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Crater Lake

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Wizard Island and Mt. Thielsen from the rim (bobcat)
Rabbitbrush goldenweed (Ericameria bloomeri), Crater Lake (bobcat)
Ascending Garfield Peak, Crater Lake National Park (bobcat)
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Crater Lake is the the centerpiece of Oregon's only national park and a world-class tourist attraction. Statistics on the lake vary with the seasons, but the lake is six miles across at its widest and has a maximum depth of 1,949 feet. This makes it the deepest lake in the United States, second deepest in North America, and the ninth deepest in the world. Crater Lake is the deepest lake on the planet whose floor lies above sea level.

Crater Lake is renowned for its intense blue color and its clarity. This is a result of a lack of sediment in the lake as there are no inflowing watercourses: the lake nestles within a massive caldera that filled with rain and snow melt (the area experiences some of the highest snowfall totals in the world). Most days, it is possible to see at least 100 feet below the surface.

The lake was formed after the explosive and locally devastating eruption of Mount Mazama (named by William G. Steel, the "Father of Crater Lake", for the Mazamas mountaineering club) about 7,700 years ago. Lava flows from the 11,000 foot stratovolcano oozed down river valleys to 40 miles away and the pyroclastic column of debris shot 10 miles into the sky at double the speed of sound. Airborne debris was carried as far as present day Saskatchewan and Wyoming. The core of the mountain collapsed as the magma chamber emptied, forming a deep caldera. Volcanic material began to settle in the cavernous opening and subsequent minor eruptions created the cinder cone of Wizard Island and other cones and domes that lie beneath the lake's surface. Over the millennia, the vast depression filled with snowmelt and rainwater.

Native Americans incorporated the eruption of 7,700 years ago into their legends, describing a back and forth battle between the otherworldly spirits, Llao and Skell, from the summits of Mount Mazama and Mount Shasta respectively. Native American artifacts have been discovered beneath layers of Mount Mazama ash. The local tribes, including the Klamath Indians, saw the lake as a place of mysterious supernatural powers and would come here on spirit quests. The first Euro-Americans to see the lake were John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaac Skeeters in June, 1853. The three had been exploring the southern Cascades looking for the legendary Lost Cabin gold mine. Later, William Gladstone Steel took up the cause of Crater Lake, and the area became a national park decreed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902.

There are few fauna native to the lake: one of them is the Mazama newt, a subspecies of the common rough-skinned newt. The introduced signal crayfish represents a threat to these unique newt populations. Rainbow trout and kokanee salmon have managed to survive in the lake after being introduced.

Visitors can access the lakeshore at one point: Cleetwood Cove, a one-mile hike from the rim. Tour boats leave from here in the summer to take visitors around the lake. The boats stop at Wizard Island, where you can hike to the top of the cinder cone.

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