History of Rim Drive, Crater Lake National Park
Segment 7-A (Rim Village to Diamond Lake Junction)
The most pervasive addition of the Mission 66 period along this portion of Rim Drive came in the form of interpretive panels mounted on bases composed of stone masonry to match the guardrails. The panels were intended to help make the circuit a self-guided tour, serving the dual purpose of enhancing visitor understanding and dispersing use over a wider area away from Rim Village. Six of the thirteen locations initially chosen for these devices on Rim Drive fell within this road segment, including the most elaborate development associated with wayside exhibits, a cluster of five panels installed during the summer of 1959 at the Diamond Lake Overlook. More typical were the single panels on bases incorporated into the masonry guardrails at the Discovery Point parking area, the Union Peak Overlook, and the Diamond Lake Junction where glacial scratches can be seen.
Construction of stone bases for the wayside exhibits began in 1958 under a contract, with work taking place intermittently through the next four seasons. The five bases built at the Diamond Lake Overlook were freestanding at first, filling the gaps originally left for placing boulders between the log barriers. A new masonry parapet was built to incorporate the bases at this site by 1963, but it and another section of guardrail added over the following decade failed to match the original masonry guardrail constructed elsewhere along Rim Drive.
The interpretive panels proved to be the most problematic part of wayside exhibits since the routed plastic could not hold up to direct sun, windblown pumice, moisture, and vandalism. Routed aluminum soon became the favored material in some locations, but the NPS began replacing panels with the more durable metal photo plaques by 1966. The latter type of interpretive marker lasted for more than two decades before these were replaced by a new set of fiberglass exhibit panels beginning in 1987. Neither generation of wayside exhibit panels, however, achieved the thematic unity in their content as envisioned by the interpretive concept statement composed for the park’s master plan in 1972.
Initial discussions about adding picnic areas along Rim Drive took place before the war, during the season of 1939, when park visitation reached a new high of 225,100 that year. With attendance steadily increasing, especially during the summer season, to 360,000 by 1956, the onset of Mission 66 represented an opportunity to go forward with one of the secondary park priorities listed in the master plan. Day labor leveled and then surfaced six areas around the rim in 1957, with one located in segment 7-A. It became known as the Discovery Point Picnic Area once pit toilets and tables built with concrete ends and redwood lumber had been installed during the summer of 1958. Subsequent development at this picnic area consisted of paving the parking lot and delineating it with boulders as a control device, in addition to the inevitable replacement of tables, toilets, and garbage cans.
The Mission 66 prospectus drafted in 1956 critiqued the parking overlooks and turnouts, particularly those along segment 7-A, as being too few in number and insufficient in size. As a means to draw people away from Rim Village, these stopping places needed increased parking space, especially where views had been enhanced through the addition of wayside exhibits. This enthusiasm for altering the size and number of viewpoints along Rim Drive eventually faded, as the master plan approved in April 1965 restricted its call for additional parking to the Diamond Lake Junction. Planners from the NPS service center in San Francisco nevertheless proposed a site study for the Watchman Overlook after one of them observed its “hazardous condition” in August 1966. They recommended more formalized parking and extending the masonry guardrail from the road margin to provide a measure of safety for visitors who walked to an adjacent ledge for a view of the lake. A site plan produced several months later thus called for slight realignment of the road on additional fill so as to accommodate thirty-nine cars. It also called for “hardening” the viewpoint with a colored asphalt walk, one whose outer edge would be bordered by a wall consisting of stone veneer and a concrete core.
With construction funds in relatively short supply when compared to the Mission 66 program of just a few years earlier, the project at Watchman Overlook remained on hold until the early months of 1971. At that point another site plan suggested dropping the realignment and reworked the design to yield parking for thirty cars that could be oriented diagonally in line with the implementation of a one-way road system. The revised site plan included new features to Rim Drive such as bituminous curb, contrived rock “outcrops,” and masonry piers linked by pressure treated wood pealer cores as a safety barrier. Construction at the Watchman Overlook thus began in 1972, though completion of all items in the contract took another two summers. As a cue for visitors to stop, the separated parking and conspicuous design features at the Watchman Overlook quickly made it the most popular stopping place on Rim Drive, even if most park employees expressed little hesitation in referring to the locality by its resulting nickname of the “corrals.”
With the resumption of two-way traffic along segment 7-A, park officials wanted to widen the paved surface of Rim Drive from 18′ to 22′, and then 24′. As they explained to engineers from the Federal Highway Administration (formerly known as the BPR), the narrow roadway and numerous steep slopes made traveling along this two-way section hazardous for modern recreational vehicles. The NPS wanted to keep excavation and the building of new embankments to an absolute minimum due to costs involved, though this meant widening into ditches and slopes as steep as 2:1. Realigning the road just south of the Diamond Lake Junction constituted another aim for the project, one where the parking areas could be placed along the masonry guardrails so that visitors would no longer have to walk across Rim Drive from two parking areas in order to view the lake.
The widening project began in August 1978, with the first phase covering 2.5 miles over two summers. A second phase commenced at Station 118 (near the Union Peak Overlook) in 1982 and ran some 3.4 miles north to the Diamond Lake Junction, but excluded the newly constructed section at the Watchman Overlook. Contractors realigned the two parking areas, but the “widening” consisted of simply paving to the edge of existing road shoulders so that vehicle lanes could be 11′ wide. Subsequent striping included the addition of “fog lines,” a feature aimed at providing better visibility for motorists driving at night or during bad weather.
Realignment of the Diamond Lake Junction came as part of rehabilitating the North Entrance Road in 1985-87. A new “T” intersection replaced the original road wye and the new alignment gave precedence to a through route over continuation of the circuit. It also came with a new parking area intended to relieve pressure on the parking areas further south that consistently ranked second in popularity among all of the viewpoints on Rim Drive. According to NPS justification for this project, the new parking area was to serve as part of a development that included hard surfaced walkways allowing for handicapped access to a pair of overlooks. The design, though still largely conceptual, called for exhibits and masonry guardrail at the pedestrian viewpoints.
What planners hailed as possessing the potential to become the most popular stop along Rim Drive soon showed unsightly wear because the NPS failed to construct the walkways and view points. Safety concerns led to erection of wood rail fence at the most conspicuous overlook in 1995, but snow loading dictated an almost annual replacement of the horizontal members. With little else in place to restrict visitor impact to this site, overuse had destroyed much of the vegetation between the parking lot and the rim.
Other changes along segment 7-A also affected related original designed features in the form of trails, buildings, and signs. Funding from Mission 66 allowed for contractors to repair parts of the Discovery Point Trail (a project that included adding masonry wall near the parking area) and to pave the path leading from an unsurfaced parking area near the Devil’s Backbone to the top of that volcanic dike. The most ambitious trail project along the west Rim Drive, however, took place in 1994. It aimed to provide hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail with an alternative to a route through the park that followed a series of fire roads and lacked any view of Crater Lake. By connecting the Discovery Point Trail with pieces of the old Rim Road, this alternative route required volunteers and day labor to build 2.5 miles of new tread in order for hikers to reach the Diamond Lake Junction on a trail.
The Sinnott Memorial maintained its orientation function through the Mission 66 period and beyond, mainly because the park lacked a permanent visitor center. Such a facility remained as a top priority on the master plan and its successor, the general management plan, for the next four decades. The Sinnott Memorial underwent rehabilitation in 1963 and again in 2001, with a primary aim of the latter project being to reopen the enclosed museum that had lapsed into disuse after 1986.
At the Watchman Lookout, meanwhile, the exhibits in its trailside museum remained in place for only thirteen years. Removal of the exhibits in 1975 appeared to be triggered by approval of the interpretive prospectus as part of the master plan three years earlier, which saw no real need for them. The authors of the next prospectus in 1980 called for the restoration of the exhibits. Restoring the lookout begun under the Fee Demonstration Program in 1999 aimed to restore the building’s original appearance and initially included an exhibit component in its scope of work, but cost overruns after two seasons put the partially completed project on indefinite hold. The Fee Demonstration program also provided funding for a vault toilet at the Watchman Overlook in 2001, one of several such facilities around the park to be faced with stone and topped by a roof structure.
While the Sinnott Memorial and Watchman Lookout were maintained (and in some respects, enhanced) for interpretive use during Mission 66, park employees removed both the North House and the adjacent checking kiosk at the Diamond Lake Junction in May 1959. A small parking area next to the site of the North House remained until the intersection was realigned in 1985, but without a short trail to the rim. Large boulders eventually took the place of treated logs to line the island in the road wye, while wood routed signs indicated direction for motorists instead of the customized markers built and installed by the CCC. The wood routed signs eventually gave way in 1995 to brown metal Unicor markers with standardized white lettering at this and other road junctions throughout the park. Previously, motorists had to rely on maps and the wayside exhibits to furnish reference points to find their location on Rim Drive, because most of the signs that had once marked various localities on the circuit had disappeared.