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The Awesome Beauty and Surprises of Crater Lake

I don’t often write about Crater Lake, although I grew up there. I have many fond memories of the park, Oregon’s only national park. Thinking back about what I’ve written about it, when I have written about it, very seldom have I written about the lake itself. That is the main draw for park visitors and where the park gets its name, after all. 

Yet, I’m more apt to write about many other sights that this national park holds. That is primarily because I’m intimately acquainted with so many beautiful places in the park and I know that most people who visit will miss a huge amount of what is available to see.

Still, it is far overdue for me to write about the lake. I’m going to do so in a picture gallery form. The fourth picture of this sequence is especially astounding.

Enhanced aerial image of the lake

This is how the lake looks from the air and it is my favorite image from this set. The picture is enhanced to show features that are normally hidden from view from the air. That is what makes this picture particularly spectacular.

You can clearly see how far off-center that Wizard Island is and how close to the shore it is. Just to the right of Wizard Island, you can see a round circle. This is the top of another cone that is about 90 feet below the surface.

Also, note the ridge that is mostly underwater in the lower right of the picture. This is where Phantom Ship is located.

The common view of Crater Lake

This is the image of Crater Lake that many people may have seen.

Crater Lake formed about 8,000 years ago after a large mountain named Mount Mazama underwent the last of a series of large number of explosive volcanic eruptions. Unlike the eruption of the much smaller Mount Saint Helens, and despite what a person might think, the caldera that the lake partly fills wasn't the result of Mount Mazama 'blowing its top'.

Rather, the magma chamber under the lake became depleted during the last major eruption. This created an immense void or hollow empty spot inside the mountain. The billions of tons of rock were no longer supported so the mountain top collapsed into the void.

Over the course of thousands of years, snow runoff filled the lake. Although the lake is only about six miles across, it contains an enormous amount of water. Part of this is due to the fact that this is the deepest lake in the United States. Give or take, Crater Lake is about 4,942 feet deep, though the bottom has still not been fully mapped.

There are no streams that flow into or out of the lake. The water level is maintained through precipitation, primarily in the form of snow.

Wizard Island, in the center of this image, was created by a small eruption after the mountain collapsed and it is a cinder cone.

Wizard Island Close Up

This is a more closeup picture of the top of the Wizard Island cinder cone. Although it may not look like it, the hemlocks and fir trees on the island are full-grown and large. Each is in excess of 50 feet tall and a few of them are nearly double that height.

The name of the island comes from the observation that it looks very much like the peaked wizard's had that many stories describe. 

At the very top of the island, there is a depression around what is left of the lava vent.

Boat tours operate that allow people to actually walk on Wizard Island. It is much larger than it seems from the shore.

Phantom Ship

Here is a view of Phantom Ship from much closer to the lake. The name is given to this outcropping of rock because of its likeliness to an old masted sailing ship. The 'phantom' part comes from the fact that it is located in such a place that from other parts of the lake, it seems to have disappeared, like a phantom. Of course, it doesn't disappear, it is merely hidden.

This is Crater Lake, the namesake of the park. It is astoundingly beautiful, though I'm biased. This park will always be my "home". It is even more fantastic to view the lake from the lake level. There is a trail that goes down to the lake, but be warned...it is 1.1 miles long. It isn't tremendously difficult to go down the trail to the lake. Last time I did so, many decades ago, it took me about 10 minutes. Walking back up, however, is another matter. It can take between a half-hour to an hour to get back to the top. Still, there are benches that are strategically placed along the trail so people can rest on the return hike.

Another view of Crater Lake

Despite the snow in this picture, it wasn't taken in the winter. Although the image didn't have a date, I'd judge that it was probably taken in what most people would consider the spring; most likely May and possibly early June.

You might have noticed the color of the lake, both in this image and in the first one. It is usually described as 'deep sapphire blue'. The reason for the blueness of the lake is that the water is nearly pure. In fact, tests run on the water when I lived there showed it to be 99.92% pure water. Water has a bluish tint, but it isn't because of the tint that the lake is so blue.

Rather, the depth of the water and it's clarity and purity cause the water to absorb nearly all of the colors of the spectrum, except for blue. That is what we see because it is the only color left after the lake has absorbed everything else.

To get a grasp of this picture, the person who took the picture was standing roughly 1,100 feet above the surface of the lake. It is a long way down there!

The ridge, closer up

This is closer up of Phantom Ship, from the last image. The arrow points to the part that is above water. The next picture shows how Phantom Ship looks from closer to the water, without the enhancements.

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Written by Rex Trulove

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  1. On my first trip to visit a famous Oregon company, my friend who was going with me (we were both presenting) said we should stay until Sunday morning, flying back to the midwest on Sunday. I said why he said to see Crater Lake.

    We spent the day. We could have spent a lifetime.

    • I can understand that very well. Crater Lake has incredible beauty and there are things there that very few people have seen. The Skyline Trail cuts through the park, for instance, and it will only be seen by hikers (or skiers, but the skiers see primarily white and don’t get to see the beautiful wildflowers and abundant wildlife).

        • Most definitely so! Before the Cleetwood Cove trail was built, the only way down to the lake was to walk and the easiest accesses were on pumice. In the early 1940’s they actually planted fish in the lake, carried down by the conservation corp, with the fish fingerlings in canvas buckets. That was before the trail was built. There are some really big rainbow trout and kokanee in the lake today, because of it.

          In my youth, my brother and I would slide down the pumice to the lake to fish. Naturally, that was done out of the sight of the rangers. That wasn’t because it was illegal (it is legal to fish in this park and no license is required), but rather if our mother ever found out that we were sliding down 1,100 feet of pumice on our rear ends to go fishing, we would have been grounded for life. LOL

          We nearly always caught fish, but the trip out, with our fish, was a challenge. We couldn’t use the trail because Mom would have found out.

          • My mother often said she pretended I wasn’t doing the things I was doing, so I understand! I remember one time when I was 17 I had a Volkswagon beetle. Some friends and I went down to the Lake (Lake Monroe in Southern Indiana). We decided to take the shortest route to where we wanted to go fishing, which was Gross road.

            The thing we forgot about Gross road was that 1/2 the year it was underwater.

            We hit that water in the old bug at around 45 MPH and drifted about a 1/4 mile out into the lake.

            My friends made me swim the Volkswagon back to shore.

            Goog think they floated. My mom never knew what happeend.

        • Our mom always knew far more than she let on. We always wondered, though, how she knew that we did something we definitely shouldn’t have when we were over a mile from home and definitely not in her sight. We’d be in trouble before we even got home.

          Years after everyone moved away from Crater Lake, Mom admitted that there was a ‘Mom’s Network’ at the park. Since there were only about 35 families, everyone knew everyone quite well. If one of the kids did something wrong out of the sight of their mom, it was almost certain that it wouldn’t be out of the sight of ALL moms, and the mother who saw it would simply call the kid’s mother and let them know what they observed.

          The superintendent also knew everyone in the park very well. He always knew who was at fault when something happened. One time, making a long story short, the park service got a dozen barrels of black powder that had been requisitioned 50 years earlier. They no longer had any need for it, but couldn’t send it back, so they stored it in an old dynamite shack that dated from when the park was first being developed. The shack was leaning and falling apart. My brother was ‘playing’ with primachord that he’d created, using it as fuses for half-sticks of dynamite.

          He ended up blowing up the dynamite shack, though certainly not on purpose. In the process, he also set off the black powder. There were parts of the dynamite shack blown over 100 feet in the air and it left a hole in the gravel about 12 feet across and at least that deep. There was nothing left of the dynamite shack and the biggest piece of wood that we ever found that used to be part of the shack was about the size of a person’s hand.

          That night, the superintendent stopped by the house to let my mother know about the incident. He said that if he ever caught the person who set off the black powder, he’d throw the book at him. He made no accusations but was looking directly at my brother when he said it. He KNEW who’d done it and was putting on an act, in part because my brother took care of a problem he really didn’t want to deal with; what to do with a dozen barrels of black powder.

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