The route to Crater Lake through the Empty Corner of Northern California is actually shorter than the I-5 through Medford route. After our stop at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park we goon to Klamath Falls, stopping to lunch at Nibbley’s for lunch – a kind of cross between the Black Bear Diner and Applebee’s, but local and full of lunching ladies.
Then on through smoky haze past Upper Klamath lake and Grass Lake and beautiful stands of sugar pines lining the long straight road until we hit the Exit to Crater Lake, then more old growth forest until we stop at the Visitor Information center to watch the 22 minute intro video and use facilities. Then more twists and turnouts until we get to the Lodge.
The Crater Lake Lodge is not the Ahwahnee, no yet El Tovar or the Old Faithful Inn, but has done its 1995 restoration/renovation best to revive the rustic resort ambience within the limits of a hotel located in one of the snowiest spots in the US, open only May through October if the weather permits. It does boast pillars and stairways made from Douglas fir trunks with the bark still on, and big stone fireplaces surrounded by the kind of chairs you can sink into.
The weather is quite warm, with a persistent smoky tang in the air from three surrounding wildfires. But we find a sheltered nook just below the rim walk where we set up our champagne and crackers and camp chairs and we are Rockefellers with the best lake view in the house.
After demolishing the champagne and crackers, we amble our way back up the path to the Lodge and its dining room. The ambience is much less formal than that of other National Park Lodges we have enjoyed – lots of hiking boots, cargo pants, flannel shirts. I did put on a glittery sweater to dress for dinner, and I am definitely dressed on the swanky side. After dinner we move out to the porch, where dozens of rustic wooden rockers are lined up to view the lake. Overhead the sky has cleared, and we can see millions of stars spangling the Milky Way. My spouse even catches a falling star or two.
The next morning we return to the Lodge Dining Room for breakfast. After glimpsing a gigantic platter of pancakes at the next table, I prudently order a half-serving of Creme Brûlée French Toast, which was delicious and plenty to start the day. If I had known the French toast would come with a dollop of fruit on the side I would not have bothered to order the Fruit Cup. The latter included fruit of the imperishable rather than flavorful sort: white centered strawberries, stringy pineapple, tough melon. I pick out and enjoy the blueberries, grapes, and marionberries , but they are only too few.
The next morning the smokiness has magically disappeared and the lake is the blue seen normally only on cheap postcards. We decide to take the 2 hour trolley tour around the rim with Ranger David Grimes (star of the introductory video at the information center). What a good decision! The tour makes plenty of stops for admiring and taking pictures of the lake, and we have the pleasure of listening to a knowledgeable and very entertaining speaker while not having to keep our eyes on the road.
We lunch at the Lodge, (actually the only choice other than a sandwich bar at the gift shop) sharing with a chipmunk which has invaded the room, being alternately cute (at someone else’s table ) or repugnant (at your own table.) That evening after dinner we move again to the balcony with rocking chairs but this time a storm has arrived over the mountains surrounding the lake, and we are treated to a stunning lightning show. The next morning the weather has turned cold and drizzly, and the lake is almost invisible in the fog. A perfect day to leave.