We set out on the winding Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway the next morning and found ourselves easily distracted on the 90-mile trip to Crater Lake. The road traverses alongside the stunning Umpqua River almost the entire way to Crater Lake, which meant that we were driving in a secluded, wilderness dream and could not imagine missing a single drop of the beauty. Our intention to reach Crater Lake in one day was officially squashed as we read about the waterfalls, hot springs and hiking that awaited us along the road up to Crater Lake.
Toketee Falls beckoned to us and we listened, making our first detour of the trip a mere 50 miles from where we started the morning. We hopped out of the car and hiked on the perfectly maintained trail until we reached the highlight of the hike, the roaring, two tiered Toketee Falls. The falls’ first tier drops 40 feet into an upper pool, then crashes another 80 feet down basalt rock into another gorgeous, green-blue pool.
After feeling the mist of the Toketee Falls, we were eager to soak in the elusive Umpqua Hot Springs. We had read online that it is rather difficult to access, but we thought that together the three of us could figure out the cryptic maps. We read that it was a short, but steep hike up to the hot springs – which perch atop a rocky bluff that drops 200 feet to the rushing Umpqua River below. After circling the area a couple times, we jumped out of the car and started hiking on a trail that seemed to match the descriptions we had read online. An hour and a half of hiking later, we decided we were likely not on the right trail and turned back. The unintended hike may have wasted time, but it did make if feel like we actually deserved a soak in the hot springs. With new determination we found the hidden turn in the road, climbed the steep trail and found ourselves in heaven.
The cloudy, blue-gray pools line the cliff of the mountain as they descend down to the river. The top pool boasts a temperature of 112 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a bit steamy to soak in for too long. The pool temperatures gradually decrease as you descend the mountain and we found ourselves, like Goldilocks, testing each and every pool until we found the one that was “just right.” By the time we left the hot springs, the sun was beginning to set and we needed to find a place to stay the night.
I have read that the best time of year to visit Crater Lake is from late May to mid-October when all of the roads are open, but we pressed our luck in my little Honda Civic and were rewarded with cheap hotel rooms, zero tourists, and lovely snow. After spending the night in a questionable motel, we found ourselves slowly driving up a snow covered mountain to Crater Lake. At the top, we spent a whopping fifteen, frigid minutes gazing out at the deep-blue water before heading into the gift shop for heat.
Crater Lake is a caldera lake, which was created by the collapse of the volcano Mount Mazama. Mount Mazama once stood at a little under 12,000 feet, but when it exploded about 7,700 years ago it was reduced to just over 8,000 feet. Left in place of the mountain peak was now a caldera, which filled with rain and snowmelt over the years until it became Crater Lake. Reaching a maximum depth of more than 1,900 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and among the deepest in the world.
Nestled along the boarder of Oregon and California, lies the friendly town of Ashland, Oregon. As we explored the town, our extreme disappointment in Eugene was suddenly replaced with visions of our future home in Ashland. Home to the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland welcomes over 400,000 visitors each year from February to October to attend plays produced by William Shakespeare. The majority of the plays take place on one of three outdoor stages and the city bustles with tourism. I kept imagining Chase having a solid career in prop design with such a theatrical culture. I imagined myself owning a farm in one of the most fertile parts of our country – where the climate is so mild that they can even grow tropical fruit!
We ended up staying two nights in Ashland, where I was able to catch up with a friend from my days working for F.H. King at UW-Madison. Vincent is now a professor at Southern Oregon University and just as eager as always to get students interested and passionate about growing food. I had a delicious dinner with his family and noted that if we did move to Ashland, we would actually know someone in our new town.