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Crater Lake National Park
Scott Gese

Crater Lake OregonCrater Lake Oregon

As I stand on the rocky rim high above the caldera of this huge volcano, it's difficult to visualize the massive force needed to blow a hole this size in the top of a mountain. The caldera of Mount Mazama is an unbelievable six miles across, and for now, it is the top of the mountain.

The massive explosion I'm trying to envision took place nearly 7000 years ago. Since then the caldera has cooled and over time, filled with water.

The Vista Is No Less Than Absolutely Breathtaking.

The circle of cliffs that line the very top of this massive hole, tower some 2000 feet above the waterline. The lake itself covers 21 square miles. The bottom of the caldera can be found 2000 feet below the waterline, making Crater Lake the deepest lake in the United States. That's a massive amount of water.

Surprisingly, this is a landlocked body of water meaning there's no feeder streams entering the lake and no way for water to get out except by evaporation. It's a closed system. Incredibly, the water in Crater Lake comes exclusively from Oregon rainfall and pure winter snowmelt. It's estimated that it took around 720 years to fill it. This system has held the level of the lake to within an astonishing 16 feet for hundreds of years.

Because there are no streams dumping silt into the lake, it's maintained a remarkable clarity. This clarity has been measured to a depth of up to 142 feet. This is the reason why this ice cold crystal clear water takes on such an indescribably deep blue color.

All in all, as I stand on my rocky perch and survey the entire vista before me, I find it to be no less than absolutely breathtaking.

Today the lake is so calm and flat, I swear I could walk across its surface to the two small islands I see in the distance. They're all that's visible of the the cinder cone that protrudes up from under the surface. One is called Wizard Island. It rises 764 feet above the water. The second is smaller and goes by the name of Phantom Ship.

Crater Lake OregonCrater Lake in Winter

Crater Lake was first discovered in 1853 by an American gold prospector named John Wesley Hillman. He and two companions stumbled across the lake as they made their way west to gold country. He named it “Deep Blue Lake”. Not very original. In fact the lake was renamed three times. The second being Majesty , and then finally, in 1869, Crater Lake.

More concerned with gold than water, the three men continued on their way and the discovery was more or less forgotten until around 1886 when a U.S. Geological Survey party commanded by Captain Clarence Dutton arrived at the lake to record soundings of its depth.

On May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill giving Crater Lake, national park status.

Fish at Crater LakeFish at Crater Lake

It's interesting to note that Crater lake was surprisingly barren of a fish population until 1888 when a variety of fish were introduced. The lake was continually stocked until 1941. A couple of species, Rainbow trout and kokanee, a landlocked Sockeye Salmon, have managed to survive the icy cold waters.

If you're planning to visit Crater Lake National Park, it's best to do so during the Summer months of July and August when the weather is at its warmest. There are over 90 miles of hiking trails for you to enjoy, but at a 7000 foot elevation cool weather can come on at any time so it's best to be prepared and bring a jacket.

During the Winter months of October through June, conditions are extremely harsh. Blizzards, high winds and extreme cold dominate the weather patterns. The average winter snowfall is 44 feet.

Crater Lake National Park has two visitor centers. The Steel Information Center, which is open year-round and the Rim Village Visitor Center which is open during the Summer months only.

As for fishing? You bet! And the cool thing is, you don't need a license. But for the sake of the water's clarity, no motorized boats are allowed.

And just how dormant is Crater Lake? Not surprisingly, some hydrothermal activity remains along the lake floor, suggesting that at some time in the future Mount Mazama may erupt once again. The danger of another eruption is listed as high.

Find out more about Crater Lake National Park here.


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