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Exploring Crater Lake on a Softail Standard

Rider Magazine
March 26, 2007
Filed under Motorcycle Rides, Roads and Self-Guided Travel, Touring and Rallies

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Timing, as they say, is everything. That was certainly the case with this trip. Editor Buzzelli had asked me to go to Coos Bay, Oregon, to pick up the Softail project bike (see page 41) that Jerry Smith had, and then ride it back to AR’s office. Simple enough, it would seem. What could possibly go wrong?

The only problem was a huge storm moving down from Alaska, forecast to bring torrential rains, flooding and heavy snow to the high country. I wanted to take in Crater Lake, a place high in the Cascades that always intrigued me with its incredible scenery and amazing volcanic history.

Around Crater Lake, winter arrives early and stays late. At an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, snow covers the ground for much of the year. Average annual snowfall is 533 inches—and that storm was on its way. Yikes!

Crater Lake, named by James Sutton in 1869, lies in a volcanic basin formed about 7,000 years ago when a violent eruption blew the top off of 12,000-foot-high Mount Mazama. The explosion, which blasted away about a mile of the mountain’s height, was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. It is said that rocks and debris from the explosion landed as far away as Nebraska and Canada. The cataclysm released about 12 cubic miles of magma and was one of the largest eruptions in the past 10,000 years.

After the initial blast, volcanism continued, forming Wizard Island, which you can see today in the west side of the lake. Eventually, the crater filled with water, and now rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon thrive in the lake, the result of stocking.

Five miles across, the resulting lake is surrounded by steep escarpments rising high above the sparkling azure waters. With a maximum depth of 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest in the United States. It is also one of the clearest lakes on earth, and because of its depth it rarely freezes.

The best time to ride to Crater Lake National Park is midsummer. The park offers campgrounds, food, fuel and lodging during this season, but make reservations well in advance to avoid disappointment. I stayed outside the park at Prospect Hotel, a quaint bed and breakfast and motel in the charming town of Prospect, Oregon. It’s reasonably priced, clean, pleasant and adjacent to a restaurant and bar with a nearby gas station. Be sure to ask owners (and motorcyclists) Fred and Karen Wickman where the secret waterfalls are.

Oregon Highway 62 and the southern access road along serpentine Annie Creek Canyon lead to the park’s year-round lake view. From Roseburg in the north, take Route 138 east to the park’s north entrance. (The north entrance road, which crosses the Pumice Desert, and Rim Drive are closed from mid-October to late June.) The Rim Drive encircles the lake in 33 miles with 30 scenic turnouts. Plan on spending at least half a day in the park to see it properly, stopping at the breathtaking view points. Don’t miss the road down to the Pinnacles, which were formed by gases venting through the pyroclastic flow following the eruption. Erosion has formed tall spires from the vents that look like steeples growing out of the mountain.

Just as I finished sightseeing, snow flurries began. Hightailing it down to Klamath Falls, the Softail managed to outrun the snow—but not the rain—carrying with it many (wet) memories of a lifetime.
For more than 1,000 miles on the journey home, the TC88B mill in the Softail purred along, trouble-free, even in frog-strangling downpours. Thanks to the added accessories, the Softail made an even better traveling companion than when stock. The windscreen helped part the chill winds and was especially welcome on the long ride back, fighting rain, cold and gusty blasts. The adjustable, removable backrest is great to have on extended trips and it folds forward, making it easier to throw a leg over. Even the stock handlebar position works well with the backrest, and I found that passengers like the comfort and security of the pillion backrest.

Likewise, the soft saddlebags were handy and easy to use, but could have been a little bigger. An Ortleib dry bag thrown over the pillion seat provided extra room for foul-weather gear. The aft-mounted chrome luggage rack is sturdy and allows an extra bag to be strapped above the taillight when needed. Apart from wishing for larger saddlebags, I’d make the same choices.

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