Restaurant located just south of Crater Lake on
Highway 62 in Union Creek, Oregon, is famous for
serving fresh pies and big meals to go with them, on
May 19, 2015. Beckie's has a colorful history of
owners and patrons dating back to the 1920's.
LAKE NATIONAL PARK, Ore. ó The California border was
just behind us, and Los Angeles Times photographer Mark
Boster and I were roaring up a rain-soaked Oregon highway
past fog-shrouded forests and green-stubbled boulders.
an hour outside Ashland, Ore., the road began to climb.
Pretty soon we were 7,000 feet above sea level and there
was snow. It seemed as though we would run out of mountain
and launch straight into the leaden heavens.
instead, a great circle of what seemed to be sky burst
into view below us, its surface rippling gently.
Lake, a caldera nearly 2,000 feet deep and four and a half
to six miles across, is a mirror where a mountaintop
should be. The Crater Lake Lodge, its sidekick for a
century, is a fortified folly on a perch better suited to
snowdrifts and hemlock forest.
you reach the rim, you canít help but think of those
brave or foolish souls who opened the first lodge in the
summer of 1915: a four-story hotel on the edge of a
dormant volcano, at the end of a rugged road, on terrain
that gets 40-plus feet of snow a year. Only an epic view
could sell such a project, and thatís what Crater Lake
parked the car, tossed our gear into our rooms at the
lodge and started prowling the calderaís edge under
it let up. The skyís grays gave way to scattered blues.
The view of the water, 2,000 feet below, snapped into
bold-hued focus as if somebody had thrown a light switch.
had stood on the rim twice before, and it was just as
jolting on this third visit in late May. Dew clung to the
needles of the whitebark pines. Fearless birds with sharp
little beaks swooped to pry seeds from the pine cones.
(Clarkís nutcrackers, I later learned.) On the far side
of the lake, which covers about 20 square miles, a new set
of storm clouds massed and smudged the sky with rain.
tribal myth says the lake is the result of a battle over a
woman between a god of the heavens (Skell) and a god of
the underworld (Llao). When Llao lost, the volcano blew
and the lake was created. In some versions, Wizard Island
is what remains of Llaoís severed head.
National Park Service version of the story is that a
12,000-foot volcano blew its top 7,700 years ago, leaving
a 4,000-foot-deep caldera that happened to be symmetrical
and watertight. As snow and rain fell, a lake began to
form. Then, perhaps 400 years after the initial eruption,
a smaller, younger cinder cone volcano, now known as
Wizard Island, sprouted within the caldera.
spent two days roaming the area: a damp dawn at Discovery
Point, windy dusk at Watchman Overlook and a great hour at
Rogue River Gorge, outside the park boundary. Between
forays, weíd fall into the armchairs at the woodsy
lodge, near one of the massive stone fireplaces. And Iíd
imagine how shoddy it used to be.
took six years to build the first Crater Lake Lodge, which
wasnít quite enough time to do it right. When NPS
Director Stephen Mather visited in 1919, he was
scandalized by its poor quality. Alfred Parkhurst, the
builder and original concessionaire, was soon shooed away.
the years, a parade of concessionaires followed amid
complaints about structural strain, deferred maintenance,
inadequate fire escapes and other issues. Even after the
park service took ownership in 1967, troubles continued,
including a sewage spill that contaminated the lodge water
supply in 1975. Yet Oregonians grew to love the place.
much of the 1980s, park service leaders wondered aloud
about leveling the lodge while preservationists rallied to
protect it. In 1989 engineers declared it unsafe for
habitation. By the time it reopened in 1995, the lodge was
a new building with a familiar skin.
when I visited for the first time, just a few weeks after
the reopening. The view was intoxicating, but the service
was a disaster. Somebody had quit, and the director of
marketing had been pressed into service as maitre dí.
April 2004, my second visit, veteran park concessionaire
Xanterra had taken over the lodge, but it was still closed
for the winter. I had come to write a column about its
winter keeper, who basically had the Jack Nicholson job in
"The Shining." He proved to be about as menacing
as Dale Carnegie, but I did get to see what winter does to
the rim. The lodgeís first two floors were buried in
snow, and walking its halls was like pacing in a
this third trip, I had plenty of company and the front
desk seemed to smoothly handle the daily tide of visitors.
But the lodgeís cooks and servers kept surprising us by
forgetting to bring a dish, substituting ingredients
without warning or being grumpy. When dinner entrees hover
around $30, thatís not a recipe for success.
outdoors, however, has never let me down. The lake isnít
perfectly round or perfectly pure: Thereís at least one
crashed helicopter in it, along with two non-native fish
species. But it meets the sky so well.
I said goodbye to Crater Lake this time, we did get a few
more glimpses of the bright blue hues that astound
tourists in July, August and September. And I got to see
some newbies take in the scene.
never even made a snowball before. I wasnít expecting
the snow and all the trees. Thatís made it a thousand
times better," said Amanda McGrather, 24, visiting
from Melbourne, Australia. Then she launched her first
snowball into the face of her friend Ryan Jones, 22, of
say most visitors at the park stay several hours, perhaps
a night, but rarely longer, because thereís just one
marquee attraction and because you canít camp within
sight of the lake.
get that. But itís too bad, because the longer you look
at the lake, the more mesmerizing it gets. The green
shallows at the edges of Wizard Island. The wind on the
water. The shadows creeping down the slopes.
current trends continue, Iíll be back in 2024 or so. And
I might bring a sack lunch. But Iím not sure I can wait