On our most recent travels we were fortunate enough to visit Crater Lake National Park – I wish I could convey the absolute drama and total body experience of my first view of Crater Lake. We got out of the car at the parking lot just down from the Rim and quite suddenly realized it was cold – really cold. We had been travelling up in elevation since entering the boundaries of the National Park, but we had no idea the temperature had dropped as much as it had. The chilling cold was accompanied by a stiff, icy wind.
We immediately bundled up and began a quick hike up the slope to the rim of the caldron. This walk is actually a trek up the flank of a transformed volcano. Gazing over the edge at the incredible blue water of the lake made me gasp – a breathtaking sight, the extreme cold, and a wind that seemed strong enough to blow us right over the edge, all had their effect. Photos can’t do justice to the experience, but what can I say? We just keep trying.
How did a mountain become a lake? Good question. Well – it wasn’t from a meteor crash. A massive volcanic eruption almost 8000 years ago created this deep basin where the mountain peak once stood. For centuries rain and snow filled the basin. The result was the deep blue lake you see here – its colour and clarity unmatched.
Carter Lake is six miles across, 2000 feet deep, and it holds almost 5 trillion gallons of water. The tallest point on the rim is 2000 feet above the lake.
Why so blue? The water of Crater Lake appears so blue because other colours of the light spectrum are absorbed. The blue wavelengths are scattered and absorbed by the human eye. Why so clear? The clarity of the water is due to the fact that only rain and snow fall within the crater – no river sediment ever reaches the lake to cloud the water. Crater Lake’s purity makes it a pristine benchmark for change as it acts as an indicator of the impacts of air pollution, climate change, and invasive species.
The oral myths of the local native tribes describe a cataclysmic eruption. These stories parallel the geological record of the area. After the eruption the area became a prominent ritual site for the native people – the volcanic terrain was seen as a place of power and is still used today for vision quests and ceremonies.
On the drive up to Crater Lake, we passed through a terrain both stark and beautiful. The area is home to the white-bark pine – its gnarled and twisted branches forming themselves into breathtaking shapes – almost like sculpture. These trees are able to survive at the highest elevation, able to withstand extremes of temperatures and high winds.
Phantom Ship was one of the sights along the rim drive that we didn’t want to miss.
So there you have it – Crater Lake National Park in southern Oregon. And here’s an odd bit of synchronicity – when I began writing Disappearing in Plain Sight, I named the lake that figures prominently in the story – Crater Lake. I had no idea at that time that there was a real Crater Lake or that it was so breathtakingly beautiful. Life can be strange. If you ever get a chance to visit this gorgeous lake, you won’t be disappointed. We sure weren’t.
What a stunning place. I would love to travel there one day. Can you swim in the lake or is it too cold all year?
It is fascinating that you set your novel in a fictional place that ended up existing. I can close my eyes and see your characters galavanting around in this setting. Life definitely offers us many surprises.
I think you have to get special permission from the park’s service to swim or use the lake recreationally. As for the cold – I wouldn’t suggest anyone try in the month of October for sure. I know it is odd about how the fictional Crater Lake took on this new dimension of reality.
Simply beautiful. I want to go there: NOW!
Thanks for sharing the images – I’ve just added a new destination to my travel list.
You are very welcome – we have had a number of great travel experiences at National Parks in the US – they are well run, for the most part easily accessible, and often there are great welcome centers staffed by well trained park rangers and interpretive guides. I don’t think you can go wrong by putting a US National Park on your travel itinerary.
We did Yellowstone on a cycling tour and were very impressed. That was also a wonderful place.
Your comment got my husband and I talking about how it would be great to drive up to the rim parking lot at Crater Lake and then cycle around the rim – we went to Yellowstone a couple of years ago and were there at exactly the right time to see the waterfalls in all their glory – it’s a great National Park to visit, too.