Continuing in our all-volcano, all-the-time channel, this installment is Crater Lake National Park. What a stunning area – holy crap! Now remember, even though this is a lake, it is really a volcano, caused from the collapse of a volcano that then filled with water. The volcanoes here are over 400,000 years old. Don’t lie to me – I know some of you out there remember this.
It has been close to 100 years since I last visited Crater Lake on a cross-country trip with a dear friend, but this trip was Karen’s first trip here. The beauty and colors here are nothing less than spectacular. If you have been, you know I am not lying. In some of these pictures I can’t tell which is bluer – the sky or the water.
We camped at the Mazama Campground in the park, and it was terrific. It is dry camping, but in our case was spacious, fairly private and comfortable.
Mount Mazama (the volcano predecessor where Crater Lake sits) had a major eruption about 7,700 years ago. Basically the top of this 10-12,000 foot volcanic mountain blew off, the mountain essentially imploded, and water started collecting in this “bowl” – or as the experts call it a caldera. The sides of the remaining volcano are about as high as the depths of the lake – about 2,000 feet in either direction from water level.
On average, Crater Lake gets over 40 feet of snow per year, and it is the runoff of this snow that keeps the lake at a fairly consistent level. There are no streams or rivers that feed into this lake. And when you get over 40 feet of snow, you need to let the snowplow drivers know where the road is!
Because of the geography, there are essentially two ways of seeing Crater Lake – from around the rim road, and from one of the tour boats on the lake itself. We did both. Yes, there are many hiking trails, but those all originate in some form from the rim road, at least for a view of the lake itself.
I am not discounting hiking trails here! After all, the Pacific Crest Trail (the western version of the Appalachian Trail) runs right through the park, and there are a host of other trails in the park as well.
The views from the rim road just stagger the imagination for the beauty. The lake is so deep (around 1,943 feet deep) and so pure (it is the cleanest water in the world), that the full spectrum of the sun’s rays get absorbed by the water and the shorter rays (blue and white spectrum) reflects – and as such the reason the lake looks so blue. Or something like that. Don’t quote me.
For our visit, Karen had the foresight to schedule a boat trip for us in Crater Lake, so we could see the lake from the lake level. Now these boat trips are not for the weak of heart (or knees) as it is a long (1.1 mile), steep hike down to the lake on the Cleetwood Cove Trail, and as you might guess a long hike back up. There are some nice views of the lake as you head down, though. And if you are so disposed to go for a swim, have at it when you get down to the bottom of the trail!
Here are a few (maybe more than a few) lake-level pictures taken from the boat.
And keep in mind the insides of this volcano you see only from the boat! Trust me – you aren’t climbing out of this volcano anyway other than the Cleetwood Trail!
Interestingly enough, there is a flow or current to the lake. There is one place where the water leaves the lake at an estimated 89 cfs (cubic feet per second) and no one knows where this water goes. Freaky.
In part because of this isolation (no streams flow into Crater Lake), and because of its altitude, the water is crystal clear. You can easily see down in the water 50-60 feet and see rocks, and we did stop at one point and refill our water bottles right directly out of the lake.
As part of the boat ride, I took the Wizard Island tour – fabulous. The boat takes a one hour journey to Wizard Island, which itself is a volcano, drops you off there for 3 hours, and then returns for the returning one hour cruise along the rest of the lake back to the boat dock.
Once you are on Wizard Island, the hike up the volcano (you are hiking up a volcano – within a volcano!) is a bit of a slog, with about a 700-foot elevation gain on some rough terrain and loose volcanic dirt. But the climb is worth it for the unique view and perspective!
A young family was coming back after having climbed Wizard Island, and their 5-year-old boy says to me (I am sitting on a log drying off the sweat from my own climb and return) “I’m going to go for a swim!” The temperature of Crater Lake, mind you, is somewhere in the low-to-mid 50’s.
I said, “That’s too cold for me.”
He says, “Is that because you are so old?”
“Yes.” May you choke on macaroni and cheese you little Nazi gerbil.
But the real beauty here is what few people get to see – the woman of my dreams sitting in a chair having a picnic lunch, overlooking the lake. I told you this place was gorgeous!
Add Crater Lake to your bucket list!