From Otter Crest to Crater Lake

“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.”

In 2017 my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in northwest Oregon. The Pacific Northwest is beautiful. I love to admire way the Cascades rise up from the earth with their impressive snow-capped peaks that provide a distinct beauty unlike any other mountain range in the US. As one who grew up in the Piney Woods of Texas, I thought I had seen trees before, but nothing prepared me for the Douglas Firs of the Pacific Northwest. Absolutely gorgeous! Although we had been to Oregon and Washington once before, we had never driven down the coastline, which is why on this trip, our plans were all about the Oregon Coast Highway 101.

There is so much to see on Highway 101. Our plan for this 6 day road trip was to fly to Seattle, drive down to the mouth of the Columbia River (in Astoria, Oregon), head south along the coast, and at some point turn east for Crater Lake National Park. Some of you who know the area are probably wondering why we flew into Seattle when Portland is closer to the Oregon coast. The reason is simple. We also wanted to spend a day in Seattle, which we did after we were finished at Crater Lake.

Highlighted in the slides below are a few of the sites we saw along the way.

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While much could be said about Astoria, Seaside, lighthouses, estuaries, the Tillamook Creamery, and the abundance of picture worthy stops along Highway 101, this post focuses on one day, a day that took us from below sea level to 8,000 feet above sea level. On the same day we walked on tide pools of Otter Crest at day break and enjoyed the sunset at Crater Lake National Park. It was a wonderful day in which we could soak in the beauty of creation and contemplate on the one who made it.

Tide Pools at Dawn

Early on a July morning, my wife and I stepped out of our villa at the Inn at Otter Crest, walked over to the cliff, and took the stairs down to the beach. It was a cool morning, and fog covered the water. We knew the tide was low, and we were hoping to see some amazing tide pools. We were not disappointed. Pictured below were some of the images we got to experience.

Sunrise at Otter Crest with the sun peering over the cliffJPGLong narrow tide poolTide pool 5Tide pool 4Walking on the beach in the fog

I cherished the moment of standing on dry ground below sea level. The green sea weed, the florescent underwater plant life in vibrant shades of green and pink, and the coral color rocks all blended together into a beautiful canvas of God’s creation as it lifted its brow out of the sea. Watching the sun rise added to the sacredness of the moment.

Otter Crest and Devil’s Punch Bowl State Park

Before I continue to share about our day from the coast to the mountains, I should share a little information about the Otter Rock area. We stayed at The Inn at Otter Crest, a quiet and affordable resort nestled in the woods and next to the ocean just a few miles north of Otter Rock, Oregon. The complex has its own beauty, but first timers need to keep in mind a few tips. First, you may be asked to park your car at the front of the complex and have someone take your party and luggage to your unit by a golf cart. Don’t be alarmed if this happens. It’s actually kind of a nice service. Second, bring your own food or eat before you come. There is a restaurant on site, but it was closed for renovations when we were there. Our only option for dinner was to go off site. Third, don’t expect a grand entrance. While the units are clean, quiet, and comfortable, the Inn at Otter Crest lobby is rustic and small. The vibe I got from the staff was a hospitable, small town feel. Check out the website for the Inn at Otter Crest or call +1-800-452-2101 for more information.

I should add that the Devil’s Punch Bowl State Park is also a must see if you are in the area. The Devil’s Punch Bowl is a rock formation that fills with ocean spray when the tide is high. It was low for us, but we still got to peer in to the bowl.

Devils Punch Bowl

Across the parking lot from the Devil’s Punch Bowl we found Mo’s West at Otter Rock. Inside this little wood-sided restaurant we found friendly service and a skilled kitchen that added a special touch to our Otter Rock experience. Not only was the food good, but so was the view. While waiting for our order, we looked out and saw two whales spraying in the distance. It’s hard to beat Mo’s chowder and the west coast sunset complete with whale sightings.

The Road to Crater Lake: Lighthouses, Sand Dunes, and Elk

After walking along the tide pools, we checked out of the resort and continued south on Highway 101 for approximately 60 miles.  On the way we stopped at Newport to see the Yaquina Head Lighthouse as well as the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse. Further down the road we shot from a distance pics of the Heceta Head Lighthouse. If you’re interested in exploring more lighthouses in Oregon, here’s a link to an article, Road Trip: Oregon Lighthouses, for more ideas.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse in Newport Oregon

Yaquina Head Lighthouse at Newport, Oregon

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse

Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, Newport, Oregon

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse, 12 miles north of Florence, Oregon

Next we came to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area for a brief stop.

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Just south of the dunes, we turned east, following Highway 38 (the Umpqua Highway) along the windy valley road. Although the ocean was behind us, we had plenty of marvelous nature to see. On this road we drove along the river, took pictures of a gang of elk that seemed to be posing for us, and began our ascent toward the higher elevations.

Gang of Elk

Umpqua Highway

Arriving at Crater Lake National Park

We had two concerns as we drove towards Crater Lake National Park. First, we only had this one afternoon and evening to see the park, and we didn’t want to show up after dark. Second, I get a little anxious in high places. I’ve been on mountain roads before, and knowing that Crater Lake was basically a lake on top of an old volcano, I knew we would be in the mountains. Since we were visiting the park in July, both the north entrance and the south entrance roads were open. Crater Lake National Park gets a ton of snow, and it’s always a good idea to call ahead of time to find out if there are any road closures, even in the summer months. Thankfully, we had nothing to fear. Though we arrived late afternoon, the park, the visitor center, the restaurants, the gift shops, and the museum buildings were still open. Also, my fear of heights was almost a non-issue. Even along the rim, most of the view had a gradual slope, not a terrifying cliff like I was afraid I might have to endure.

Here’s the number to call for Crater Lake National Park to inquire about road closures and other opening hours at the park: +1-541-594-3000. You might also bring with you a map. Cell phone service gets spotty in the mountains.

Crater Lake is breath-taking. According to the National Park site, about 7,700 years ago the volcano, which has been estimated to have stood 12,000 feet above sea level, erupted and destroyed the top of the mountain, which left a deep crater. Over time, and after much snow fall and rain, the crater filled with water. Today, the rim is about 8,000 feet above sea level, and the lake is 1,943 feet deep of crystal clear and clean water, the deepest lake in the United States.

Crater Lake and Wizard Island with Panorama

Crater Lake and Wizard Island. The picture above is a pano shot. The image captures the blue waters, but the shape here is a bit distorted. The image below shows the round shape better.

Crater Lake and Wizard Island with snow on the ground

Crater Lake National Park quickly became one of my favorites. As I peered over the rim and gazed at the royal blue water, I was overwhelmed with a sense of awe. Suddenly in my head I could hear the devotional song that comes from Psalm 95: “For the Lord is a great God, the great King of above all gods. In his hands are the depths of the earth. The mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his he made it. And his hands formed the dry land.” All I could think about was how God fashioned this lake. Yes, the scientific explanation says it was a volcano. I’m not disputing the natural explanation. I can live with the natural view, but unlike the materialistic worldview that limits phenomena to forces within nature, I attribute the forces of nature to a Creator who is not bound within nature. He made and makes nature.

That day was a powerful day. From the sea, to the mountain peaks, to the lake formed in the bowl-shaped crater of a resting volcano, we can see the finger prints of God. The poets of the ancient Hebrews were good at recognizing how the glory of nature provided categories for understanding God’s glory. As a believer who had witnessed the wonders of the Pacific Coast and one of my favorite National Parks, I, too, was struck by the magnanimity of the Creator’s artistry. These sites have been around longer than our country and will continue beyond our visions for the future.  But for now, we can be thankful we live within this great and spectacular America.

View of the mountains from the Rim Trail