Starting mileage: 5176 Starting time: 8:00 am
Ending mileage: 5475 Ending time: 4:30 pm
Travel mileage: 299 Travel time: 8:30 hours
We took the scenic route along the north branch of the Umpqua river,a popular trout stream. It is just like in the movies, water tumbling over rocks and calm pools with fly fisherman casting their lures in a delicate motion. The sides are heavily wooded and the narrow road winds among huge hemlocks and Ponderosa pine.
We stopped at Clearwater Falls, a small but beautiful waterfall where the water tumbles over a relatively recent lava flow. The water comes from a spring fed by an aquifer formed by water percolating through the volcanic rock.
The road climbs steadily and as we approached the park we could smell and then see the smoke from the forest fire. The road was just opened a few days ago as the largest forest fire in park history has been mostly contained. Large areas along the road are blackened. In some areas the fire was mostly contained to the brush on the ground and singed the trees, turning all the needles brown but not burning them. In other places the fire went through the treetops just leaving blackened trunks. We could still see smoke rising in the distance where the fire is being fought.
It is hard to describe the feeling as one walks up to the crater rim at the first lookout, this immense caldera with sheer walls and a beautiful lake below. We didn't get to experience the famous blue color as it was overcast but it was spectacular nonetheless. A smaller volcanic cone rises about 800' in the lake. The lake is the deepest in the U.S. and the 9th deepest in the world, with a depth of just under 2000 feet. The mountain had been around 12,000 feet high before it had a major eruption 7700 years ago which caused the volcano to collapse into itself, dropping 4000' in height and another 2000' into the caldera. It didn't blow up like Mt. St. Helens. It also spewed out pumice to a depth of 300' and these areas are still barren due to porosity and lack of nutrients.
We drove around the rim stopping at overlooks that all had spectacular views. It was too cold to eat outside so we had our lunch of cheese, crackers and fruit upstairs in the visitor center looking out over the lake - very nice.
On the way back down, we stopped to watch a red fox looking for food right at the edge of the road. A little further down we spotted two female elk by the side of the road.
Back down we were again in dry dry rangeland with dry grass and sagebrush. We shortly crossed into California where we could see dense smoke coming over the mountains on the left and filling the sky above us. The terrain levelled out and many areas are bright green where irrigated, growing large fields of strawberries and alfalfa. We wondered if this is one of the areas that is depleting the underground water supply.
There was a heavy rain for about 20 minutes - hopefully some of it was also in the areas that are burning. We passed by hills that were actively smoking although didn't se any flames. There are many areas where one can see signs of previous forest fires with varying degres of recovery. We are passing about 15 miles from Mount Shasta but no sign of it.
Just before our hotel we passed by Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California. It looks unreal, with a "bathtub ring" that is about 100 feet high and the water hundreds of feet from the shore. Businesses are building new roads to get down to the water level. It is just as has been highlighted on the national news.
We should probably be more adventurous and try local roadside accommodations but it is so much easier to click on the app on the phone to see what is available at our destinations. We are having an early stop tonight at a Comfort Inn in Redding, CA, about an hour from Lassen National Park, our next destination.
So far the gas has been cheapest in Oregon at $2.39 a gallon. Once we crossed into California, it was $2.99 a gallon.