Crater Lake History


Did you know what the deepest lake in the United States is?  Crater Lake!  It is also the ninth deepest lake in the world, and contains some of the world’s clearest waters.  And we were lucky enough to visit again in August!

Crater Lake National Park was the fifth National Park to be named, on May 22, 1902, by Congress and Theodore Roosevelt.  Although it was one of the earliest parks, that was thanks to the perseverance of William Gladstone Steel, who had been lobbying Congress to create the park since 1870!

Steel first learned about Crater Lake in1870 and was immediately enthralled, but it took another 15 years before he had the chance to visit.  He participated in many of the scientific experiments in the 1880s that established Crater Lake as the deepest in the U.S., and documented its exceptional clarity.  Steel also was integral to the building on Crater Lake Lodge, which was completed in 1915, and the Rim Drive, which is a 33 mile drive around the entire rim of the lake, which was completed in 1918.

Of course, the Native Americans in the area, belonging to the Klamath tribe, have known about Crater Lake for thousands of years.  In fact, their oral tradition includes stories of the eruption that blew the top off of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago, and created Crater Lake in the caldera that was formed.  According to their tradition, two Chiefs, Llao, of the Below World, and Skell, of the Above World fought each other in a battle.

Crater Lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trail

Crater Lake from the Cleetwood Cove Trail

Llao had visited the top of Mount Mazama, and on one visit, had seen Loha, the daughter of a Klamath Chief.  When she rejected him because he was ugly (aren’t these stories always about unrequited love?) Llao rained fire onto the Klamath people.  They appealed to Skell for help, and that’s when the trouble really got going.

After a fierce battle, Skell defeated Llao and drove him back into the underworld, and covered the hole with the top of Mount Mazama, and then to ensure he wouldn’t get out again, covered it with a dark pit of water that still exists today.

Gold prospectors “discovered” the lake while out searching for gold in 1853.  However, they didn’t find any gold there, so the find wasn’t all that momentous.  But eventually, Crater Lake attracted enough attention that the media wrote about it, and William Gladstone Steel began his quest to get Crater Lake designated as a National Park.

I have written about Crater Lake before; it is the one place (at least so far) where I have felt so overcome by a sense of peace and tranquility even when surrounded by people.  It just has that effect on me.  There are many peaceful places, but peace within a crowd of people is scarce.  Surprisingly, Crater Lake isn’t a hugely visited park; annual attendance in 2012 was 447,251.  I have such a hard time understanding why more people don’t want to go!

Part of this low attendance is because of the fact that snow covers the area for a full eight months of the year; the park is open all year but has limited accessibility outside of the June to early October summer window.  Only about 100,000 people visit outside of the summer season.  You have to be pretty determined to visit in the winter; the record year for snow came in 1950, with 903 inches of snow!

And the tranquility I felt when gazing at the lake?  I think that’s in part due to the sapphire blue color of the lake itself.  The stunning blue is caused by its depth, and the fact that the water is so clear.

Crater Lake from the Boat Tour

Crater Lake from the Boat Tour

A secchi disk (an 8″ black and white disk that is dropped to measure clarity) was still visible at 139 feet below the surface of the lake!  The water is so clear because there are no rivers or streams pouring sediment into the lake.  The only water coming in is rain and snow melt.  And the porous volcanic soil allows the snow melt to run down into the lake without taking much sediment with it.

I was so excited that we got to visit again, and this time, we were going to take the boat tour around the lake!

Have you been to Crater Lake?  Did you do the boat tour?

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7 thoughts on “Crater Lake History

  1. A couple years ago my aunt and uncle planned a visit to Crater Lake with a group of friends and one couple backed out on them at the last minute so they invited us to take the extra cabin they’d reserved. My husband couldn’t get away so it was just me and the boys (5 and 7 at the time). We didn’t hike down to the lake or do the boat tour because I wasn’t sure the boys could handle it, but my aunt and uncle did. I know what you mean about the peacefulness, though I think I described it as eerie. What amazed me was how suddenly the lake seems to appear. One minute you’re on a winding tree-lined mountain road, and then you turn the corner and BAM, there’s the brightest blue ever! We had a great time. The boys did the junior ranger program and we hiked and even went sledding (in July!).

    • That would be awesome to have a couple of days in a cabin there – we will have to do that one of these days! That blue is quite shocking when you first see it – isn’t it? I mean, you think, oh all those photos must be retouched, and then you are faced with that gorgeous indigo! Both times we have been there (in August) there has been a little bit of snow, but not enough to go hiking. I think a 5 and 7 year old could handle the hike; my in-laws who are both in their 60s didn’t have any trouble. And there are lots of benches for resting on the way back up.

    • It is an amazing spot. Lots of great camping and hiking too! Probably some mountain biking too, but the Rim road is fairly narrow so I don’t know if they allow biking around the lake, or if you would want to. It is so beautiful – I think these photos really capture it!

  2. I haven’t been but would really like to visit in the near future. I looked into it a little and they have a hotel there- it’s the only one I think- and was looking into staying there. Not sure what other options there are other than that or camping.

    • Yes, within the park itself, there is only the Crater Lake Lodge, and that books about a year in advance. There are lots of campgrounds. Grants Pass and Medford are both about 2 hours drive, which is ok for a day trip, but wouldn’t really be ideal if you want to spend multiple days there. There are several small towns on the road up to the park that offer little motels and lodges. And we passed lots of places with activities, for kids and adults. Both times I have been I have wanted to spend so much more time there!

  3. Pingback: A Boat Tour of Crater Lake | Wine and History Visited

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