Great Lodges of the National Parks
Pacific Northwest: Crater Lake
Native people were aware of the lake inside the mountain, but no one spoke of the forbidden region, and few ever looked upon the waters. Even after contact with whites, no Native revealed the secret, and outsiders tramped through the area for 50 years before anyone "discovered" the lake's existence.
It is thought that the first white men to peer inside the crater were prospectors led by John Wesley Hillman.
Hillman showed little imagination in naming his 1853 discovery "Deep Blue Lake."
The lake was re-christened in 1869, by members of a party headed by James M. Sutton. This group may have been entitled to name the lake, since they were the first people to put a boat on its surface and test its depth. A few weeks later, the name Crater Lake appeared in print for the first time, in a newspaper conveniently run by Sutton.
The Park offers many unique attractions. The mountain's slopes are blanketed with mature forests that have never been logged, providing important mountain habitat for several rare plants and animals. Canyons, waterfalls, pinnacles and panoramic vistas add their own charm. Of course, the sapphire lake is the jewel in the crown.
The mountain began forming about a half million years ago, as layer upon layer of volcanic lava raised Mt. Mazama to about 12,000 feet. Then, in the year 4860 B.C. (according to carbon dating) a huge eruption covered an area of 5,000 square miles with up to 6 inches of ash. The explosion was 42 times as powerful as the St. Helens eruption in 1980. Later, the hollow shell of the volcano collapsed inward, and the cave-in swallowed the top third of the mountain.
People & Protection
From the first moment that William G. Steel laid eyes on Crater Lake, he was devoted to its protection. In pursuit of that goal he worked with many people, including the famed conservationist John Muir.
In 1896, Steel guided a group, including Muir, on a tour of Southern Oregon. They camped for 2 days at Crater Lake, which Muir called the "one grand wonder of the region."
Three years later, Muir and Steel met again, and discussed strategies for protecting the environment. Steel even participated in scientific studies that could help provide ammunition for his lobbying efforts.
At last, on May 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill giving Crater Lake the status of a National Park, with all the protections that Steel so desired. It was only the seventh time that National Park status had been granted.
Just as Crater Lake Lodge was an "auto-lodge," the National Park was an auto-park. Railroads never entered the Park, although overland travel was available from depots in two nearby towns. For this reason, the early trends in Park visitation closely paralleled the general availability of cars. Between 1913 and 1916, the number of Park auto-permits more than tripled.
Today, the Park contains 79 miles of road (all but 5 miles are paved), including the 33-mile Rim Drive that traces the top edge of the caldera.
Visitors wanting to truly experience the Park are advised to get out of the car or RV and go on foot. There are 90 miles of trail in the Park, including a 33-mile stretch of the famed Pacific Crest Trail. The only access to the lake surface level is on foot, via a steep 1-mile trail at Cleetwood Cove.