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Day Four: Medford

Miles Ridden: 193.5


 

 

I'm up and at 'em. I'm spending a second night here at the hotel in Medford, and that means that I don't have to pack up all of my gear and load the bike. I can leave my luggage in my room, and travel light, just carrying what I need for the day. I enjoy the hot breakfast in the hotel's lounge, using the time to study my maps and plan my ride. It's funny -- when I'm at home, I'm addicted to the daily newspaper. I feel like I can't really start my day until I've digested the news of the day. When I'm on the road, I couldn't care less. I completely disconnect from the rest of the world, and immerse myself in my travels.

Today, I'm going to spend the day discovering one of our country's great natural wonders: Crater Lake National Park. I'm going to ride up to the north entry of the park, and then ride toward the lake from that direction, which is supposed to be the most stunning approach. Even though it's going to be close to 100 degrees in Medford today, there's a chance that it will be foggy and cold at Crater Lake, just 75 miles away. There's no guarantee that all of the roads will be passable in July, as there may still be snow. I've got my fingers crossed for a clear day.

I ride out of Medford on OR-62 (Crater Lake Highway), through the towns of White City and Eagle Point. Each little village along the way offers the opportunity to float along the Rogue River in an inner tube, or to raft this calm part of the river. Lots of people seem to be enjoying the respite from the heat of the day. It looks like fun.

I stop to take some pictures at Rogue Gorge, a beautiful bend in the river where the water has carved a passage through a canyon of rock. The rushing water is calming and impressive at the same time. I meet a couple of other motorcyclists while I'm taking my break. They're riding dual sport bikes, and covering a lot of distance today, enroute from Ashland to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. They're stopping at Crater Lake on the way, unable to resist a chance to see the park on a clear day.

I turn onto OR-230, which will take me along the western border of the park on my way up to the northern entrance. Twenty-four miles later, I turn right on OR-138 and 4.5 miles later I'm passing through the north entrance of Crater Lake National Park. I pay the $5.00 seven day use fee -- it's $5.00 per person on a motorcycle, or $10.00 for a car load, which doesn't seem quite fair to me, but I don't make a fuss.

I follow the signs toward Crater Lake. A meandering, 20 mph road winds through the park, gently gaining altitude as I travel. After a few minutes, I realize that the hills around me have patches of snow on them. The further I travel, the more snow I encounter. I have trouble believing what I'm seeing, because it is really hot outside. I park my bike by the side of the road, dismount and go to touch the white stuff. It is actually snow, and it's thick and cold. I get back on the bike, and continue following the road.

I crest a hill, and come to a small parking lot on the left side of the road. Beyond the road lies Crater Lake.

The lake takes my breath away. Other visitors, total strangers, park next to me, and gasp in disbelief. We all look at each other to confirm that what we're seeing is real.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. It is so deep, 1,943 feet at its deepest and an average of over 1,100 feet deep in fact, that its water is an otherworldly shade of blue. Back in the days of film photography, Kodak labs was known to return developed film to customers with an apology -- they couldn't understand how their color film was turning up with such an unbelievable shade of blue, and they were sure that a flaw in the film or their processing was causing the results. That's how blue Crater Lake is in person.

Crater Lake isn't actually a crater -- it's a caldera, the result of a violent volcanic eruption that happened over 7,000 years ago. The lake is fed by snow and rainfall, and the waters are depleted by evaporation. There's no river in or out, so Crater Lake is almost a closed ecosystem. As a result, the water is pure and clean. The only fish in the lake were introduced by man, as the lake was stocked from the late 1880s until 1941.

After taking countless photographs of the lake, I climb back aboard and roll around the western edge of the lake up to Crater Lake Village, a small collection of buildings housing a gift shop, cafe and bathrooms. Families romp in the snow -- everybody's seems surprised to discover snow banks in the heat, and they have a blast having snowball fights. I dodge a few missiles, then duck into the cafe for some hydration, and a turn around the gift shop looking for refrigerator magnets.

Back on the bike, I continue to follow the shoreline. I'm hoping to circumnavigate the lake, but I discover that Rim Drive, the road around the southern end of the lake is still closed due to snow. In July. Wow. So, I follow Munson Valley Road south to Crater Lake Highway, exiting the park and heading back toward Medford. It's about 65 miles from the south entrance of the park back to the Best Western, a beautiful ride that I'll be able to enjoy, cruising back along the Rogue River and Crater Lake Highway.

I return to the Best Western Horizon Inn, and once again take an early evening swim in the outdoor pool. It can certainly get hot in Oregon.

I dry off, shower, get dressed and jump back on the bike for a short ride through Medford. A mile or so from the hotel, I stop at the flagship store for the mail order grocer, Harry & David. Harry & David was founded in Medford in 1934, and they are now a major gourmet food maker and distributor, with their famous Fruit-of-the-Month Club taking center stage. The company offers four daily tours of its factory for a fee of $5 each. I'm too late for a tour today -- they take place at 9:15 am, 10:30 am, 12:30 pm and 1:45 pm each day -- but I do take a quick spin around the company store, which is bursting with delicious food and produce, and plenty of free samples.

I ride in to downtown Medford for dinner. I park in front of the restored Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, a beautiful 1924 facility that seats 732. The theater operates as a non-profit community performance space that presents productions by local groups, as well as hosting professional productions and major acts for short runs. Big names like George Thorogood & The Destroyers, Weird Al Yankovic, Wayne Brady and Brian Regan are scheduled to appear this fall, interspersed with performances by the Teen Musical Theater of Oregon, Next Stage Repertory Company and the Rogue Valley Symphony. The theater is named for Ginger Rogers because she performed on its stage back in 1926 (early in her career), and owned homes in the area from 1940 until her death in 1995. Ms. Rogers appeared onstage at her namesake theater in 1993 at a benefit performance celebrating the theater's rebirth.

I take a short walk down Central Avenue to 38 Central, an elegant restaurant and wine bar housed in a historic storefront. I enjoy a beautifully prepared meal of gazpacho and chicken with chickpeas from the restaurant's menu of "American Classics." It's a meal that would stand up proudly against fine dining in any major city. It's a real find in downtown Medford, Oregon.

Back at the hotel room, I go to sleep eager to hit the road again tomorrow. I've enjoyed staying in Medford for two days -- there's so much to see and do around here that I'm sure I could stay for a week and never get bored. But I'm a ramblin' guy. Tomorrow I ride.

NEXT: DAY FIVE: MEDFORD TO GRANTS PASS

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Best Western Hotels Along the Way:

Best Western Horizon Inn

1154 E Barnett Road, Medford OR 97504-8221
Phone: +1 541-779-5085  |  Fax: (541) 772-6878  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

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