Driving into the Oregon sunrise

Driving into the Oregon sunrise

After enjoying a few gorgeous locations dotting Northern California, I was ready to visit a location I had been wanting to see for many years, Crater Lake. Like most of the rest of my trip thus far, it didn’t turn out the way I expected, and yet it turned out to be more incredible than anything I ever expected… πŸ™‚

So, Crater Lake… Basically the story here is a volcano collapsed into itself, leaving this massive asteroid-free crater at the top of a would-be mountain. The water here during the daytime is ridiculously blue, so blue in fact that people like to accuse photos from this area of being photoshopped. No. It’s ACTUALLY that blue.

One of my favorite pictures from one of my absolute favorite landscape photographers ever, Marc Adamus, was taken here at Crater Lake.

Crater Lake in the Winter by Marc Adamus

Crater Lake in the Winter by Marc Adamus

Marc somehow has the capacity to keep coming back from locations with spectacular light and I was secretly hoping some of his magic would rub off on me. πŸ˜‰

The shot above is a sunrise shot and I wanted to capture one as well, so I drove up the day before to pitch a tent along the rim and get up really early to break camp and hike back out to shoot sunrise.

On the drive up, you actually drive up IN to the bottom of the clouds. It was a remarkable sight unlike anything I’ve seen before. Normally the clouds are way up in the distance, miles over head. Here as you drive, you can actually see the bottom of the closest clouds fast approaching, the clouds on the distant horizon staying relatively constant. You can see the perspective shift between near and far and you can tell you’re about to punch up into the clouds. As you go in, everything goes dark, foggy, cloudy, and dark. Magical.

When I got to the area, it was still very cloudy, and the sunset over the rim I had my fingers crossed for left something to be desired. I snapped a pic anyways, both because, well, I could and just in case I wouldn’t be able to do so later. Again, turns out to have been a great decision. This was the only shot of the lake I would actually be able to get. You’ll see why in a sec… πŸ™‚

Looking down into Crater Lake before sunset

Looking down into Crater Lake before sunset

Okay cool, got a shot for reference. As the sun continues to set, let’s start driving further around the rim towards the left to head over to the famous lookout that people often shoot from, The Watchman.

As I drive, the clouds start turning into fog and the fog starts getting thicker and thicker. Driving north up the left side of the rim, the lake is now to my right and the sun is setting off to my left. I see a few cars pulled off as the firey sun continues to descend in the western sky and I pull off as well, eager to capture the beauty that is rapidly unfolding before my very eyes.

One shot isn’t enough to capture the magic that was developing. Here’s a timelapse I put together of the view west towards the sun with the lake to our back.

Pretty incredible, no?

As the sun continued to get closer and closer to the horizon, the fog that was rolling in only got thicker. It was at about this time that we all started to pack up, thinking the show was over, but something in my head kept saying to not leave just yet. Afterall, some of the greatest photos are taken before sunrise or after sunset, not necessarily when the sun is still in the sky. Wait. Don’t go yet.

Just then as the sun was about to dip down below the horizon, something happened in front of me that made me start to jump and scream and celebrate and cheer in sheerΒ ecstasy, a sight I’d never seen before… I quickly ran up to the other cars as my new photographer friends were packing up shouting, “Stop! Stop! Come check this out!” as I eagerly pointed back towards the sunset, grabbed my camera gear, and ran back over to start shooting.

Incredible firey foggy sunset from the rim of Crater Lake

Incredible firey foggy sunset from the rim of Crater Lake

The trees and rocks below were on fire with this gorgeous red-orange glow, a sight unlike anything I’d ever seen nature display to me before. The land I was standing on was a bit too much in the way to see the bright colors nearly straight down, so I actually started to carefully make my way down the slope of the mountain, pining for a better view and pleased to find this overlook.

This view lasted maybe two minutes at most, if that, as the fog in the distance continued to twist and roll over the treetops, the magical light dancing across the leaves and through the wonderfully placed opening in the fog, onto the mountainside below us.

I can only hope the photos I’m shooting capture but a fraction of the magic that is unfolding before my eyes.

As the lightshow finally faded and came to a close, we were all in shock, laughing in awe of what we just saw. “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” I asked one of my fellow photographers. “No,” he responded, shaking his head and smiling, “never.”

With the fog growing thicker, I decided it was time to go head off and find a place to set up camp. Driving up to the backcountry trailhead suggested by the ranger, I stopped to take another quick look at the lake. The near side of Wizard Island was just barely visible, the far side of the rim completely obscured in the thickening fog.

Wizard Island through the fog after sunset

Wizard Island through the fog after sunset

To camp in the wilderness, you’re supposed to hike at least a mile away from the road and a quarter mile away from the trail. General backcountry rules. After getting my tent set up and getting a few hours of sleep, my alarm woke me up about two hours before sunrise. Hopefully enough time to get a few winks of sleep, wake back up, hopefully get ungroggy (is that a word?), break down the tent, pack up, hike back out to the car, drive over to The Watchman overlook, and hike down the inside of the rim a bit to what’s supposed to be one of the best places to see sunrise from.

Well, I woke up nice and early, basically inside a wet cloud. If you’ve never been inside a swirling cloud before, it’s an amazing experience. It’s not exactly the same thing as being in airy coastal fog. No no, this is like being inside rain that comes at you from most any direction. It’s raining, but it’s not actually going down. It’s raining because you’re inside a rain cloud! The ground is wet, not because rain is falling down upon it, but because it happens to be inside a cloud. A fantastic, other-worldly experience!

I hike back out, toss my tent into the back of my car (I think I’ll have to packing the homey tent and protective rainfly differently into the stuff sack in order to keep the tent dry throughout rainy excursions), and I drive over to the lookout area through the fog.

Waiting for sunrise atop the foggy rim of Crater Lake

Waiting for sunrise atop the foggy rim of Crater Lake

It’s SO nice having a car with foglights, and a chance to finally use them for real! They really do help when you can barely see the road ahead of you. πŸ˜‰

These shots (both above and below) were taken from a scenic parking lot. In the background of both these shots would otherwise be a view of the lake in the crater.

Looking down into the Crater Lake from the foggy rim before sunrise

Looking down into Crater Lake from the foggy rim before sunrise

Can you see the island? No? Me neither. πŸ˜€

In this weather, I opt against the hike down into the crater to get a better view. Is the fog going to go away in time for sunrise, giving me another unexpected treat like I had the night before for sunset?

Well as I’m sitting in my car, about 10-15 min before sunrise I get the feeling that I should go ahead and leave. “What? Now? After coming this far? I’m not gonna wait for sunrise?”

Inside of me I feel a sort of smile, a wink, and a sign to go ahead and go.

Alright, let’s do it. So starting the car back up, I take off and drive down away from the rim.

As I leave the mountain, I’m sorta scratching my head, wondering what my intuition has in store for me when I turn and start heading east down a stretch of highway where I’m greeted by the following view.

Driving into the Oregon sunrise

Driving into the Oregon sunrise

Pull-out! Now!! Sure enough, there was one directly ahead. Perfect! Thank you!

I grab my telephoto, look forward and look back, and again say thank you for there being a perfectly timed gap in the cars, easily enough for me to run out in the middle of the highway and snap a few shots without being flattened. πŸ˜‰

Wow. Awesome. So cool… Definitely one of my favorite shots of the trip thus far… and it wasn’t even from the mountain! πŸ˜€

This is why I love life on the road. I mean, it’s just amazing…

So I continue driving eastbound, north of the mountain, and eventually turn northward, heading up through the state. Crater Lake lies down in southern Oregon and I was ready to put some miles behind me and get up into Washington.

The drive up through the state was absolutely magical. I didn’t take the coastal route, as awesome as that would be too (maybe next time!), and I also made a point to take the more scenic mountain roads instead. Even though it’s a bit more expensive to not take the highway (gotta go out of the way, you drive more miles with all the twists and turns, and gas stations are more expensive out there), it was definitely a great idea. Driving north from Crater Lake you go north on 97 through the Deschutes National Forest. Again, one of my favorite places on earth. Fog, forests, trees, clouds, weather… unspeakable inexplicable beauty… I drove though there in absolute awe.

I didn’t stop in this area for pictures, though I did happen to snap a few after leaving this area. Where I randomly pulled off to help, um, water the plants along the side of the highway πŸ˜‰ πŸ˜€ was also quite beautiful.

Driving through the foggy forresty Oregon mountains

Driving through the foggy forresty Oregon mountains

Again, this was nothing compared to what I had just drive through. It’s but a sliver compared to the majesty in the national forest. Nevertheless, on the side of the road was some wonderful rainforesty plantlife that was a thrill to go run through and romp around in.

Lush green plantlife alongside the highway

Lush green plantlife alongside the highway

Yeah, this was literally my view on the side of the road there. This sort of rich beauty is what I found gracing all of inner Oregon outside the bigger cities.

As I continued driving north, I stopped in Portland for some gas, to visit the REI there (no sales tax in Oregon! woohoo!!), and also to get a haircut. Turns out the barber I met was also eagerly wanting to go to Alaska and so we had fun trading stories about what we’d heard. I gotta admit, the guy was really weird though… Apparently, as he explained, Portland is known for being weird. Heck, there’s even a common bumper sticker in the area that reads “Keep Portland Weird!”

Oh, speaking of weird, I found out that Oregon is only one of the two states in the US that has mandatory full service gas stations. You’re required, by law, to have a gas station attendant pump your gas for you. I tried doing it at first, only to find out that that’s a $1,000 fine if you’re caught. Yikes!!

Long story short, it used to be the law all across the US that gas stations were full-service. Later on, it opened up so that states could vote on what they wanted and today all but two states have voted to make self-service gas stations the norm. Only in Oregon and New Jersey are full-service gas stations still the way of the day. I hear that one of the reasons for this is that unemployment in the state is pretty high and this is an easy way to provide jobs. Another reason was that a politician’s son was injured pumping gas or something, and so they’ve continued to make it a “professionals only” job or something. πŸ˜‰ I dunno… Anyone know for sure?

In any event, Oregon is definitely awesome. I’d love to go back and explore more of it. The interior, the national forests, the coastal regions, and so on.

As I would later find out, the Oregon coast is actually more beautiful than the Washington coast. Heck, people from up in Washington often come down to Oregon to play on their coast, even though they have a coast of their own!

But yeah, after this run through Oregon, I would be heading into Washington for yet another unbelievable sunset. The Pacific Northwest, although I’d never really thought about it before, was quickly turning into one of my favorite places on earth!

(and yeah, I know I say this a lot, but this place definitely counts as well! Go PNW!)


  1. Akemi
    on September 12th, 2010

    You are in Oregon? Hey, I’m in Eugene. If you have time, let’s get together!

    Spectacular photos. I haven’t been to Crater Lake — in fact, I just googled exactly where it is.

    And I had to laugh about the gas station thing πŸ™‚ When I first visited Oregon, I messed up with it…


  2. lunajune
    on September 23rd, 2010

    My friend and I drove from Toronto Canada through the midwest to San Fran up the coast to Canada and back in 1 month…every back road along the way… so many of these shots reminded me of that amazing trip… driving into the sunset daily.. stopping and eating of giant boulders sitting in small streams.. strolling in tiny towns…and meeting people along the way.
    Thanks for the memories.. looks like you too had a fabulous time

  3. Afshan
    on December 12th, 2010

    Hey Ariel !

    your photography is just heart throbbing..Planning to visit US early 2011.
    Would be really great if I could get some company of yours.
    We’ll do some photo work together.
    Delhi, India

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