When I told people I was moving to Oregon, a handful of people inhaled an audible breathe, became wide-eyed, and told me, “Wow, it’s really beautiful country out there. Very special”. Having never been, I wasn’t quite sure what they meant, but I knew they were right.
I hadn’t understood that volcanoes shaped Oregon into the beauty that we see today.
Crater Lake is one of the most dramatic showcases of volcanic activity in the United States. This is a geologic tale that even I could wrap my head around. Sparknotes: Crater Lake used to be an outie belly button and now it’s an inny belly button.
On my way into the park I stopped by the Visitor Center to watch their film. I recommend watching the introductory films (20-30 min) at parks if you have the time because they really drive home the story of the park and give commentary to what you’re seeing as you explore.
They’re also a good reminder that the reason we’re able to enjoy these natural areas today is because decades ago people had the forethought and grit to spend their lives fighting for legislation to protect it. Crater became a national park in 1902, after 16 years of convincing Congress to make it a protected federal reserve.
Before Crater Lake existed, there was a mountain above it, known as Mount Mazama. Mazama stood 12,000 ft tall after half a million years of forming. There was an underground chamber in the mountain full of magma, gas, and volcanic rock. Around 7,700 years ago, eruptions within the mountain became more violent, heating to over 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.
The mountain exploded, with ash and pumice coming out of the base of the mountain and draining the magma chamber. The foundation of the mountain broke and dropped into the earth. After half a million years of the mountain building, it collapsed within two or three hours. The eruption itself lasted a week and left a 4,000ft deep hole.
The Klamath Indians said that Mazama collapsed as a result of war between the forces above and below the earth.
As a result of the eruption, pumice deposits up to 300ft deep settled north of Crater Lake. The Pinnacles south of the lake formed as hot ashes rose. Llao Rock formed, which looms 2,000ft over the water.
Over the next few hundred years, the basin filled with snowmelt. Crater Lake receives an average of 44 feet of annual snowfall, which averages to 1.5 inches every day in a year. A lake formed in the basin of the erupted volcano, also known as a caldera. Wizard Island rose 763ft above Crater Lake.
The caldera traps 5 trillion gallons of pure water because there are no streams or rivers that enter or exit the crater. Precipitation, evaporation, and seepage maintain the regular water level. The Umpqua, Klamath, and Rogue rivers all have their start from Crater.
The deepest point of the lake is 1,943 ft. The purity of the water causes unusually deep light penetration, which allows organisms to live at greater depths. For instance, there is a thick green moss in an almost continuous ring at 100-450ft depth. In 1997, Crater Lake set a world record for water clarity with the secchi disk reading 143ft.
Because of the snowfall, Crater has a short bloom period and experiences full summer from late July to early August. The park consists of old-growth forests because they were never logged.
I look forward to visiting this beloved park again!