Crater Lake National Park, OR: Bigger Than Big, Bluer Than Blue

Our travel “bucket list” is very, very full — overflowing, really.  But near the tippy-top of the list was Crater Lake National Park.  Superlatives cannot adequately describe this geologic marvel.  Cooler than cool! Bigger than big! Bluer than blue! (Isn’t that a country song?)

Brace yourself, because this post is gonna be a doozy! Photos and facts and stories galore! You’re probably gonna wish you packed a lunch during the reading of it.  At least a snack.  But this place was so chock-full of interesting tidbits, that I just couldn’t hold back from sharing!

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,943 feet, and is considered to be the cleanest large body of water in the whole wide world.  It holds 4.9 trillion gallons of unmatched super-pure water, meaning executives at SmartWater and Arrowhead are searching far and wide for an Oregon senator they can bribe into giving them water bottling rights.  Look at that color!

It is fed by rain and snow, but no rivers or streams lead into it nor out of it, so being super deep, with very few particulates = very blue and very clear. It’s also really big, at 5 miles x 6 miles.  To drive around the rim of the caldera is a 33-mile route with more than 30 pullouts to gaze at Crater Lake’s epic beauty, and though you are gazing at the exact same thing the whole time, every angle has a different view! 

Discovery Point is where, on the back of a mule in 1853, gold prospector John Hillman was the first European-American to spy what he ceremoniously named “Deep Blue Lake.”  (What John apparently lacked in creativity, he made up for in adventurousness.)

There are only three things sticking up out of the water at Crater Lake, and only two can be seen from the rim. WIZARD ISLAND is a 764′-tall cinder cone formed by subsequent eruptions a mere 7,300 years ago (to the original 7,700 that formed Crater Lake). See that “little” crater on the top?  It’s actually more than 300 feet wide!

PHANTOM SHIP is a lava island and remnant of one of the mountain’s original cones. Though it looks like a tiny toy boat, sailing away, it’s as tall as a 16-story building!

Lastly, the OLD MAN OF THE LAKE is a full-sized tree (now a stump) that has been bobbing vertically in the lake for over 100 years, due to the water temperature slowing decomposition of the wood.  This can only be seen from a boat tour, which we declined to take. So since I don’t have a photo of the Old Man of the Lake, Bella has agreed to be a stand-in as OLD LADY OF THE LAKE!

The lake is inside a “caldera” which was formed 7,700 years ago when a 12,000 foot tall volcanic mountain, Mount Mazama, erupted.  But this mountain didn’t just erupt, it erupted with STYLE.  Rather than just blowing out a hole in its top, it also blew in a ring around the base of the mountain; and when it couldn’t support its own weight (like a WWE wrestler at a buffet), the whole thing collapsed under its own weight, forming the rim of the lake.

And its motto was “GO BIG OR GO HOME,” with the eruption likely being the largest in North America in the past 640,000 years, and probably instantly killing every person and animal within a 30 mile range.  If you took the ash from that eruption and spread it evenly over the entire state of Oregon, it would form a layer 8” thick.

The lake itself makes up only 10% of the National Park’s area.  The rest is gorgeous mountains and forests, and because snow covers the park 8 months a year, summer wildflower season is a scant six weeks.

 Annual snowfall averages 533 inches!  Thick snow still remained throughout the park in late July!

The “snow measuring sticks” (though they probably have a better scientific name) were skyscraper tall! That means the snow on the road gets that high each winter!

I mentioned the depth of Crater Lake, which was confirmed in the year 2000, but even more amusing is the prior depth estimating expedition.  I present to you:  the GREAT CRATER LAKE SCIENTIFIC MATCHUP!

One day: 1886

Six guys in a rowboat (the “Cleetwood”)

Rigged up a section of pipe attached to a piano wire (below)

Final determination: 
1,996 feet deep

 Years: 1988-1989

Full scientific team in a sonar-equipped, computerized submersible (the “Deep Rover”)

Used computers to make detailed topographic map of ocean floor and created 16 million soundings

Final determination:  1,943 feet deep

CONCLUSION:  Those old-school guys in the rowboat were pretty bad-ass scientists!  Only 53 feet off! The U.S. Geological Survey Dept. could have saved a shit-ton of money by just accepting their findings in the first place.

Calling all math majors!  Here’s a story problem for you. Crater Lake gets an average of 80” of water per year (mostly snow that falls on the surface).  It loses about 30” of water per year to evaporation.  So, how to account for its nearly constant water level?  //cue the Jeopardy theme song//

The answer is seepage!  Water leaks out the caldera walls at a rate of 2 million gallons per hour!  Yikes!  Mostly through a specific permeable area of rock along the northeast wall.  That’s right!  CRATER LAKE IS A GIANT BATHTUB with an “overflow drain” built right into it!

Back outside the bathtub: the Sinnott Memorial Overlook is above a sheer drop of nearly 900 feet and offers amazing views of reflections on the water, which change by the hour.

Cloudcap Overlook is the highest paved road in all of Oregon.  Shout-out to my Assistant Photographer … always willing to go the extra mile for a great shot!

200-foot-tall Pumice Castle features a layer of orange pumice rock that came from a gas-rich volcanic explosion, not from a flow of lava as you might think.

These signs are not a joke.  We spoke with a member of the Crater Lake Search and Rescue and he said just last week, a 20-year-old man was killed when he fell down the edge! People are falling in all the time!

With the Mazama Campground inside Crater Lake National Park serving as our final wooded camping spot on our journey back home, we soaked up the fireside ambiance and relished our last date with our sweatshirts.

Our (too) few days at Crater Lake were filled with awe and wonder. We hope you’ll add it to YOUR bucket list, too!  

We’re heading home over the next week, with a stop in Flagstaff for a family celebration of my mom’s 75th birthday! She’s been fighting breast cancer, so it will be a very special celebration indeed!

It’s been a wonderful 6-week Northwestern US adventure, and we loved every single one of the 4,251 miles we traversed.  Our next long trip will be heading east (something we’ve not done yet) next February and March, where we will remain true to two of the mementos (below) we picked up along the way on this trip!

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