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Crater Lake let-down

Cross-country skiing at Crater Lake National Park usually means enjoying winter views of the sparkling blue lake from snow-covered West Rim Drive.

These aren’t usual times.

The government shutdown created by President Donald Trump means access to Crater Lake, and other national parks, is closed until the stalemate over his demands for $5 billion to create a wall between the U.S. and Mexico is settled.

That's bad news for more than 800,000 government workers, and for people trying to visit and enjoy parks such as Crater Lake. A steady stream of cars, most with out-of-state license plates, recently were parked along Highway 62 near the park's south entrance, their occupants obviously frustrated and surprised at not being able to view the lake.

"Can we see the lake?" was one of the questions repeatedly heard by Crater Lake ranger Chad Hunter, who was inundated with questions from would-be visitors turned away at the barricaded entrance.

"Is this the road to Crater Lake?" a visitor from France asked Hunter, who was shoveling snow in front of barriers and "Road Closed" signs.

The French visitor, like others from around the world — a quick survey found respondents from Japan, Bakersfield, India, British Columbia and, based on license plates, from many other states, were politely told it was four miles to the park visitor center, which remains closed, and nearly eight miles to the rim. Hundreds of people who parked along the highway for a quarter-mile in both directions from the blocked-off entrance decided to walk the plowed road, sometimes just a short ways, other times past the Annie Creek bridge.

The road to park headquarters is being plowed in case of emergencies and for access for employees who live in park housing near headquarters. Rangers such as Hunter are stationed at the closed entrance to prevent would-be visitors from entering, although a FedEx truck was permitted to make a delivery. Pedestrians are allowed to walk the road, which is closed to snowshoers and cross-country skiers.

We came prepared for the closure. But our cross ski toward headquarters was cut short by high roadside snow that would have required plowing through sometimes head-high sections of snow. Instead, after meandering literally cross-country to the Annie Creek bridge, we doubled back, climbed a roadside snow mound and broke trail until reaching the unplowed road that normally provides access to the Annie Creek Campground.

It was worth the effort.

Sometimes we found and followed tracks set by snowshoers, but more often we made our own trail along roads that bisect the campground. It was slow going, but at least we were going. Most of the time the only evidence of prior use were animal tracks punched in the snow by rabbits, squirrels and other critters.

Picnic tables and storage bins at campsites were buried in snow, recognizable only as tall, snowy mounds. During a lunch stop, we dug and dug but never reached the table top. Instead we pounded flat spots that we covered with pads to keep our bottoms dry while munching sandwiches.

We looped through the campground, sometimes enjoying second and third kick-and-glide runs on tracks we’d created. Side trails led to steep-sloped overlooks of Annie Creek Canyon. Sets of well laid snowshoe tracks also sidled alongside the canyon offering dramatic views. It wasn’t like skiing the West Rim Drive with views of Crater Lake’s cobalt blue waters, but with blue skies, a snow-dappled forest and sightings of the canyon, it was enjoyable and beautiful.

As the shutdown continues, thousands of Crater Lake’s visitors are daily driving away disappointed.

We were also disappointed at not seeing Crater Lake. But at least we found another way to enjoy a scenic section of the park that’s normally unseen.

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


Closure details

Crater Lake National Park’s South Entrance, the only way to access the lake during the winter, will remain closed until the federal government shutdown ends.

The park headquarters building, visitor center and restrooms at Munson Valley are closed, as are facilities at Rim Village. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks have been canceled.

The road to park headquarters from Highway 62 is being plowed periodically but is closed to vehicles, though pedestrians can walk the road. The road from headquarters to Rim Village is not being plowed.

Skiers and snowshoers can off-road it to reach areas of the park.

Because of the shutdown, the park’s website at www.nps.gov/crla is not being updated. Park personnel are not available to provide assistance or respond to emergencies. In case of emergencies call 911.

PHOTO BY LEE JUILLERAT A cross-country skier makes her way along the rim overlooking Annie Creek Canyon.
PHOTO BY LEE JUILLERAT Hundreds of frustrated Crater Lake National Park visitors walk along the closed road at the park's south entrance. It's nearly eight uphill miles to the lake.