In the depths of the deep blue lake

From one vista to another The scenic Crater National Park offers many such wonderful sights. Photos by author

Brush has been cut down and carted away to reduce the fire hazard. On the left side of the car a tumbling stream glints silver in the brilliant sunlight. A clutch of motor cyclists — “hogs” in local parlance — speeds past. The men are wearing black leather leggings and jackets and grey pony tails. The women are similarly attired but somewhat younger. The 60s generation of bikers refuses to grow old.

At the entrance to Crater Lake National Park, a forest ranger, a smiling woman in uniform and broad brimmed hat, hands us a map and a free entrance ticket. We’ve come on one of the three free weekends a year. The area was proclaimed a national park in 1902 by former US President Teddy Roosevelt and is today visited by about 500,000 people a year.

A long line of cars stretches in front of us, halted many kilometres away from the lake. Three bored boys are out in the road throwing a ball to one another. A woman gets out of her car and walks ahead to see what the obstacle is. An ambulance hurries past as the cars began to move forward.

Rangers have stretched bright tape around a motorcycle lying on its side on the shoulder of the road. Accident. We drive onwards and upward till we reach the rim of the crater. On the left, a stretch of vibrant blue appears between slender green pines shimmering in the sun. Not turqoise or Mediterranean blue. Not cobalt or aquamarine. A rich indigo intensified by the clear green of the pines and the paler blue of the cloudless, crystalline sky.

We find a parking place near the lodge and walk to the rim of the deep crater. The brochure with the map tells us it is classified as a “caldera,” or volcanic basin — formed when 3,600 metre tall Mount Mazama imploded 7,700 years ago. The mountain’s eruption was heard throughout south central Oregon, Wyoming and northern California. The region was carpeted with ash and pumice.

Clear marvel

To the north of the lake lies a desert where the eruption deposited so much pumice that few plants dare grow. The lake, eight by 10 kms across and slightly oval, lies before us. A toy-like white boat is plowing through a ruffle of white foam across the surface of the water toward Wizard island, a tiny volcano just off the shore where there are small patches of last winter’s snow. The snow-fed lake, 592 metres deep, is one of the purest and clearest on the face of the globe.

It is also the deepest lake in the US and third, seventh or ninth deepest in the world, depending on which measurements one chooses. At its deepest point, Crater Lake is third. The rim walk is filled with tourists: Couples towing small children, retirees, bikers, teenagers, and native Americans. Most people wear the global uniform of t-shirts and jeans. But the natives do not come from the tribes who once lived here and witnessed the mountain’s eruption.  European newcomers exterminated three of the four local tribes and left only a tiny remnant of the Klamath people. They have survived although most of their land has been expropriated and they were for many years consigned to poverty in reservations.

An ancient Klamath legend holds that Mount Mazama was destroyed and Crater Lake emerged when two chiefs, Llao of the Below World, who lived on the mountain, and Skell, of the Above World, fought a monumental battle. The Klamaths considered the lake a sacred site and managed to keep it a secret for decades from European explorers until 1853 when three prospectors climbed a nearby mountain and saw the lake from its peak.
Dazzled by the glorious blue colour of the lake, the prospectors named it, rather prosaically, ‘Blue Lake.’ Later, it was called ‘Lake Majesty,’ a far more fitting name, and finally ‘Crater Lake.’

We head for the information booth built into the rim where we discover the history of the lake and learn something about its geology. But the lure of the outdoors and a walk in the splendid scenery along the lake’s rim more than 1,000 meters above the water’s gleaming surface, is a greater draw than our desire to expand our knowledge.
The sun is warm but the wind cool as we make our way along the rim, following its curve on foot into the forest. The air is sharply scented by the tall pines that shade the rough path. We go from vista to splendid vista, mesmerised by the glowing lake far below.
Two youths have climbed out onto a finger of rock projecting perilously over the water which, thanks to the clarity of the air up here, seems so near.  Few tourists have ventured into the quiet wood.  Here we can gaze at the crater and wonder, undisturbed, about nature’s bounty.

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