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Road Trippin' : Discovering the lake
MEDFORD, Ore. —
For a windy, snowy day at Crater Lake National Park, there were several cars of visitors and a bus load of children ready for a snow shoe hike. Park rangers say winter is one of the best times for a trip.
“If you only come here in the summer, you don’t realize how harsh the winters are and how important the snow is for the park’s health, for the forests and for the lake itself. If we didn’t have days like this, we may not have the deepest lake in the country and the cleanest and clearest lake in the world,” Dave Grimes says about the winters.
Winter is the dominant season. It starts snowing in September and keeps going, sometimes until mid-June.
“This is almost like 2 different parks in one because the summer and winter are so different. It’s worth coming back again and again because the recreational opportunities change from month to month,” Grimes says.
The park has a long history. It was established mainly through the efforts of one man from Portland, William Gladstone Steel. He discovered the lake in 1885.
“He was so inspired by the beauty of the lake, he decided to devote his life to protecting it. So he worked for 16 years with congress to make Crater Lake a national park. In 1902, they passed a bill that was signed by President Teddy Roosevelt, but it was really one man, William Steele whose efforts led to the creation of this park,” Grimes says.
Grimes says the lake is like no other. It sits at the top of the mountain and you can’t really see it until you’re right up on the edge of the crater.
“It’s the deepest lake in the United States, it’s almost 2000 feet deep. It maybe the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world. There are no rivers or streams that feed into the lake, so there’s no rivers carrying silt, sediment or pollution to muddy it up. The water in the lake, most of it fell on the surface, the water is very pure. It’s the purity and the depth combined to give the lake its beautiful blue color,” Grimes says.
The story of how the lake was formed is also something many can’t believe.
“About 7700 years ago, this mountain had a large eruption, at that time we think it stood 12,000 feet tall, it would’ve looked like Mt. Hood or Mt. Rainier. But after the eruption, the underground magma chamber, which was maybe two to three miles, emptied out and it could no longer support the weight of the massive peak perched up on top, so the top of the volcano then fell about 10,000 feet straight down into the empty void,” Grimes says.
Park rangers believe the collapse was witnessed by local Native Americans. Archaeological evidence suggests people were living in the area for at least 12,000 years. When the mountain collapsed, rangers say there were likely quite a few tribes and villages in the surrounding area.
“The Klamath tribes who live near here are descendents of the people who witnessed Crater Lake form.”
While simply visiting the lake is enough for many people, there are several activities year round. In the summer, visitors can go on boat tours, swim or hike. In the winter, they can snowshoe by themselves or on a guided tour, ski and play in the snow.
“The snowshoe walks are an off trail exploration, we don’t follow a trail we spend about 2 hours exploring through the forests and meadows, half the time walking and half the time talking,” Grimes says.