Wandering the West – Part 3: Yosemite to Crater Lake

My first night sleeping in the van was completely uneventful. I went to sleep, and at the normal time of morning for me I woke up well rested and ready to go. I somehow managed to find my clothes for the day in the dark and got dressed, then dropped the curtains, had breakfast, repacked the food, brushed my teeth, washed my face, and by 6:30 AM I was pulling out of my camping spot. The kiosk was still closed but they had a sign saying that if you were checking out to put your slip under a rock on the windowsill, but since I had never received a slip I simply wrote my name and space number on a scrap of paper and carried on my way.

The campground exit was within sight of the park entrance gate, so no sooner was I on the road than I had left Yosemite behind. The gradual descent out of the park paled in comparison to the stunning east entry, but there was a good set of switchbacks descending from the last vestige of mountains at Priest combined with an expansive view across the Central Valley toward Modesto. I was surprised during the drive how quickly the Sierra Nevada was hidden from view, I had expected to be able to look back in the mirror and see them on the horizon for miles but even by the time I had turned off of highway 120 there was no trace to be seen. My original plan had been to take highway 120 to highway 49 and follow the foothills north to eventually either head back across the Sierra Nevada and head on to Crater Lake via Reno on the high desert route or stick to the edge of the mountains, but when I got to the turn I saw several signs warning of long construction delays ahead. It was an easy choice to stick on 120 and, after an enjoyable meander along Tulloch reservoir, pick up highway 4 across an expanse of ranchland to join I-5 in Stockton. From there it was an easy and rather mindless drive to Redding aside from a traffic jam in Sacramento. Along the way I once again noticed beehives, this time pallets of them in fields carrying out the mundane job of pollinating row crops.

Shortly before getting into Redding I-5 tops a rather ordinary rise and Mount Shasta suddenly looms directly ahead. It’s by no means close, but the view of a snowcapped peak at the end of the road gives a pleasant break from the rather featureless scenery along that section. I had planned on stopping for lunch as soon as a suitable exit appeared, but with that view ahead of me my stomach had no interest in food anymore and everything turned to getting closer to the bottom end of what I used to consider my home mountain range, the Cascades. Leaving Redding behind, I-5 turns increasingly mountainous with several great views of Mt. Shasta. At one point there was a scenic viewpoint, which made a great spot to have a lunch of dry ramen while enjoying being back in the deep greens and dense evergreens of the Cascades crowned by Shasta’s snowcap.

2016-06-24-0876Back on the road I soon entered the town of Weed. This was another place I had wanted to get to for a long time, starting when a friend and I noticed the name on a wallmap and got into a debate on how a town gets a name like that. As it also happened to be the turnoff for US-97, which was my chosen route to Crater Lake, I even got to meander a bit through the downtown area before heading into the drier east side of the Cascades and up to Klamath Falls. US-97 has several mountainous stretches broken up by long runs of relatively flat open road, and it was along these flat stretches that I got to observe one of the more interesting driving behaviors. Big, slow vehicles which crawl up the hills in low gear and stay 10 to 15 mph below the speed limit on the single lane sections suddenly get a magic boost of speed as soon as a passing lane appears, and before anyone really knows it the safe passing opportunity has ended and the vehicle slows back down.
Stopping for gas in Klamath Falls I was suddenly reminded of the Oregon law protecting gas station attendants when I got out of the van to pump and a man in a high-vis vest came running over to intercept me before I could make the terrible mistake of pumping my own gas. I awkwardly retreated back from whence I came and wasted several minutes waiting for him to come back after the pump had clicked off.

The drive from Klamath Falls to Crater Lake is a very pleasant one through open fields and small towns. Along the way there are several vista points with information about Crater Lake and it’s predecessor, Mt. Mazama. (though usually by the time you see them you have passed any opportunity to turn in). It’s interesting to see the artist representation of what it may have looked like before the explosion and then look to the south and compare it with the still visible peak of Mt. Shasta. Eventually the road goes past a sign stating that you have entered Crater Lake National Park, but it’s several more miles before actually getting to any of the park facilities.

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