The national park feature’s naming origins are unknown, but the area’s attractiveness is clear
Plaikni Falls, a classic waterfall, is an easy 1 mile hike in Crater Lake National Park. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Water from Lightning Springs flows gently from its source in Crater Lake National Park. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
The Pinnacles Overlook and Trail offers views of dramatic volcanic activity in Crater Lake National Park. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
Sometimes the timing is right.
We were well-timed to hike into Lightning Springs, a relatively little-visited area just below the West Rim Drive of Crater Lake National Park. That’s because the day friends and hikers chose brought cloudless and bright blue skies.
But two days later, the park was peppered with several hours of rain, thunder, and of course, lightning.
Since then, recent lightning strikes have been blamed for starting a string of blazes along the cascades between Crater Lake and Bend that have closed sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT runs north-south through the park – the riding portion below Rim Drive, the walking portion mostly along the rim. Earlier this week, the Pacific Crest Trail Association asked PCTers to stay off the trails between the park’s northern boundary and Willamette Pass.
The area is historically prone to lightning, but it’s unknown if this is how Lightning Springs got its name.
Research by Steve Mark, Crater Lake’s longtime historian, has uncovered some interesting clues. “There’s not much on the origin of the name, and I’ve checked the various combinations in my placename file,” says Mark, who has spent the past 35 years in the park and checked a variety of sources “all to no avail.”
According to Mark, Frederick Lyle Wynd’s 1928-29 compilation says the origin of the name is unknown. Wynd should know – he was a seasonal Head Park naturalist nearly a century ago. Mark’s research suggests that the United States Geographic Names Board made the Lightning Spring name official in 1933, although “it was showing up on park maps as early as 1911 from what I could find.”
Mark also read the field notes of JD Diller, who participated in the first geological survey of the Crater Lake caldera in 1883. Names for various park locations.
Mark also found a textual reference in George Goodwin’s summary of the 1914 construction season when Goodwin was working as a project engineer for the US Army Corps of Engineers’ road system. In writing about the 1914 building season, Goodwin reported that a temporary road had been built between the “hotel” (Crater Lake Lodge) and Lightning Spring to accommodate Camp #6 and Corral #6 for the following 1915 season.
“This was a camp less than a quarter mile from the source – actually sources, one of the few times where the plural is correct for a name in the park,” reports Mark. He also learned that Goodwin wrote on page 9 of his Crater Lake National Park, Improvement of Roads and Bridges, November 1914, “It is now possible to get a team and a car through to Lightning Spring.”
Similarly, the Crater Lake Institute website says the trail used to be a fire control road.
On other visits to Lightning Springs, I remember seeing a more lush, flower-filled area that was obviously watered by the springs. Instead, this time the water didn’t spurt out of its small 3-foot-diameter rock opening, but more like an open faucet.
Friends and I followed a trail to a nearby area with designated campsites and then hiked cross country to find the trail and rejoin. From the springs it reaches the PCT in about four miles, but we didn’t want to go that far. A usually reliable guidebook says there is a waterfall less than a mile from the springs. There’s a 15-foot “waterfall,” but it’s not the classic type, instead trickling down a narrow bush-lined drop.
Later that day, after stops that included Watchman and Pumice Castle lookouts and the rugged Pinnacles, we hiked to Plaikni Falls. The mostly flat, mile-long trail is one of the busiest trails in the park, and with good reason. Plaikni is a classic 20ft waterfall.
Until 2011, when a trail was built, the little-known area was known as Anderson Falls. After consultation with the Klamath tribes, the park managers renamed it Plaikni, a Klamath word for “from the highlands”.
The name for Plaikni is well known, but based on current weather trends, the name Lightning Springs is strikingly apt.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.