Crater Lake – September 6

We set off at about 10:00 on Wednesday, September 6 for Crater Lake RV Park,  Prospect, Oregon. As the name implies, that is close to Crater Lake National Park, our next sightseeing destination. It was a comparatively short trip – we arrived at about 1:30, with the odometer reading 6882 (182 miles). Crater Lake RV Park was nice. Not many sites were occupied, since many prospective visitors had cancelled due to the fire in the area.

Crater Lake RV Park

Most of the trip was on Interstate 5, which is pretty scenic in that stretch, with some pretty steep uphill and downhill sections in northern California and Oregon. Of its own accord, the Dutch Star would slow down to about 50 mph on most of those uphill sections, which I believe to be about what a typical medium-loaded semi truck would do. The tricky part is navigating lanes with those big trucks – the heavily loaded ones can slow down to 40 or even a bit slower, while the lightly loaded ones want to roar up the hills as fast as possible. Typically, the road widens from 2 lanes to 3 for the steep parts, and trucks take over the right two lanes – the faster ones passing the slower ones. No truck (or RV) wants to give up any speed, because it is hard to recover that momentum once you’ve lost it, so it can be tricky to decide when to change to the middle lane. If you pull into the center lane in front of a faster-moving truck, they will not be happy, but if you stay in the right lane to slow down for a slow mover, you will have a hard time accelerating to pass them when the center lane is clear.

The Dutch Star has cruise control, which it really needs because the gas pedal is more difficult to push than a typical car’s and also has a longer travel. However, it isn’t the greatest cruise control, and in particular it allows about a five mph faster speed going downhill than the “set point”. That doesn’t sound like much, but since most downhill sections are in mountainous areas, they usually have curves. Five mph too fast in those curves in a rig the size of the Dutch Star makes a pretty big difference. I have found that those yellow signs with advisory speeds (which everyone driving a car ignores) specify about the right speed in the RV.

The approach I have gravitated to for going down a long steep section (the steepest ones are about 6% grade) is to turn off the cruise control, and control speed using the engine braking system, which has low, medium, and high settings. Low is usually not enough, and switching back and forth between medium and high usually gives good results. The actual friction brakes are a last resort – they will definitely overheat if engine braking isn’t used for the bulk of speed control.

But getting back to the cruise control, what I would really like is a hand operated knob or lever to set the precise speed I want, and then have the rig hold that speed (unless it can’t on an uphill section). As it is, there are two buttons, labelled “Set” and “Res” on the steering wheel. To initially set a speed, you hit the “Set” button, and a green “Cruise” indicator comes on in the dash to show that cruise control is active. To slow down about 1 mph from the set speed, hit the Set button again; to speed up about 1 mph, hit the Res button. It takes a lot of button pressing to fine tune your speed, and the downhill overrun mentioned above makes it more difficult. Alternatively, adaptive cruise control would also be an improvement, but given a choice, I’d take the knob or lever mentioned above.

The closer we got to Crater Lake, the smokier it got, until visibility was down to about a mile by the time we arrived at the campground. The actual fire was about 25 miles north of us, on the north side of Crater Lake National Park, and consequentially, that section of the park was closed. Since the south part was still open, we decided to head up there and see what we could see. It was a scenic 40 minute drive to the park visitor center (it would have been more scenic if it wasn’t so smoky), where they had an informative 20 minute video about the park and the lake. The lake is in the caldera of the volcano, and the water comes  entirely from the rain and snowfall (which averages 44 feet per year). There is no river or creek draining the lake. It is up to 400 feet deep, and is claimed to be the clearest and cleanest body of water on earth.

From the visitor center, we took the road through the park, which has a number of scenic vistas, some looking outward at the surrounding mountains and some overlooking the lake. We promptly discovered that the answer to “what we could see” was not much. At the first lake overlook, called “phantom ship”, we could make out the rock that does look like a ship, and the thick haze made it look more phantom than it otherwise would, but we could see hardly any of the lake.

Phantom Ship, even more ghostlike than usual.

The next scenic overlook was Sentinel Rock. We could see the rock, but the lake was mostly a no-show.

Sentinel Rock, through the smoke

By all accounts, the scenery is absolutely stunning, but we cannot attest to that, as all we saw was grey smoke. Oh well, we bought a postcard that shows how great it would have been.

Crater Lake (picture of postcard)

Conditions are harsh at the rim of the crater, which is at about 8000 foot elevation. In addition to the 44 feet of snow, it is very windy, with the prevailing winds from the west. Only hardy evergreens survive that, including the “flag” white-bark pine that you see in the picture below.

“Flag” Whitebark Pine, distorted by constant wind at rim.

We continued on to more vistas, but after about an hour of mostly looking at the haze, we gave up and turned around.

Scenic View of Dirty Jeep

On returning to the campground, we decided to move on the next morning rather than spend the day as we had originally planned. There was a light rain overnight – just enough to make the already filthy Jeep look even dirtier and rinse the ash and dust from the top of the Dutch Star down its sides to make it pretty dirty too. That did clear the smoke from the air somewhat, and we briefly debated staying on, but in the end decided to go. we will never know whether that was a good call or not – our route to the next stop took us by the west side of the park, and it was definitely clearer than the previous afternoon, but definitely not completely clear, either.

The news and predictions regarding Hurricane Irma and its potential impact on Florida continue to get worse.

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