You are Native American living in the year 5,300 BC. Your ancestors have worshiped at Mt. Mazama for centuries. The rumblings from within the mountain and the smoke coming from the top are Great Spirit speaking to your people. Only the chiefs walk on the sacred ground of Mazama and only the chiefs know Great Spirit’s words. Mazama has been rumbling for days and the ground shakes like it has a fever. Fire is coming out of Mazama’s great mouth and occasionally rocks and fire fly in every direction. The chiefs have been to Mazama and have come back filled with fear. Women and children are carrying household goods and everyone is leaving through the green forests and out onto the plains where the animals are also fleeing from Mazama’s fury. There is one last loud explosion. Rock rains down like snow, the trees are on fire and everyone is running for the river.
Crater Lake is the open caldera of Mt. Mazama which erupted and imploded into itself 7,700 years ago. Archeologists have determined that there was a Native American presence in the area that witnessed the eruption. Snow melt and rain water gradually filled the open caldera resulting in this enormous lake. The lake is 33 – 35 miles around, 1,943 feet deep and the surface is at 6,174 feet above sea level.
Patches of snow lay in every shady place today as we approached the rim of the lake climbing to 7,450 feet. Before entering the park we drove through dense forest of ponderosa pines, Shasta, red, white and Douglas firs, lodgepole pines and mountain hemlock. As we started towards the first lookout the landscape opened up into green fields scattered with wildflowers.
The many views of today
After such a dramatic approach, I was unsure of what to expect when I walked up to the rim overlook. What I saw was pretty overwhelming. This huge expanse of deeply blue water – a color that cannot be contained by words – surrounded by cliffs of grey stone 1000 feet or more above the lake surface. Mazama and the spiritual importance it held and still holds for Native Americans suddenly became something that I felt instead of knowing in my head. God’s presence and beauty are clearly a part of what I was witnessing. Knowing that no camera could possibly do justice to this beauty I let my eyes try to record the stunning colors. Larger than I expected, it was impossible to see all of the lake from one view. Coming out of the water’s depths in our direct view was Wizard’s island, a 700 foot cinder cone with trees growing out of the cone and several smaller “islands” of cinder scattered about. Two hour boat tours of the lake are available from a Cheetwood Cove trail which leads from the rim to the lake. A small white wake showed us one of the tour boats circling Wizard’s Island as we watched from our lookout point. Looking out at the lake made me thankful for all the efforts that have gone into protecting this and other National Park sites. “A geological treasure” is what Fred called it and he is so correct.
We did most of the rim of the Lake stopping here and there for pictures. The West Rim was closed due to a forest fire. There were two firefighters available for us to talk to as we started into one overlook. Describing the fire in progress as a “hold over fire”, one firefighter told us that lightening had struck a tree in July and the fire had smoldered in the root system of the tree, surviving rain, waiting until the forest was dry, waiting to catch the fuel around it on fire. It was mostly contained but the smoke was an issue.
What a treasure of a day at Crater Lake. Tonight we are in Roseburg, OR and tomorrow we move on to the coast.