A Hole in the Ocean and the Craters of the Moon - Road Trip USA Northwest  II.

July 17, 2022

Thor's Well, Oregon, Yachats, Oregon nature, Highway 101, roadtrip
Thor's Well - beautiful but not without danger

The dark blue waves surge rapidly from the open Pacific toward the black lava coast. The sun stands in the sky like a slightly faded cork coaster just above the horizon, veiled by thin clouds. Then I hear a loud "Fruuuummp!" and suddenly foaming surf bursts upward through a ten-foot-wide hole in the ground directly in front of me, shooting water up and over the sides, almost reaching my feet, and then the water quickly disappears as it rushes back into the hole to the clatter of thousands of shells, as if someone had sucked it in with a straw.

 

Thor's Well is a fascinating, but also somewhat treacherous natural phenomenon located only a couple of hundred feet off Highway 101 in Oregon. The Well’s most beautiful moments occur during high tide and sunset. Which means when the waves hit the shore most violently with unpredictable swells and it is darker than in a closet with a dripping candle afterwards. I set up my tripod anyway. Very close to the stony lava edge of the hole. My stomach rides the same elevator as the water inside the well. But what are we if we always run one step behind our fears and never get ahead of them?

 

Here comes the second part of our travelogue about our 5,000-mile road trip through Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. Jump in the car with us and come along as we travel from Thor's Well to a stained-glass beach, to the volcanic crater that hides the deepest lake in the U.S., and then to pitch-black lava trees.

Thor's Well—a dangerous phenomenon in the sea

Thor's Well, sights Highway 101, Oregon, Yachats, Pacific Ocean, USA Northwest
Thor's Well through the eyes of time exposure

"Uuuah!" I exclaim as the next wave rises higher and deeper offshore. Next to me at Thor's Well stands an Asian man with his camera. Asian-calm and composed. But I feel more like I'm about to jump headfirst from a carnival float in Cologne, screaming as I go. Unpredictable, huge waves scare me. Always have. Just like the Sneaker Waves at Reynisfjara Beach in Iceland in March. And these waves seem particularly big and unpredictable.

 

I hold on to my tripod. Breathe. And breathe again.

A wave thunders into the lava rock, pushing a huge boatload of water through the hole. I let go of the tripod and look around. Standing here is not a good idea. Behind us, various cracks, channels, and paths are swiftly filling up due to the rising tide.

I remember the bearded mudflat guide I encountered on a North Sea vacation in 1997: "And then the path was cut off as the tide came in and the tourists all drowned, ho ho ho."

 

The surf is noisy, the ocean spray begins to soak us, and the meager golden sunlight stretches across the sea like cobwebs. "It's so beautiful here," I say to my boyfriend, who keeps his eyes on the ocean of death for me as I take pictures with shaky fingers. "But I want to leave."

After about 20 minutes of rising tides, I fold up my tripod at the same time two other photographers fold their tripods. Even the Asian guy seems decently nervous now. Courage is good. But common sense doesn't hurt either.

 

Thor's Well is located at Cape Perpetua near the town of Yachats in Oregon. Geologists believe the hole began as a lava cave where the ceiling collapsed. The hole is said to be about twenty feet deep. I haven't tested it.

Glass Beach: Beautiful or an environmental sin?

Glass Beach, California, beaches in California, Roadtrip northwest USA
Glass Beach in California - beautiful or a shame?

From Thor's Well, we briefly visit a sea lion cave along Highway 101 and finally end up in California, where oranges grow on trees, and a gallon of gas is as expensive as a small plane (although gasoline is cheap in the USA in general—in Germany, we would have a motorcade through town at these low prices).

 

We are on our way to visit my boyfriend's high school buddy in Northern California. The two of them have known each other since sixth grade (i.e., when the earth was still half covered in ice) and they now live 1,000 miles apart, but they talk regularly on the phone. One big reason for this whole trip is to visit him.

 

On the way to his buddy’s house, however, is Glass Beach. Something I have wanted to see for a long time. A beach made of colorful pieces of sea glass—broken pieces of glass that have been weathered physically and chemically by the sea.

We are forewarned, that over the years, many souvenir hunters have helped themselves to the "sand." By the sacksful. And that's why the beach is not as exciting as it used to be.

It is true, too. First, I'm disappointed, because at first glance, the beach looks almost brown. However, on closer inspection, and especially if you dig with your hands, I find a kaleidoscope of colors in thousands of small pieces of glass. Beautiful!

 

Unfortunately, the origin of the glass is the opposite of beautiful. The glass comes from decades of the city dumping its trash at this spot. The landfill has been closed now for many years and the area cleaned up, but the glass was too small to remove. So, is Glass Beach beautiful or not? And why do we always feel the need to own and take everything for ourselves that we find beautiful. Why do we not simply let it alone for other visitors or generations?

Crater Lake National Park: A blue jewel in a snow storm

Crater Lake National Park, East Rim Drive, June, weather, snow, climate, Oregon
Walking along walls of snow on the East Rim Drive

After a several-day stop at my boyfriend's old school chum's house, really good food, sightseeing, and cozy moments in his big, flower garden, we head back out into the cold. Wait, isn't it the middle of June? What about summer?

 

The mountains can only laugh at that. Crater Lake National Park in Oregon sits at an elevation of nearly 6,200 feet. As we pitch our tent at the nearby Broken Arrow Campground, I have a feeling the place had better be called Broken Weather Campground, because there are snowflakes dancing in the air. After 85 degrees in California. Whew. I stomp to the outhouse wearing gloves and a hat.

At night it goes down to 36 degrees. And when we arrive at the national park, there is a cloud on the crater and all the hiking trails are still covered in snow. Deep snow. I hope we can see the fucking lake at all in this fog!

 

To allow hikers enjoy at least a little bit of fun, the Park Service has cleared part of the East Rim Drive (closed to vehicles due to snow), at the end of which there is supposed to be a spectacular view of Crater Lake. Exclusively for hikers and bicyclists.

We get out of the car. The snow instantly begins to shoot horizontally into our eyes like little pipe needles. Visibility is zero. Great. I consider turning back. But something stops me. What if this is a test of nature? Only those who brave the weather will get the spectacular view?

My boyfriend looks at me questioningly. As he frequently does.

"I want to go there now!" I say firmly. Five miles through biting wind, sleet, and frost. Two and a half miles to get there, and just as many to get back.

Crater Lake National Park, Wizard Island, USA National Parks, Northwest
Crater Lake in all its beauty with sunshine

Again and again, the sun tries to break through the fog. "Well, come on," I say, making wild arm movements. A kind of sun dance, only my feet are too cold to join my arms.

 

When we finally arrive at the promised viewpoint, visibility is still minimal. "I'm going to eat a sandwich and then it'll clear up," I say out loud. My boyfriend thinks I'm completely nutso. On the other hand, he is a bit nutso himself.

And as the last morsel of buttered bread, garnished with the last snowflake, disappears into my mouth, it happens.

The clouds open. The incredibly blue water in the monumental, six mile (!) wide crater shimmers like an ultramarine crystal. In the middle of the lake rises Wizard Island, surrounded by small waves. A young volcano growing anew inside the old crater. Like an island.

The lake is an incomprehensible natural wonder and cannot be grasped either with the eyes or with the camera. Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. The thought that it exists in a volcanic cone rising 1,900 feet above the surrounding area is incredible.

 

It is almost as incredible as the clear sky that suddenly shines over the lake. As we walk back to the car along the path, clouds roll back in to cover the crater. It is as if a window had opened just for us. A window that was only there in that one moment. As a reward for the snow hike. Can it be that things really happen if we wish for them strongly enough and are willing to take on hardships for them?

The Craters of the Moon with lava trees

Craters of the Moon, Idaho, Roadtrip USA Northwest, Lava
So surreal: The Craters of the Moon in Idaho

Talking about Craters: One of our last stops on our road trip is Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. I'm a little cautious with my expectations, because sometimes names are greater than the reality behind them. Craters of the Moon on Earth. That could just be a PR stunt, especially in the USA.

 

Then we enter an area spanning over 1,100 square miles that is practically all black solidified lava. You can still see the direction of flow, broken up volcanic hills that look like destroyed asphalt roads, and small spatter cones from which lumps of lava were once tossed ferociously into the sky.

 

If this isn't the freaking moon on earth, I don't know what is! We try to walk all the available trails at once and each time a new portion of the surreal landscape opens up for us.

Especially impressive in June are the many colorful wildflowers that seem to grow on sheer ash, while my basil plant at home craps out after two weeks despite partial shade, frequent watering, and fresh soil. How do the wildflowers do it?

Lava trees,  Craters of the Moon, Idaho, USA, Roadtrip Northwest
A look into lava trees!

In the afternoon we head into the wilderness portion of Craters of the Moon. An area under special protection where no building, clearing, or grading is allowed. Where nature is simply nature, without human intervention allowed to ruin it.

 

We hike two-and-a-half miles into the wilderness on a long, thin hiking trail. There we discover lava trees! Several black "stone tubes" protruding darkly into huge lava rocks.

Lava trees are formed when flowing, hot lava meets a living tree trunk. The heat causes the water stored in the trunks to turn almost instantly to steam, which slightly cools the surrounding lava so that it begins to harden around the trunk. The tree then burns completely due to the heat, but the lava is left with some sort of shape to it. Isn't our world incredibly awesome?!

 

Find out more about the first part of our trip through the Northwest of the USA with Palouse Falls, Seattle, Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Saint Helens here: Glass Gardens, Snow Avalanches and the Mount St. Helens Eruption - Roadtrip USA Northwest I.

 

More about our month-long camping trip through the southwest of the USA with Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado last year here: Adventure Trip USA 2021.

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