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Unseen beauty: Crater Lake hidden by smoke

Photo by Lee Juillerat"The Dr. Seuss Flower," or pasqueflower, is seen along the Mount Scott Trail.
Photo by Lee JuilleratHikers make their way along the final part of the ridge to the Mount Scott Lookout.

CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK — We’re the lucky ones. Living in Southern Oregon means we can easily make a relatively quick, spontaneous trip to see Crater Lake.

Pity the poor tourists, people from all over the U.S. and world making their once-in-a-lifetime trip to see the cobalt blue waters of Crater Lake, one the clearest lakes in the world. But the ongoing rash of wildfires is sometimes making that dream a nightmare, with thick clouds of smoke obscuring or, sometimes, obliterating views of the lake.

Even the usually awe-inspiring views along Rim Drive have been hidden or restricted because smoke from forest fires throughout far Northern California and Southern Oregon is funneling into Crater Lake National Park.

Last weekend, friends and I hoped sightings of Crater Lake might be better from atop Mount Scott. We were wrong. From the summit and viewpoints along the trail the lake seemingly didn’t exist. Disappointing — you bet. Many of us have been spoiled, with previous hikes up Scott being rewarded with eye-popping views of the water-filled caldera.

Not this time.

The Mount Scott Trail, which begins from a trailhead off Rim Drive, climbs about 1,250-feet to Scott’s 8,945-foot summit in 2.5 miles. Much of the trail winds alongside fir and pine forests before it mostly rises above the tree line and offers expansive, panoramic lake views, especially along the ridge that leads to the summit’s barricaded two-story, stone and wood-framed fire lookout.

Not this time. But the trail has other offerings, other rewards.

The trail moves through stands of lodgepole pine, mountain hemlock, Shasta red fir and five-needled whitebark pines, trees that grow only at elevations above 7,000-feet. Whitebarks are notable for their odd, often tormented shapes and forms, the result of decades of formidable winds and usually deep snowpack. In clumps of whitebarks were Clark’s nutcrackers, noisy, cawing gray and black birds also known as “camp robbers” because they sometimes try to snatch food from unsuspecting hands.

As the trail gains elevation and switchbacks up pumice slopes, the landscape comes colorfully alive with pockets of lupines, daisies, red paintbrush, penstemon and other flowers, including western pasqueflowers.

Pasqueflowers are especially enchanting. Members of the buttercup family, they undergo a startling transition. They appear in the spring in high elevation areas like Crater Lake after the snow melts as creamy white flowers with yellow buttercup centers. But then the transformation begins. By midsummer their seedheads look like balls of white hair, which some described as looking like an upturned mop. Because of their villous, soft, long hairs, pasqueflowers have earned several colorful monikers – Old Man of the Mountain, Mop Top, Tow-Headed Baby, Hippie-on-a-Stick, Muppets of the Mountains.

My favorite nickname for late-stage pasqueflowers, like those found along the Mount Scott Trail, is “The Dr. Seuss Flower.” In the Dr. Seuss book, “The Lorax,” the cartoonish Truffula trees strongly resemble pasqueflowers. It’s believed that because Dr. Seuss, or Theodor Seuss Geisel, lived in mountainous areas where pasqueflowers grow, they served as the model for his Truffula trees in some of his books.

Pasqueflowers also figure in several cultures. According to Dictionary.com, the word pasque is “old French and is derived from Latin and Greek as pascha while “the ultimate source is the Hebrew word for Passover, pesach. The word was applied to these flowers because the common pasqueflower found in Europe bloom in the spring around the time of Passover and Easter.”

There’s more. An ancient legend says pasqueflowers bloom “only in places where the blood of Roman and Dane warriors has soaked deep into the soil. The pasque flower is “also associated with ideas of rebirth, dignity, nobility and grace … In Greek mythology, it’s said the flower came into being after Aphrodite, goddess of love, learned of her partner’s death, and her tears became the pasque.”

It wasn’t until later that I learned about the pasqueflowers remarkable history. During the hike it was fascinating just gazing at the fuzzy-headed flowers.

There was little to gaze at from the summit. The usual wow-inducing views of Crater Lake and Wizard Island and of such distant peaks as Shasta, McLoughlin, Thielsen and Pelican Butte were nonexistent.

But for those of us living in proximity to Crater Lake, there will be a next time, other opportunities to follow the Mount Scott Trail for breathtaking views of the lake — and, along the way, to appreciate sights like Dr. Seuss’s mop-top pasqueflowers.

To reach the Mount Scott Trailhead from the Annie Creek Entrance, follow the signs to Rim Drive. Shortly before reaching the Steel Information Center, turn right on East Rim Drive and continue about 11 miles to the well-signed trailhead and parking lot.

A bit of trivia: The mountain was named for Levi Scott, who in 1844 helped pioneer the Oregon Trail and helped scout the Applegate Trail to Southern Oregon.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.