We spent the day at Crater Lake (the Lake) which is located about 75 miles southeast from LaPine State Park (where we’re staying). It’s one of those “bucket list” kind of places you need to see (like Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon). It’s truly an awesome site. Since the snow in the region has been slow melting off, the north entrance of the park was closed; so we had to drive into the park from the south entrance. A little bit longer drive but hell, we’re retired; who cares how long it takes to get somewhere!
The Lake was formed after Mount Mazama erupted over 7,700 years ago.
Before Mazama blew its top, the mountain was over 12,000 feet high. The eruption was so large it blew 18 cubic miles of earth into the atmosphere and vaporized nearly every living thing within a 30 mile radius! Now the Lake’s caldera is a little over 7,000 feet high. I always thought that Lake Superior was the deepest since it was so large; but that’s not the case here. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States with a depth of 1,943 feet. Lake Superior…just a measly 1,333 feet deep.
Mount Mazama grew over 400,000 years by repeated eruptions that occurred in the Cascade mountain range which have active volcanos ranging from Northern California to British Columbia. 7 million years ago the Cascade range began to rise as the ocean crust collided with the Pacific continental crust. As the ocean crust encountered the continental crust, it was pushed down into the earth’s mantel where high temperature caused the rock to melt and be pushed up to the earth’s surface. As you can imagine this molten rock had to go somewhere and gradually overtime the Cascade volcano mountain range began to form after many eruptions.
When Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, we got to witness that cataclysmic event but on a very small scale. As noted above, it was nothing compared to the explosion of Mount Mazama. Archeologists have found evidence that early native Americans witnessed the eruption of Mount Mazama. Those people passed the event down through the ages among the tribes story tellers. I imagine many centuries (perhaps millennia) later, the natives were able to travel to this spot and see for themselves what their ancestors told them was true. It wasn’t until the Gold Rush of the 1840s that the Lake was discovered by a mining prospector who just happened to make the 7,000 foot climb up the mountain. The first picture of the lake wasn’t taken until 1873; and in 1886, an effort was made to study and preserve the Lake instead of exploiting it for commercial purposes. It finally became a national park in 1902.
It’s amazing standing on top of the rim and looking out at what was once a magnificent mountain. But what’s more amazing is how the Lake filled up after the mountain collapsed into its huge magma chamber since there are no rivers feeding in to and out of the Lake.
The average snowfall at Crater Lake measures around 43 feet every season. That’s over 500 inches of snow every year! So after centuries of snow and rain (it is in the Pacific Northwest where there’s lots of liquid sunshine most of the time!) the basin of the mountain became full of clear and pristine water which is visible to a depth of 143 feet! The water is so clear that it absorbs the other colors of the spectrum; so when you look at the Lake, it is the truest blue color you’ll ever see! The Lake also maintains its water level by natural forces of precipitation, evaporation and seepage. Other facts about the Lake: It’s 6.02 miles across (at its maximum distance) and holds 4.9 trillion gallons of water. It has 16 hiking trails at the park ranging from easy to strenuous difficulty. It’s also accessible from the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail if you happen to be hiking that 2,659 mile trail from Southern California to the U.S. – Canadian border.
When the rim road around the park is open, you can drive 33 miles around the park in about 2 or 3 hours stopping off at various scenic outlooks and picnic areas throughout the park.
We made it to the visitor’s center to watch the 22 minute video on how the lake was formed and how the Park Service currently protects and manages the Lake. I have to say the park employee that introduced the video could have done standup comedy before becoming a park ranger. He was very good with the audience. After the movie we drove to the Rim Village where we took in our first glimpse of the Lake. Then we drove as far as we could to Discovery Point. From there, we hiked about a mile up the road since no cars were allowed due to snow removal. We never expected to see this much snow by this time of the year.
After our hike, we took our folding chairs and picnicked at a spot on the rim just down from Discovery Point. We stayed at that spot about another hour before leaving with a new adventure under our belts.
We also leave knowing that although it may be a peaceful lake now, the mountain may awaken someday with a new eruptive phase as the geologic processes that built the Cascades Range continues.