07-12-2021 Camping in a Caldera at East Lake Part 1

When we returned from our little day trip kayak, I realized that half the month was nearly over.  If we were to keep our personal commitment to taking the MoHo out at least once every month, I needed to find a someplace to camp.  With so many people on the road, it is necessary to have a reservation at just about any campground within driving distance.  I am sure there are places to camp along a creek somewhere, or in the mountains and in the forest without a reservation.  For us, however, a lake with good kayaking is top on our list for summer camping.

I started searching all the National Forest and State Park campgrounds that might be a good destination.  Many of the lakes on the west side of the Cascades are reservoirs.  Thanks to the drought, many of those lakes are extremely low. 

Howard Prairie, where we have camped in the past, is at 5 percent capacity, with Hyatt Lake 3 percent.  Even Fish Lake where we camped and kayaked last summer is only 21 percent full.  I thought about trying to go to Medicine Lake, without a reservation, but at this time of the year we couldn’t be sure of getting a decent site that wouldn’t be too far from the water to make kayaking reasonably effortless.  I then remembered sweet camping times we have enjoyed at East Lake in the Newberry Crater National Monument east of LaPine. Our previous visits were wonderful, with no problem snagging a first come first served site right on the lake.  This time was different.  Checking the Deschutes National Forest reservation page, I discovered that every single campsite at East Lake and the other campgrounds in the area were reserved all the way through August.  Sites in September and October that didn’t have a big R for reserved had a big XX indicating that they could not be reserved until a date two weeks prior to the desired reservation date.

The red circle in the photo above is our site 24.

I gave up and thought maybe we could try to get there in late September.  But as I was looking around, suddenly I saw three big A’s, meaning a site was available.  It was only one site, number 24, and was open for July 12, 13, and 14.  Two days away.  Could we make arrangements to leave that quickly?  Why not.  It was either that or giving up the idea of camping in July on a lake. 

Just now, as I am writing this blog post, I checked the reservation site once again, and discovered that there are more cancellations and a few sites are actually available through July and August.  Interesting.  Maybe folks are afraid of the smoke and the fires and are cancelling their reservations.  The forester told me that our site 24 was a cancellation so we were lucky.

We arrived at our reserved site at East Lake Campground around 2 in the afternoon.  We were delighted to discover a spacious campground with well spaced sites and a nice view even from our site in the third row back from the lakefront.

After settling in we took a short hike with Mattie to check out the beach trail toward the east side of the lake.

The afternoon stretched into a lovely evening.  Temperatures were in the low 80s which felt wonderful after our triple digit days back home in Grants Pass.  We searched unsuccessfully for posted rules and drove back to the Newberry Crater visitor center to find a ranger.  She informed us that there was a complete ban on campfires and that we could use our generator between the hours of 8am and 10pm.  Good to know.  We did miss having our evening campfires, but with the fire danger being so extreme it was a small price to pay for safety.

The next morning dawned clear and beautiful with a temperature of 44 degrees F.  The lake was still as glass.  Our first launch from the campground beach was easy.  We kayaked to the east, toward the East Lake Resort. 

I wanted to check out the hot springs along the shoreline, and was saddened to see that with the low water, the springs were almost completely dried up.  In spite of rules to the contrary, people had been digging around the spring to attempt to reach the hot water.  The last time we camped at East Lake I loved kayaking to the spring for a nice soak.

We followed the eastern shoreline, past the East Lake Resort, and the Cinder Campground toward the cliffs on the northern side of the lake.  We saw a couple of ospreys on the trees along the cliffs, and an eagle soared out over the lake as we watched.  With only the phone on board for photos, I snapped a few shots to prove we saw them, but none of them were good enough to post here.

Continuing toward the western shore, I disembarked for a short break.  By the time I got back in the kayak, the winds were picking up and in moments the lake turned rough and choppy.  The half hour pull back toward the campground was a good workout.

Once back to our camp, we cooked a good breakfast and relaxed a bit with coffee and the lake view.  The skies were fairly clear with smoke from the Oregon fires blowing away from us toward the east.  It was a perfect day to explore the road to the highest point in the Caldera at Paulina Peak.

The road up the mountain is paved for the first quarter mile or so and then turns to gravel with some serious washboards on the uphill side of the road.  Traffic wasn’t terribly bad and even though the road is marked as a one lane road, there was plenty of room to pull over and allow cars to pass.  Most folks were careful about waiting at wide spots for cars going in opposite direction.

When we got to the top, the parking area was almost full.  There was a ranger explaining to folks about a fire near LaPine that had started just 10 minutes prior to our arrival. He said it was obvious that they were “on it”, because the smoke was white indicating steam from water rather than black indicating burning material. As we observed the fire throughout the rest of our visit, I did observe some black smoke on the southeast side of the fire.

The skies were clear enough that we could see the Three Sisters toward the northwest.  The views toward the two lakes that are the jewels of the Newberry Crater were spectacular. 

The smoke toward the east was a bit thicker, but we could still see the distinctive shape of Fort Rock in the distance.  Fort Rock is that tiny dark circle which can be seen in the picture below just to the right of the sign and below the distant hills.

After short hikes to the viewpoints at the summit we returned to an empty parking lot.  There weren’t many cars coming up the road as we descended and for that we were grateful.

Our plans for the next day included a hike in the Big Obsidian Flow, visible from Paulina Peak.  The swirling flow of the cooled lava is fascinating to look on from above.  Home to camp tired and happy, we settled in for the afternoon to enjoy the breezes, take a nap, play some cards and have a yummy hamburger supper.

Tomorrow we have two hikes planned and of course an early morning kayak.