A Volcano that Became a Lake
June 5, 1911
Unique among the natural wonders of America is Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Unsurpassed in the gorgeousness and grandeur of its scenery, unrivaled in its location on the summit of a mountain 7,000 feet above sea level, and unparalleled in its geologic history, this dazzling gem of the Cascade Range deserves the attention of every tourist and lover of nature. The traveler who, from the rocky rim of the lake, looks across its limpid waters to the cliffs beyond stands where once the molten lava of Mount Mazama boiled and seethed in its efforts to find an outlet, for Crater Lake is nil that remains of a great volcano that ages ago reared its lofty summit high above the crest of the Cascade Range.
Before the Cascade Range existed the region now included in the State of Oregon was a great lava plateau that extended from the Rocky Mountains to the present Coast Range. Gradually mountain making forces became operative; the surface of the plateau was arched an there rose the great mountain system which is now known as the Cascade Range. With the hardening of the crust the centers of eruptions became fewer until they were confined to a lava. In this way were created Hood, Rainier, and Mazama, from whose sides and lofty summits streams of lava poured across a desolate land. Hood and Rainier still lift their snowy caps to the clouds and fling a defiant challenge to the mountaineer to scale their steep, ice covered slopes. Mazama alone is gone–engulfed in the earth from which it came. In what is left of its caldera lies Crater Lake.
Mount Mazama in its prime rose to a height of over 14,000 feet above the sea. Mount Scott which towers above Crater Lake on the east was only a minor cone on the slope of Mount Mazama. The portion of the mountain that has been destroyed was equal in size to Mount Washington in New Hampshire and had a volume of 17 cubic miles. How came this great mass to be removed? Was it blown upward and scattered over the surrounding country? The phenomena, became if this and happened there would be a well-defined rim of fragments material on the slope. No other conclusion can be reached than that Mount Mazama collapsed, one part after another from the center outward as the support was removed.
Many centuries passed; the elements gradually wore away the surface so that the land was covered with soil; the incessant work of the rivers carved valleys in the great flows of lava; slowly vegetation covered the fire-scarred land and great forests of fir and pine stretched in cathedral-like vistas over the lower slopes. At last the Indians appeared as they roamed over the mountains in search of game they occasionally saw this remarkable lake. These denizens of the forest well versed in all the ordinary features of topography of mountain and valley, here saw something that was beyond their ken. They gazed with awe upon the blue lake surrounded by its walls of brilliant hue and their vivid imaginations soon peopled it with spirits. One of these spirits, known as Llao, had his abode at the great cliff on the northern side of the lake now known as Llao rock. He was said to be a great monster who seized men and even animals who attempted to pry too closely into the secrets of the mysterious lake. Only the medicine man dared brave the fury of the spirits and gaze upon the face of this wonderful body of water.
One June 12, 1852, the white man first looked over the waters of this remarkable lake. On that day J. W. Hillman with a party of prospectors unexpectedly came upon the lake as they were riding through the forest. Little did these hardy pioneers realize that they were gazing upon one of the great wonders of America. They saw brilliant sheet of water ensconced in its mountain vastness, but thought they knew nothing of the wonderful history of the lake they were not lacking in appreciation of his singular and remarkable beauty. From time to time other persons came–geologists, prospectors, hunters–but for years the lake was unknown except in the surrounding country. Gradually, however, its fame spread and with it came the realization of the fact that this great wonder should be kept inviolate for the use of the public. On February 1, 1886, the lands surrounding the lake were withdrawn from entry and sixteen years later, on May 22, 1902, an act of Congress created the Crater Lake National Park of the interior for the benefit and use of the people of the United States.
From the crest of the rim surrounding the lake the traveler beholds 20 miles of unbroken cliffs which range from 500 to nearly 2000 feet in height. The clear waters of the surrounding walls and whether in the soft glow of early moraine, in the glare of the noonday sun, or in the rosy hues of the dying day, the view is one of awe-inspiring grandeur and beauty. Near the western edge of the lake is Wizard Island is the top of which is an extinct crater 100 feet deep and 500 in diameter. Near the southern shore is a jagged rock 200 feet high known as Phantom Ship. Viewed from a distance it resembles a great vessel, but is apparently disappears when the shadow strikes it, hence its name.
The lake is in places almost 3,000 feet deep. It has no known outlet and no streams flow into it, its water being obtained from the melting of snow that fails on the surrounding cliffs. Originally the lake contained no fish, but it has been well stocked with rainbow trout, which range from 15 to 30 inches in length.
This lake is not the only attraction of the national park in which it is situated. The surrounding peaks afford opportunities for climbing and the extended views from their summits offer an adequate recompense for the effort necessary to reach them.