing are my favorite activities while visiting this river which flows through the pastoral Wood River Valley before emptying its contents into Upper Klamath Lake. Big brown and rainbow trout exist in the river’s lower stretches or at its mouth. I like to kayak from Kimball Sate Park (the rivers beginning) to Fort Klamath or to the day use area before Fort Klamath. There is a campground at Kimball. Kayaks can be rented from friend Christy by calling 541-281-7775.
This is one cold river at its source and for many miles down the river. Your best chance of ever walking on water is to dive in! On a hot day though, it is immediately satisfying…actually, downright bracing! I have photographed great blue heron, great egrets, bald eagles, bobcat, beaver and a variety of other critters while paddling my kayak. Cares and worries slip away like autumn leaves when floating the Wood. And speak about autumn: the river is gorgeous with banks lined with glowing aspen trees.
OK, I’ve given you a little taste of my home county. Maybe with time, I’ll give you more. Time now to get out and explore!