Climbing up the sandy bank from the parking lot, we were unprepared for the view ahead. Circled by a ring of hills, the deep blue waters of Crater Lake glimmered below and held us mesmerized. Throughout the course of our visit to Crater Lake National Park, we experienced the lake from at least a dozen different viewpoints, and each vista was as impressive as the previous one.
The view is matched only by the equally magical landforms rising above the surface of the lake. Some, such as Wizard Island (first picture above), are visible from almost anywhere around the Rim Drive. Others like The Old Man (a mountain hemlock floating upright in the lake for over 100 years) take a little more patience (and a pair of binoculars). The kids were amazed to learn that the Phantom Ship (second and third pictures above) was actually 170 feet (17 stories) tall despite its tiny appearance from our elevated viewpoint.
The day wasn’t all seated vistas though, and the Younger Fives were hard at work (as always) completing their Junior Ranger booklets. They learned about the geology behind the volcanic eruption of Mount Mazama that created North American’s deepest lake, about the importance of rain and snowfall in keeping the lake replenished (it has no inlets or outlets), and about the Klamath tribe that historically lived in the area and whose present-day reservation is just south of the park. One of the kids’ biggest surprises came on the Scavenger Hunt Bingo; the park ranger pictured on the board was the one that administered the Junior Range oath to them. See if you can spot him above 🙂
One of the inescapable themes we all took away from the exhibits and conversations with people around the park was the impact of climate change at Crater Lake. The park has averaged about 44 feet of snowfall since the Park Service started keeping track in the 1930s, making it one of the snowiest places in the country. That number, however, has been dwindling for the past several years; the 2015 season only brought 18 feet of snow. About the same amount of precipitation is still falling here overall, but more and more is coming down in the form of rain and not snow. This is part of a larger problem of decreased snow pack that we’ve been seeing in our travels throughout the West this past year, from Colorado and Wyoming to California and Oregon.
The National Drought Mitigation Center puts out a weekly map of drought-impacted areas across the country, and the places impacted only seem to be growing (especially in the West). Less snow means less fresh water flowing into rivers and streams, thereby creating a situation where below-average snowfall in Colorado helps fuel the chronic water shortages that we’ve seen firsthand in states such as California. Diminished snowfall also has a marked impact on wildfires by prolonging the dry season; at this moment there are 163 fires on public lands according to the US Forest Service, one of which is just miles from our present rental.
Crater Lake has definitely inspired us with its beauty, and its cautionary tale about the link between climate change, snowfall, and drought is one we find hard to ignore. The Younger Fives take their Junior Ranger pledge pretty seriously, so in addition to staying on the marked trails and helping keep the animals in the park wild, taking action on climate change is another duty to help preserve national parks like this one. There are countless activities planned around the country tomorrow (Wednesday, October 14th) as part of the People’s Climate National Day of Action. While there might not be a rally nearby (which is our situation), there are many ways to raise awareness about addressing climate change, from posting or sharing on social media to being more mindful of our own energy and water use. Tomorrow we’ll be parking the car and taking the 4 Liters Challenge as part of homeschool, which is the amount of water (about 1 gallon) that hundreds of millions of people around the world must live on each day for all their water needs. What will you be doing? Leave your comments below!