Day 23: Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park—Eugene, Oregon

Today was boat day! We woke up leisurely and got ready. Had PB&J for breakfast, which always hit hard this early in the morning.

Here's a summary of what I learned yesterday about Crater Lake. To begin with, the lake was not always a lake. It was a large volcano named Mount Mazama equal in size to those that surround it in the Cascade Range. It began forming half a million years ago and grew to about 12,000 feet. Like any mountain of this size, glaciers formed on its sides creating the signature U-shaped valleys which can be seen today along the rim. About 7,700 years ago, the volcano blew itself apart spreading six inches of ash over 5,000 square miles. The magma chamber was emptied leaving the mountain with no support. The result of this was the collapse of the mountain forming a cauldera. This cauldera cooled and filled with water creating the lake we see today. The lake is the deepest in North America at 1,932 feet (seventh deepest in the world), and is on average six miles wide. The area gets 66 inches of precipitation a year, most of which comes from the average of 588 inches of snow that falls between October and June. The lake has no inlets or outlets, so it is a closed ecological system; evaporation balances the precipitation. The elevation of the lake's surface is 6,176 feet and the rim around is about 1,400 feet higher. This is what we were going to tackle today.

View from the Cleetwood Trail, hiking down to the lake

View from the Cleetwood Trail, hiking down to the lake.

A dust devil on the rim of Crater Lake

A dust devil on the rim of Crater Lake.

There is only one trail down to the lake and it is a 1,400 foot elevation difference, therefore, most people that visit Crater Lake do not even touch its waters. Because we were going to do the boat trip around the lake, we would have to take this trail down to the lake. We made it down there in time for the noon boat. While waiting, a few hummingbirds thought my bright, red sweatshirt was food and hovered next to it. Their wings sound like a little model airplane. We were off with Steve Robinson serving as our "Naturalist Interpreter." The trip was about two hours taking us around the steep slopes of the walls and stopping at Wizard Island, the current volcanic cone that will someday grow to a sizable mountain. Unfortunately, we forgot our sunscreen and I roasted up quite nicely. There were small patches of snow near the lake's edge, in direct sunlight too. Steve said this was snow left from two winters ago when they had a bad winter.

On Wizard Island

On Wizard Island.

We got off on Wizard Island for a few minutes and debated whether to stay and play for a while, catching a later boat. But we planned to make it to Eugene at a decent hour so we decided against it. The island does have trees and plants and animals on it but its soil is primarily made up of volcanic rock. These rocks are hard to walk on but great for those chipmunks to hide in.

Phantom Ship, a small island in Crater Lake

Phantom Ship, a small island in Crater Lake.

My feet in the cold, cold water

My feet in the cold, cold water.

We got back on the boat and took it over to the Phantom Ship, a small rock formation sticking out of the water. Its name comes from the fact that the small island blends right in with the cauldera walls behind it from certain vantage points. This is actually the old volcanic core that has cooled into rock, like the buttes of the southwest and Monument Valley. We returned to the docks where we walked on the boulders that make up the banks of this lake and I waded in the lake. Steve said the water in the lake is the cleanest in the world, since there are no inlets, and the temperature of the water (around 53°F at the surface and a constant 38°F below 200 feet) does not allow plants to grow in the water. The only animals in the water are fish that were introduced into the lake between 1888 to 1941. Only two of the species survive today and they aren't doing too well since there's no food for the fish to eat. Andy dove right in the water joining this old, Asian-looking man. I decided it was too cold for me. After this, we climbed back up the trail to the rim and then climbed into the car.

We were now on our way to Eugene to visit Andy's friends who had just moved there a week ago. We drove out through the Pumice Desert, regions where ash from the eruption is 50 feet deep, preventing the growth of anything but grass. This eventually connects with OR 138 east. Around here, in the middle of the Winema National Forest, the road cuts a straight path directly through the forest. The problem up here: beetles. There are signs all over the place warning drivers to watch out for fallen timber due to beetle kills; apparently they're killing all the trees up here.

Turned north on US 97 briefly then northwest on OR 58 which would take us to Eugene. It was a nice clear day and the colors in the mountains were nice and crisp. There were many recreational areas and parks along this road and almost the entire road goes through National Forests like the Winema, the Deschutes, and the Willamette. This road ducked in and out of passes and valleys, a real treat. We eventually made it back to I-5 and hopped on this highway north for a couple of exits. We were now in Eugene and it was about 5:30 or 6 P.M. Andy called his friends, Mike and Catherine, and we cruised to their place. They were having friends over, Mary Lynn and Valerie, and we all had dinner and hung out for a while. Later we watched the 11 o'clock news. The big story: trees. The first half of the news was spent on tree and tree related stories. Interesting.