Christian Kemp's USA travelogs

< Previous | List | Next > Visiting John Day Fossil Beds, Lava Butte, Deschutes River and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Lava Beds National Monument in California

I was up early again, and quickly covered the short distance to John Day Fossil Beds, where I arrived before 7am. Unfortunately, the light wasn't really cooperative, and I left less than half an hour later, hoping to find better conditions elsewhere.

Two and a half hours later, I arrived at Lava Butte, a 500-foot high cinder cone with a 150 foot deep crater. The sky had become clouded even more, but at least the dark clouds brought some texture back to the sky. At the entrance station, I upgraded my existing $50 National Park Pass to a "Golden Eagle" pass (for $15) because the volcanic area was managed by the forest service (NFS), and thus doesn't accept NPS passes.

There's a road that circles around Lava Butte until it's (almost) at the top - it is pretty narrow and because you're perpetually going around a corner, it can be a bit dangerous since you can't see who's heading your way and how much of the road they're taking up. Also, debris from the cone gets on the road and makes braking more challenging when going downhill.

I walked the (short) Crater Rim trail, photographing overly-eager and none-too-shy squirrels along the way - I'm guessing a lot of visitors must be feeding them.

Next, I drove down the Butte again, and hiked around the Lava Flow for a while. "Trail of the Whispering Pines" and "Trail of the Molten Land" are fitting names for the two trails that really contrast the pine forest and the lava badlands.

I drove the short distance to the Deschutes River, and decided to hike along it for a while. I think I only got to Benham Falls, marked at just half a mile away, but the hike felt longer.

Another two hour's drive brought me to Crater Lake National Park. Unfortunately, the colour of the sky wasn't improving, and worse, the clouds hung very low overhead. At one of the first spots where I stopped, I could literally see the clouds creep up from one side, and descend into the crater.

I drove along the rim drive, being a little bit luckier with the clouds (apparently, I had started off at the highest point), but in general pretty dishearted by the bad weather.

As such, there was little else to do than head on and hope for things to improve - and I was lucky. Literally as I drove into California, the sky cleared up and as the sun set, I had a perfect blue sky once again. Maybe my bad weather spell would finally be over.

I soon entered Lava Beds National Monument, one of the lesser-known parks in California. I stopped and decided to hike around the "Lava Fortress", or "Captain Jacks Stronghold" for a bit. I walked fast - the sun was setting, and who knows how the weather might be tomorrow. The Stronghold was impressive - it was hard to imagine how the group of Modoc Indians lived and fought in the lava flows for five months during the Modoc War of 1872-1873, because it seems like such a life-adverse and unforgiving place.

On the way to Indian Wells Campground in the center of the park, I still drove past a very picturesque cinder cone that was strongly illuminated by the last rays of sun. This produced two very nice panorama shots.

But the real challenge was yet to come - I hadn't shaved in about two weeks, and at the time I was experimenting with travel-friendly shaving oil instead of shaving cream... which just didn't work. Combined with a badly-lit campground rest room, and only cold water at my disposal, this easily qualifies as the most annoying shave I've had in my life. If a genie would have appeared right then and granted me three wishes, I think my first two would have been a decent electrical hair trimmer and shaving cream.

The rest of the evening was uneventful, and even though there were a lot of school children on the group camp site at the other end of the campground, I soon drifted off to another night of quality sleep.

Miles driven: 326mi (525km)

Campground Accommodation: Indian Wells Campground (Lava Beds National Monument): $10