Crater Lake was once Mount Mazama — that’s right; this lake was once a mountain! It is one of a long line in a range that extends from northern California up through British Columbia; it’s where the earth’scrustal plates collide. Through repeated volcanic eruptions, Mount Mazama grew for some half million years to a height of over 12,000 feet. Throughout this time, glaciers formed and receded.
June 13-16 — It is the bluest and purest lake I have ever seen, and when accompanied by the matching cobalt blue sky as it was when we first saw it… stunning and breathtaking are two words that come to mind, but these don’t fully capture the remarkable beauty that is found here. This is Crater Lake in Crater Lake National Park.
About 7,700 years ago, a most violent eruption began in this mountain with pumice and ash spewing into the air. This rained down and, together with the hot lava, scorched life for some 30 miles in every direction. Steam vents all around Mazama’s peak released gases from the magma chamber far below the earth’s surface; and when hot lava spilled out of and onto the mountain, it could not support its own weight and it collapsed, leaving a great basin where the snow-capped volcano once stood.
This deep caldera filled with centuries of rainwater and snowfall. Because oozing lava sealed the belly and no streams run into the lake, very little sediment clouds this pure water. Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep at its deepest point; it’s the deepest lake in the United States. Precipitation, balanced with evaporation and seepage, keeps the lake level consistent. Off the western shore of the lake, Wizard Island erupted after the lake began to fill, creating another volcano — this one inside the original volcano. It’s very cool! Native Americans were undoubtedly the first to gaze upon the breathtaking beauty of this high mountain lake. Local tribes, through their oral traditions, share stories of what happened here thousands of years ago. Their accounts closely parallel known geologic details, strongly indicating that their tribal ancestors witnessed this cataclysmic eruption. Today this volcanic terrain is a source of power for these indigenous people.
Thousands of years later, European settlers moved west to seek their fortunes. During the late 1800s the lake was discovered and rediscovered several times, and it was given a new name with each “discovery.” While previous names included Blue Lake and Deep Blue Lake, an 1869 exploring party named it Crater Lake and that name stuck.
After his first visit here in 1885, William Gladstone Steel campaigned to protect Crater Lake. Steel dedicated seventeen years of his life and put much of his own personal wealth towards this goal, and finally his work was met with success — in 1902, Crater Lake National Park was created. Fittingly so, the park’s primary Visitor Center is named after Steel, who, in our opinion, is another one of the heroes in our country’s national parks story.
We enjoyed the park primarily by gazing out at the beauty of this legendary blue lake. In some places we could hike on the edge of it. Fred hiked up one of the perimeter peaks to see it, although the big one we wanted to hike was still closed due to snow on the trail. We hiked the mile-long Cleetwood Cove Trail to get down to the lake where we enjoyed watching several brave people jumping off the rocks and into the cold water. Incidentally, only at this time of the year, pine pollen drops and forms what looks like scum and/or pollution on the lake. We were told that it will be around for a few weeks before sinking to the bottom, leaving the lake a pure cobalt blue once again.
We were happy that the 33-mile Rim Drive was fully open so we could drive all the way around the lake, but we were disheartened to learn that the reason for its opening is that while the park normally gets over 500 inches of snow, this year it only saw 194 inches, just 38% of what it should have been. The eastern part of the roadway usually doesn’t open until mid-July, making the “ideal” visiting season here in the park pretty short. Fortunately or unfortunately, we were the benefactors of the light snowfall this year, the road opened early, and we enjoyed taking in different views from the various vantage points around the lake.
As the photos depict, Crater Lake National Park was like no other we have been to thus far. With the 4.5- x 6-mile lake as its centerpiece and focal point, we were seeing blue nearly the whole time we were here, and we thoroughly enjoyed our visit!