I have come to the conclusion that I am a living example of B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, especially of positive reinforcement. That’s the only way to explain my new-found comfort in chaos, lack of-planning, and ability to throw all caution into the dumpster.
Wait – is that why this trip began in front of a dumpster? Was it just an obvious metaphor? Was Jeannie the Jeep actually Skinner’s box?
Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I let go of my rigid list-making and obsessive researching and trusted that it would all work out. It had on our last big road trip. One example: in Utah we met a loquacious ranger who provided some of our most memorable experiences. Then, on this journey, multiple times we asked locals for advice and by doing so, we learned of places we never would have discovered on our own. Each time we let go and trusted, it worked out all right, and it reinforced the notion that the world is a decent place, people are kind, and it would all be just fine.
Day 15 continued that reinforcement.
We checked out of our lovely motel (not an oxymoron) and explored Bend for a bit. We soon encountered a busker, but he wasn’t just any street performer. Haiden had completed a summer program the previous year at Berkeley and was a virtuoso on the violin. “Of course,” I thought, “because this is Bend, and Bend is awesome.” We strolled a couple of blocks and browsed storefronts and historic plaques. Before leaving, we filled my growler at Goodlife Brewing. We decided we definitely needed to return to this active and vibrant town.
We didn’t know what to expect at Diamond Lake. We had the word of the lady who’d poured us a beer the day before, but other than that? Nada. We drove and picked up the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Along the way, we listened to 80s music and grumbled about gas prices. Even though Jeannie the Jeep was fairly efficient, we still had to feed her once a day. It was like having a third person with us. Not a child, because a child could be placated by smushed peas and pummeled fruit or a foil packet with a tiny straw. No, this third person would be the uncle you never claim whose maw swallows children whole. Every gas station we saw was a Harry Meets Sally-like recitation of price-per-gallon callouts. In between, I was singing along to the soundtrack of my teens. The Clash, Phil Collins, Dexys Midnight Runners. I felt for Jim, the professionally trained vocalist, but not enough to stop singing. We were climbing a hill, and “Come on Eileen” came on, and as we neared the apex the tempo increased and I was howling “too ra lu rye aye” and unless you became a teenager in the 80s you have NO IDEA what I’m talking about. But Jim did. He knew right then exactly what my teenage years were all about.
(And we’re still married.)
The gas stations disappeared, replaced by pines. We rounded a curve and caught a glimpse of a lake in the middle of evergreens.
“Oh, wow; we’re camping there, honey!”
Jim, the Montana Man, was all like “I grew up with mountains so this is what I expected” and I, the Midwesterner, was all like “OH MY WORD THIS WORLD IS AMAZING LOOK AT HOW BLUE THE LAKE IS CAN I JUST LIVE HERE FOREVER.”
Just kidding – he thought it was pretty amazing, too, especially when we found a campsite on the edge of that lake with a white-capped mountain on the opposite shore.
We set up our tent and stopped at the Diamond Lake State Park information center on our way out. It was supposed to be a quick peek. At first it seemed like it was going to be super quick because we couldn’t tell if it was open. Then I saw a figure in the window of the cabin and we tentatively stepped inside, where we met Justin and Jordan – who just happened to be from a town about 40 miles from our former home.
Of course they were.
We started by asking them about hiking and one thing led to another and before we knew it, we’d found out the young couple had sold their home in Highland Park, Illinois, so they could travel. They’d been tooling around for over a year when they ended up as volunteers in Diamond Lake State Park. When we told them we learned about their park because Crater Lake wasn’t open yet due to snow, Jordan told us it had snowed two days before we’d arrived. Fortunately, the snow had already melted, or that would have been some mighty cold camping.
The couple then shared a story about a man they’d met recently who’d talked about Glacier. Justin and Jordan told him they wanted to visit that National Park in August. The stranger told them they didn’t need to worry because the snow wouldn’t come until October 17. “That’s very specific,” Jordan said to him. “Are you in touch with whoever has their finger on the snow button?”
They didn’t really get an answer for that. I hope they made it; the wannabe weatherman was a bit off, since the first snow fell on August 27.
Being fellow Midwesterners, Justin and Jordan didn’t know much about life in the wild west. During their ranger training, they asked what they could tell people about coyotes, which are fellow residents of Diamond Lake. The answer was: “If you’ve walked a trail, you’ve probably passed a few.”
“Well, that doesn’t help me! What am I supposed to tell hikers?” Jordan asked.
“Roll stones down the path,” the park officials said. “It helps confuse coyotes.” Pause. “And bears.”
The first time they went hiking, Jordan picked up every stone she could find and loaded her pockets until they nearly burst, throwing them down the path as they hiked. She still stuffs her pockets, and advises fellow hikers to do the same. “It’s like weight training,” she joked.
Speaking of hiking got us back to the original reason we’d entered the cabin, and we told them about our love of waterfalls. I might have looked at Jim with a bit of adoration as I recounted our engagement story… Jordan excitedly grabbed a brochure featuring a whole lineup of waterfalls we’d pass on our way to the coast the next day. We thanked her and Justin profusely and walked out smiling and shaking our heads. Another day, another round of helpful strangers.
We were back on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, a 500-mile route with one end at California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park and the other at Crater Lake. Nobody was at the entrance to the Oregon park, so we sailed in, passing rows of fire-stripped trees. Like the woods at the base of Devils Tower, fire was a regular and necessary occurrence in this forest. Soon piles of snow dotted the hill, and as we drove higher, the piles grew bigger and closer until they merged into one.
I’d seen photos of Crater Lake National Park. The lake was a blue so saturated I doubted it could be real.
We stepped onto the rim of an ancient volcano and looked at the deepest lake in the United States and the second deepest lake in North America. That depth, and the fact that the water comes solely from rain and snow, is why it’s so blue. Crater Lake is considered one of the cleanest lakes in the world, and looking at it makes you feel like you’re witnessing purity.
It’s so blue that its second name was Deep Blue Lake (1853) and its third name was Blue Lake (1862), and it’s so majestic its fourth name was Lake Majesty (1865). It wasn’t called Crater Lake until 1869 when Jim Sutton, a Jacksonville newspaper editor, decided to explore it by boat and then wrote about it. Why so many names? It seems various explorers encountered the lake, named it, and then forgot about it. I have a feeling it was like Yellowstone’s geothermal wonders; nobody believed it was real. It took a journalist to make a name stick.
The first name had a bit more longevity. About 7,700 years ago, Mount Mazama blew its top. It had been a much taller volcano, but then it exploded and the top crumbled, leaving a shell of its former self that filled with water. The Klamath tribe witnessed this event. In their lore, the belowearth Llao fought the above-earth Skell. Skell won, the mountain collapsed, and the lake was born. They called the lake Giiwas and considered it a place of power.
We stood on the rim with a lone man wearing a photographer’s vest adorned with pockets covering every available space. Tourists roamed and took their selfies and climbed over gnarled roots. The three of us – Jim, the photographer, and I – made our way towards a neon green tree shooting out over the bluest of blue waters.
I carefully picked my way down a gentle slope and framed my photos. I exchanged places with the lone man, and we made some commiserating comments about the intensity of the colors. Jim followed after him. We (Jim and I) took our own selfie. It was a moment to be marked. To say: “We were Here.”
It was 6:30 when we returned to our campsite. We still had plenty of light. It was mid-June in the west, and the sun wouldn’t set for a couple of hours. I sat in my camp chair by the lake with a roaring fire at my feet. I wrote in my journal, drank some beer from Bend. I was content.