Day Four – Crater Lake, Japanese Balloon Bomb Memorial

Before I forget – if you ever find yourself heading up Highway 62 from Shady Cove, Oregon, to the south entrance to Crater Lake, do yourself a favor and stop into Beckies. The hotel owner at the Maple Leaf Motel recommended it to us, and I owe him a favor. Dawn and I had an incredible breakfast there, not to mention a floor show. Just as we were ordering, a man said, “Hey, I forgot my wallet in the truck. I’m going to to go get it. Don’t worry, I’m not skipping out, you can follow me if you want.” He was kind of loud, so all eyes in the little place were on him. We watched through the window as he went to his truck, climbed in, and took off down the road. For a minute, I thought there was a chance they were going to form a posse and go get him, but someone volunteered that he had stayed at the lodge across the street, so they could just charge his credit card.

Of course, in the interim, three people in the restaurant, including us, offered to pay for his meal, so the waitress wouldn’t get stuck with it. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled back into the parking lot, came in, and paid the bill. We’ll never know what his motivations were, but we were grateful for the free show.

We spent the bulk of our day at Crater Lake. If you’re already familiar with how Crater Lake was formed, you can skip the next paragraph. 🙂

Approximately 7,700 years ago (an eye-blink, in geographical terms) Mount Mazama, which was estimated to be 12,000 feet high, had a terrible case of heartburn. It erupted in such a way that it didn’t just blow its top like St. Helens did in 1980, but it caused cracks to form around its entire perimeter. In the matter of just a few hours, the entire mountain collapsed down on itself, forming a huge volcanic depression, or caldera. Over time, that caldera filled with rain and snow runoff, as Crater Lake receives about 44 feet of snow every year.

The local indigenous people, the Klamath Indians, actually have an oral tradition passed down for thousands of years, that commented on the collapse of the volcano and creation of the lake.

Today, it is known as Crater Lake, and has been a National Park, and thus protected, since 1902. That partially explains why it is the pristine ecosystem it is, with crystal clear water that can be seen through at depths over 100 feet. It also explains the incredible blue color of the lake when seen in person.

My friend Jonathan Kelley said something like, “It is the great silencer,” to me, and he is right. The way a perfect melody can fill my heart and soul, my first sight of Crater Lake had  the same effect. Just seeing it was emotional, fulfilling, and a little overwhelming. Here’s a few shots we took today:

IMG_0340If you’ve been here, I hope these pics bring back some happy memories for you. If you’ve never made it there, I hope it inspires you to go. You can spend a lot of time, or just a little at Crater Lake. There is a store, a campground, cabins, and many, many different hiking trails. There is also a 30+ mile drive you can make all the way around, with dozens of different pullouts where you can get different views of the lake. It’s even free to get in through this weekend in celebration of the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary.

One other thing. As we moved around the park, we were happy to hear many different languages being spoken. People obviously come from all over the world to see Crater Lake, and I totally understand.

When we left the park in late afternoon, we were tired, but I wanted to make one stop before we crashed for the night. I prepared for this trip by looking for oddball or overlooked pieces of history that we could explore. One of those was less than 100 miles from Crater Lake, so we made the drive.

During the six month period from late 1944 to April of 1945, the Japanese army launched approximately 9,000 “fire balloons,” using the Pacific jet stream. Their hope was that the bombs would land on the US mainland and cause devastation, perhaps hitting a populated area, or starting a forest fire. For the most part, the balloons were a complete whiff. 300 of them were reported found, but did no harm.

On May 5th, 1945, Archie Mitchell, a minister from Bly, Oregon, took his pregnant wife Elsie, and five Sunday School students for a fishing trip. They found their normal road blocked, so diverted to another. While unpacking the picnic lunch, Mr. Mitchell reported hearing one of the children shout, “Look what I found!”  Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell ran to where they heard the call, but an explosion rocked the quiet morning. Mrs. Mitchell and all five children were killed in the blast of the firebomb, but Mr. Mitchell survived.

Today, there is a memorial that stands in the exact spot where the bomb exploded.


Nearby, there is another monument next to a tree that still shows scarring from the blast.

They were the only deaths in the contiguous United States caused by enemy action during World War II.

It’s a minor footnote in World War II history, but it captured my imagination and I am glad I got to drive to the spot where it happened. I don’t recommend the drive – it is a plain and boring drive, especially the last ten miles of road, which is in terrible shape. It’s obvious that not many people visit the memorial anymore. It’s a story – young minister and wife with five charges, killed by the most random event imaginable – that I can’t get out of my head. I may have to write a story about it at some future date.

By the time we left the Mitchell Memorial, we were exhausted, so we drove to Lakeview, Oregon, and settled down for the night. We got lucky and found a little motel right next to a laundromat. Dirty laundry really adds up for two people on the road!

A few random thoughts that occurred as we drove today:

In Oregon, there is no Self-Serve gas at the pumps. You’ve got to wait for an attendant to come and pump it for you. Personally, I can’t wait to get out of Oregon and away from that law. We’ve waited in line quite a while for an attendant to bless us with their attention. Also, “Full Service” is a thing of the past. We’re lucky to get the tank filled up. Forget about washing the windshield or checking the oil

We’ve driven through a lot of small towns in Eastern Washington and Central Oregon. Many of them don’t appear to have recovered from the Great Recession, as there are a lot of boarded up businesses and not a lot of activity.

Also, it’s been said that if you think you’re smart, try to figure out how to work the shower at a friend’s house. We are going to be on the road for about six weeks, with a different shower every night. I do not think I am smart in any way.

Tomorrow will be a driving day. I expect us to put quite a few miles under our wheels as we leave Oregon and head into Nevada.



  1. Crater Lake is beautiful, but I doubt that I will ever get to that part of the country. We have explored much East of the Mississippi, and some West, but we are stay-at-homers now. Side trips do us just fine. It will be great to share this adventure with you, though. That is very sad about the Mitchell Memorial. I am a history major and even an MA in history and never heard this story before. Thank you for sharing.


  2. Thanks for all the information regarding Crater Lake. I was there many, many years ago as a kid (probably 50 years ago) and it’s amazing how it looks pretty much the same as it did way back then. Even as a child, was was taken aback by the story of how it was formed and by how blue the water was. I even remember the story of Isaac Skeeters who was unaware of Crater Lake, and was on a horse, when all of a sudden, the horse refused to go any further. Frustrated, Isaac dismounted his horse to see what the problem was, and discovered he was dangerously teetering on the rim of Crater Lake. Safe travels!


  3. Thanks so much for doing this, Shawn! This is my favorite kind of stuff to know. Was delighted to find when reading it to my 22 year old daughter this morning that she already knew the story of the Mitchell’s (when I’d never heard about it). She told me she’d read about it many years ago (when she was still quite young) and that many of the makers of those fire ballons were actually young girls;


  4. We’re loving your trip! Thinking of giving up our morning paper as your travels are much more fun and informative. Nothing in the paper anymore but politics. Thanks Shawn for all the interesting side stories.


    • Here’s something funny – as we drive around the country, I talk to a lot of people. No one in person had talked about politics. Not one. We talk about families, where we are going, where We’very been,but I at the end of the conversation, I have no idea of they are liberal, conservative, or in-between. I kind of love that.


  5. Omgoodness, that story of Mr. Mitchell and his family made me cry so hard. I didn’t expect that, although Ray new about it as I read him the story. The photo of Crater Lake is absolutely breathtaking. Have a good day today…❤️


  6. Too bad you didn’t have time to take the boat ride around Crater Lake. It is amazing. Beside seeing it from a different perspective, there’s one place where the water turns from deep, dark blue to BLACK as the boat glides over a huge drop-off hundreds of feet below. Really eerie, goosebump-raising experience.


    • We wanted to, but it was a time issue. There is a pretty massive road construction project going on, including the road to the boats. That meant an extra shuttle ride and turned the two hour boat ride into a five hour time eater. We’ll plan on doing the boats next trip!


  7. Lovely day by the sounds of it. I want to know more about that family. I had never heard of that explosion. My family loves Crater lake area. It is beautiful. Enjoy your travels and be safe!


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