After the volcano blows: Crater Lake National Park


Mt. Mazama spilled its guts in a massive volcanic eruption 7,700 years ago, emptying itself out to such an extent that the mountain collapsed in on itself, creating a 3,900-foot-deep caldera. As the centuries ticked by, the caldera partially filled with snowmelt and rainfall, transforming into a sapphire-blue lake — the deepest lake in the U.S., with a depth of 1,943 feet — ringed by a partially forested mountain ridge at an elevation of 7,000 feet. Meanwhile the volcano kept belching up lava, creating cinder cones on the lakebed. One, dubbed Wizard Island, rises like a conical wizard’s hat above the lake’s surface, making a mini-mountain island to one side of the 6-mile-diameter lake.

Such is the dramatic history of Crater Lake, a national park in south-central Oregon that I’ve long wanted to visit and saw during a family road trip last month.


Ombre shades of blue

Crater Lake is famous for its sapphire hue. It’s so blue, we learned, because the water is very deep and nearly pure. No streams or rivers flow into or out of the lake, and so it doesn’t contain river silt or mud. The park receives a tremendous amount of snowfall every year — 43 feet on average — which helps keep the lake at a constant level, compensating for evaporation.


The rim views are stunning, but it’s even more amazing when you think about the fact that you’re standing atop the rim of a volcano, looking into the cone. True, it’s dormant, but no one’s ruling out the possibility of a future eruption.


Wildfires were raging in the area when we visited and the park’s West Rim Drive was closed, so we weren’t able to drive the entire rim. I worried that smoke would haze the view of the lake, and it did get hazier throughout the day. But when we arrived that morning the skies were clear and the lake clearly visible.


The caldera’s steep, crumbly sides make it impossible to reach the lake except along a single trail, the Cleetwood Cove Trail, which usually opens in mid-to-late June. My husband and daughter were keen to hike it. Following tradition, they both plunged into the icy lake — surface temps are around 50° or 60° in summer — just to say they did.


Crater Lake is a snowy place for much of the year, and we saw for ourselves that snow can remain on the ground even into August.


Off East Rim Drive, we saw the Pinnacles: fossil fumaroles — aka ancient volcanic vents — that cemented through intense heat the ash they spewed. Surrounding material eroded over the centuries, exposing the fossilized vents as fantastical spires.


Of course, pun lovers that we are, we immediately dubbed this photo Penickles at the Pinnacles.

Up next: The inspiring, jewel-box garden of Buell Steelman and Rebecca Sams, owners of Mosaic Gardens in Eugene, Oregon. For a look back at our visit to Redwood National Park and Fern Canyon, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get ready for fall garden tours in Texas! The Garden Conservancy is sponsoring Open Days tours in Fort Worth on Oct. 8th, San Antonio on Oct. 14th, and Austin on Nov. 4th.

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Playing among giants at Redwood National Park and a hike in Fern Canyon


Want to feel ant-sized and incredibly young? Any number of national parks will have you marveling over nature’s immensity and your own small place in it. But Redwood National Park, located along the northern coast of California near Oregon, shrinks you right down to bug size as soon as you walk among these ancient, gigantic trees.


We drove through the park on a family road trip along the Pacific Coast in mid-August. It’s hard to comprehend how big these trees are, even when you’re standing among them. They’re so tall you can’t see the tops of many of them. Their soldier-straight trunks soar skyward up to 360 feet — the length of a football field — and disappear among the branches.


Fallen trees give you a better perspective.


But you need to see people next to them for scale.


The trees here are coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), and they’re the tallest living things on earth. They normally live for 500 to 1,100 years, although some may exceed 2,000 years of age. What was happening in the world in 17 A.D.? Some redwoods alive today were just growing from seed then!


Nearly all have been lost to logging, sadly. Ninety-six percent of the original old-growth coast redwoods have been logged, according to the park’s website. The park contains 45% of the remaining protected old-growth redwoods in California.


I’d read about nearby Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, located 50 miles north of Eureka, and was keen to explore it. The cool, narrow canyon feels primeval. Steven Spielberg thought so too. He filmed a scene from Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World here.


The canyon’s 30- to 50-foot high walls, carved by Home Creek over thousands of years, are wallpapered with shaggy green ferns. The creek meanders along the canyon floor, which is littered with the broken trunks of redwoods, knocked over in storms or washed downstream in floods.


Despite a rugged 4-mile drive on unpaved roads and across several shallow streams to reach the parking area for it, we were far from the only ones with the same idea on this Thursday morning. The 1/2-mile trail is flat and, aside from a risk of wet feet and having to clamber over and under some fallen trees, easy for hikers of all ages.


We were all dwarfed by the scenery.


The canyon walls drip with moisture and rivulets of water from the clifftop, and several species of fern and other native plants thrive in a vertical garden created by Mother Nature.


It was like being inside an emerald jewel box.


That’s how small we felt all day among the redwoods.


On our way into the park we saw a few cars pulled over and people taking pictures, so naturally we stopped too. Some Roosevelt elk were enjoying a mid-morning lie-down, just their brown faces visible in the tawny grass.


Just north of Klamath on Highway 101, I spotted a gigantic Paul Bunyan looming over a kitschy roadside attraction called Trees of Mystery. Like every traveler before me, I whipped our car into the parking lot to get a better look. Once again, we were ant sized.


Of course Babe the Blue Ox was there too, and well endowed.


A few more goofy photo ops later…


…including with Bigfoot…


…and we were on our way again, heading northeast toward Crater Lake, wildfires be damned.

Up next: Our visit to breathtaking Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. For a look back at part 2 of my visit to Mendocino Coast Botanical Garden, including their Succulents, Ocean Trail, and Dahlia Gardens, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Going underground at Carlsbad Caverns


With the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service this month, I’m pleased we were able to visit two National Parks on our recent road trip: Mesa Verde in Colorado and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. We’d visited before with our eldest when he was little. This time we saw it with our youngest.

Bats live in the cave, and you can come at dusk to watch them emerge like a fluttering black cloud to begin their nightly hunt for flying insects. Bat flights are a common occurrence for us Austinites, however, and instead we spent several hours hiking through the cave.


I say hike because we entered, for our first time, through the natural cave entrance rather than taking the elevator down, and while not strenuous, it does involve a lot of walking down a slippery, steep trail in the semi-dark.


On the way down, I spotted this prickly pear clinging to a crevice in a rock wall. Life finds a way…


The cave mouth is huge, and you can’t help looking back at the shrinking blue sky as you descend.


Walking down the serpentine path toward the dark throat of the entrance feels like being swallowed up by Jonah’s whale.


You get some nice views of cave formations on the way down. But once you reach the main floor, 75 stories below the surface, you see the biggest and most fantastical ones, created by the slow drip drip of calcium-rich water over millennia.


Afterward, emerging into the sun-washed desert landscape, it’s amazing to think about the magical world hidden 1,000 feet below.

Up next: Skygazing at McDonald Observatory in the scenic Davis Mountains of West Texas. For a look back at mountain views and a steam train ride from Durango, Colorado, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

South Texans, come see me at the 2nd annual Planta Nativa festival in McAllen, Texas, on Saturday, October 22. I’ll be delivering the keynote talk, “Local Heroes: Designing with Native Plants for Water-Saving Gardens,” that evening. Tickets go on sale soon at Quinta Mazatlan. I hope to see you there!

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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