As a native of the Pacific Northwest, I had seen my fair share of beauty and wonder as a young human. The border between Washington and Oregon where I grew up served as prime real estate to experience it all.
But returning to this part of the world nearly 25 years later, not really having spent more than a few days at a time back in my old stomping grounds since leaving as a teenager, was truly eye-opening.
DRIFTING SOUTH TOWARD CRATER LAKE
We had just spent nearly six weeks exploring nature’s gifts in Washington and northwest Oregon. From the rocky coastline of the Pacific to the snow-touched peaks of the Cascade mountain range and even the subterranean world at Ape Caves, we deeply enjoyed it all. It was more than we could have hoped for, but it was hard for me to leave that region, friends and family included, to start our drift to the south.
I still didn’t quite feel ready to move on, even with the promise of Crater Lake National Park just south of us. I knew from experience that this place was surreal.
My parents had a picture of my closest brother, Trey, and I sitting on the rim of Crater Lake at sunset, our tiny selves (5 and 7 years old or so) silhouetted against the grand scope of that massive crater as twilight worked its magic.
I had looked at that old picture dozens of times over the years. I was thrilled to get back to that place and see it with my own eyes once again.
INTRODUCTION TO UMPQUA
But the truth is, I didn’t have a clue what southern Oregon had in store for us.
I’ve gotten in the habit of not over-researching an area before we head in. I don’t want or need a detailed agenda of exploration before arriving. Normally, once I lock in on an RV park to stay at, everything else about our experience simply builds naturally from there. And much of that happens once we actually arrive in the area.
I guess you could say that I have chosen not to be motivated by FOMO (fear of missing out) in our travel planning. I try to trust that we will see exactly what we are supposed to see without obsessing over it.
After leaving the Portland, OR area in mid-September, we stopped to see some good friends in Corvallis, OR for a couple of days. After some great time there, we spent a few days along the Oregon Coast where we took in the Oregon Dunes and Sea Lion Caves. It was all fantastic and this region continued to overwhelm and surprise us with all it had to offer.
But when we left the coast and the tourist spots behind and headed southeast toward our next tiny RV park in the Umpqua National Forest, a whole new world emerged.
This lush forest floored us. The density and intensity of green that suddenly surrounded us as we meandered our way deeper and deeper into this unknown world was unreal. Even as a native of the Pacific Northwest, I had never seen anything quite like this before.
I found my breathing getting deeper and easier without even focusing on it. Nature enveloped our truck and home-in-tow and held us tight as the sun occasionally peeked through the impossibly thick forest.
AT HOME AMONG THE PINES
We arrived at our temporary home along the North Umpqua River late in the afternoon. Umpqua’s Last Resort (dig that name), while small and simple, did not disappoint at all. A friendly young lady welcomed us and took care of all the reservation details. We set up camp just 30 ft from the edge of a forest of 100+ foot pines.
And the stars that night…they were unfathomable. My 14-year old son spotted them first. As we all stepped outside into the very chilly night air to take a peek in the pitch black of the night, we gasped at the blanket of light that laid over the top of us.
It felt like I could comprehend for the first time that there were actually billions of stars out there. I was certain I could see and count each one if I just took the time.
What a fantastic introduction to this corner of creation.
ONWARD TO THE BUCKET LIST CRATER
The next morning, we were determined to drag ourselves out of bed early and get on the road to Crater Lake. This was the piece de resistance. My bucket list item almost 40 years old. I could hardly eat breakfast because of the excitement.
Along the way we did have to make one or two stops. At Diamond Lake, we enjoyed views of snow-capped Mt. Bailey on one side and the Matterhornesque Mt. Thielsen peeking through the clouds on the other.
But we didn’t stop for too long because our anticipation for the crater kept growing.
We rolled into the much-awaited national park just before 9:00 am with temperatures in the mid-30s. A light carpet of snow greeted us as the boys clamored for a chance to get their hands in it.
But when we rolled up to the edge of the great crater and got our first glimpse of the massive rim cradling Wizard Island, our jaws simultaneously hit the snow-dusted ground.
THE PORTRAIT OF PERFECTION
The sheer size and scope of the scene was enough to dumbfound anyone. But the powdered sugar highlights that the skies recently added took this viewing experience straight into the stratosphere.
A portrait of perfection. Those are the best words I can find.
Of course, I had quite a bit of emotion tied up in this experience since I had waited so long to return. But for my family, the emotions seemed to run just as high as the scene of serenity enveloped us all.
We spent the rest of the day exploring every square inch of the rim that we could despite the cold and wind. We hardly seemed to notice it because of the beauty we were soaking up. But our day of exploration came to end as the temperature started dropping again.
WRAPPING UP THIS EMERALD ESCAPE
We spent our final day in the Umpqua National Forest chasing waterfalls. The main road through the forest is simply littered with them at nearly every curve. I wanted to see just…one…more!
As we headed south out of this emerald wilderness the following day, images of Crater Lake and countless waterfalls danced through my head.
I couldn’t help but smile with a deep soul satisfaction as we slipped away from this bucket list destination.
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