Surreal Crater Lake

I drove back down to Crater Lake National Park this morning, which is about 2 hours south of Bend.  As I drove west from Route 97 towards the north entrance to the Park I saw the unmistakable white smoke from the Spruce Lake wildfire, currently burning just west of the Park.  There was also a very strong wood-burning odor which is pleasing when it is coming from your fireplace but not as a result of a wildfire.  I was still 12 miles from the entrance and was afraid this was not a good sign for my photography plans for the morning.

After going through the entrance the smoke almost completely cleared for about 5 miles (nature works in mysterious ways).  When I got to Rim Drive the air was still pretty clear and I was encouraged that maybe visibility on the lake itself would not be too bad.  Well, this is what I saw when I parked the car and walked up to the edge of the caldera.

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I arrived at 830 local time.  By about 930 it looked like the smoke was trying to clear and the wind was now pushing the smoke from the fire north instead of east.  Well, about an hour later the wind shifted again and the smoke started building over the lake once more.  I stuck around until noon and decided to bag it for the day.

I did continue to take photos while I was there and may post more at a future date after I’ve had time to review them.

Spruce Lake Fire

 

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(Photo credit: Richard Parrish/Bureau of Land Management)

Tuesday night I posted a photo I had taken of this wildfire as I drove around West Rim Drive shortly after I arrived here.  This fire started a week ago and is 6 miles west of the Park.  On Tuesday it was listed as involving only 130 acres.  Well, two days later it has grown to 2,425 acres and is still only 5% contained.  It is heading east and may encroach upon the western parts of the Park before they can get it under control.

Visibility was seriously reduced today by the smoke from this specific fire.  I feel bad for the visitors who will only be here for a short time or who have campsite reservations.  Many of the trails on the west side of the Park are closed and I’m sure that list will grow.

Phantom Ship Redux

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The main reason I came back to Crater Lake today was to take pictures from the north and east parts of the rim with the sun behind me.  Well, obviously the smoke thwarted that effort.  Although the smoke tried to lift briefly the wind shifted around 1030 and it started coming over the lake again.  I did get back down to the southeast part of the lake before the smoke completely obliterated the sun.

The picture I posted on Tuesday was taken in the afternoon so this was backlit by the sun.  This photo shows come of the contours and trees on this tiny island.  Unfortunately it isn’t as clear as it would have been without the haze from the smoke.

Klamath Falls, Oregon

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(Photo credit: JRCompton.com)

After I left Crater Lake I drove east, then south to Klamath Falls.  My main reason for going there was to have my tires rotated at a tire store chain which is popular in the western part of the country.  But as I learned from the AAA travel guide for Oregon, Klamath Falls is known for two unusual things.

First, it is one of the homes to the American White Pelican.  I didn’t actually see any during my brief stay (I drove past Upper Klamath Lake, which is north of town and is probably where they hang out) so I went online and found this photo.

Second, the town sits on an underground bounty of geothermally heated water which is used to help heat homes, schools, businesses, etc.  It is also used to help melt snow and ice from sidewalks, steps and the Esplanade Street Bridge in the winter.  What a great way to utilize a natural resource!

If you get to California you’ve gone too far…

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Oops.

No, this was actually part of my route for the day.  After leaving Crater Lake and stopping in Klamath Falls to have my tires rotated, there was a triangle of scenic roads (97/161/39) south of the city which briefly took me in to northern California.  A few hundred feet after crossing the state line I turned left on Route 161 which took me about 20 miles east (it is actually called State Line Road).  To the south of that road was Upper Klamath Wildlife Reserve, a small portion of which is seen below.  Once I reached the little town of Merrill I turned left again and headed back to Klamath Falls.

The only wildlife I saw were geese, but at this point it was 100 degrees (literally) and if the wildlife were smart they were hunkered down in the tall green grass or in the water.

And I must apologize to California.  On Tuesday I presumed that the smoke I was seeing after I left Crater Lake and drove east was coming from wildfires in California.  As Donald Trump liked to say during the presidential debates – Wrong.  I heard on the radio this morning as I drove down to Crater Lake that most of the smoke currently hovering over Oregon, if not from Oregon fires themselves, is actually coming down from British Columbia, Canada!  They have lost over a million acres to fire so far this year, which is unprecedented for this early in the summer.  I heard on the radio about two weeks ago that firefighters from Australia (where it is currently winter) were coming up to the United States and Canada to assist in firefighting efforts up here.

Crescent Fire

As I was driving back north to Bend and was approaching the little town of Crescent, which is about 45 miles south of Bend, I noticed two small airplanes flying VERY low above the trees to the right of the highway.  I knew I had seen a small airport the days I drove south on Route 97 but couldn’t remember exactly where it was.  Then I saw the smoke…

A fire flared up around 4 o’clock just east of the highway.  Shortly after seeing the two small private planes I saw a larger red and white propeller driven airplane with the unmistakable red and white markings of the US Forest Service.  Shortly after that, here came the small jet (small for a jet, but bigger than the prop plane).  It was going to drop orange fire retardant on the fire.  Soon after that here came an even bigger prop plane, also there to drop retardant.  They fly incredibly low when dropping their cargo to be sure they hit their target.

Then there were the helicopters.  I first saw the green one going left over the highway to a nearby lake to refill it’s water bucket.  I tried to find the lake so I could take pictures of it hovering there.  Not knowing the local lay of the land I went to the wrong lake.  The one he was using was actually much closer to the highway (just behind a roadside house, in fact).  After waiting a few minutes with no helicopter I went back out towards the highway and parked in an area where some of the local residents had gathered.

I spoke with a woman who lives about a quarter mile from the fire.  She said they already suspect it was arson.  There is an underground gas pipeline located near the fire which they hope doesn’t become a factor.  She told me which lake they were probably drawing water from so I drive about a quarter mile up Route 97 and parked my car.

As I waited for the green helicopter to come and refill here came an even bigger yellow helicopter.  As soon as one headed back to the fire (only about 3 miles away) the other one arrived to fill up.  I have some great video of each of them approaching, hovering over the lake (well, you can hear them but my view was obstructed by trees) and then fly back to the fire scene.

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These are photos I took of the two huge Sikorsky helicopters being used to fight the 3 hours-old Crescent Fire, about 45 miles south of Bend, Oregon.  The top and bottom photos show the helicopters returning to a nearby lake to refill the large (probably as much as 600 gallon) water buckets which were hanging below the aircraft.  The middle photo is of the green helicopter hovering over the lake.  I imagine the helicopters are made even more difficult to fly and maneuver when there is a 600 gallon of water pendulum swinging underneath it!

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I stayed in Crescent for about an hour.  By this time it was getting close to sunset and the helicopters left for their home base.  The two big planes made about 3 passes each and then went back to base to refill.  I presume they’ll be back tomorrow, if needed.

I surmise that the red and white prop plane was there to survey the property surrounding the fire and advise all the pilots where houses and other buildings were, give exact GPS coordinates of the fire, observe and report any potential obstacles (power lines, etc) and so on.  It made multiple passes over the area while I was there.

I’m not sure what the two private planes were doing.  One may have been serving as a sort of air traffic controller in the sky to coordinate all the various aircraft in the area.  I presume (and would hope) that airspace over and near an active fire is quickly considered restricted airspace to keep private aircraft out and protect the pilots and aircraft actually fighting the fire.

There was a lot of activity in the hour that I was there and I must say I was incredibly impressed how quickly all the various aircraft were on scene to assist in controlling the fire, which had only started 3 hours earlier.  I may go down that way tomorrow morning, although given the proximity to the highway I wouldn’t be surprised if Route 97 is closed in that area and there are detours.

I’m hearing that other fires in the area are growing very rapidly.  I’ve learned that the brown smoke I saw coming home from the Mt. Hood area on Wednesday was caused by a 4,600 acre fire burning west of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, which I drove through going to and from Mt. Hood.