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Crater Lake
By Travel Medford | 05/11/2021 | National Park, Outdoor Adventure, Trails

10 THINGS YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT CRATER LAKE NATIONAL PARK

Crater Lake is the jewel of the Rogue Valley and one of the great wonders of Oregon. It’s world-renowned, with travelers from across the globe desiring to see its sapphire blue waters and many natural phenomena. 

In addition to its beauty, Crater Lake is a place of mystery and wonder. There are even some things the locals don’t know! If you want to explore this spectacular natural park, here are 10 facts to learn about Crater Lake before you go.

One of Crater Lake’s most well-known features, this ancient hemlock tree stump has mystified visitors and scientists for more than a century, as it floats perfectly upright and unanchored. The head and torso portion of the Old Man floats about four feet above the surface, while the lower part drops 30 feet into the water. 

There’s also local lore surrounding the Old Man, including that he controls the weather. One story claims a submarine crew tied up the tree and then endured severe storms until they let the Old Man float freely again. 

Emerging about 160 feet above the surface of Crater Lake, this 300 foot island resembles a sailing ship. The Phantom Ship is composed of weathered andesite pinnacles about 400,000 years old. The formation is probably the remains of a filled fissure which was exposed with the caldera collapse of Mount Mazama nearly 8,000 years ago. 

Depending on the weather conditions, the Phantom Ship seems to appear and disappear from sight, giving the formation its otherworldly nickname. 

Where does the water in the lake go? No one knows! Because Crater Lake has no outlets leading to other water sources, the lake’s changing water level poses a puzzling scientific quandary. Precipitation rates are more than twice the evaporation rates, so a lot of water is seemingly unaccounted for.

Scientists have discovered that a steady flow is what keeps the water in balance. Water goes out of the caldera’s walls at a rate of about two million gallons of water an hour — amazing! But scientists are still trying to determine where that water goes, because there are no water sources that hold the same amount of water as the lake does.

A fascinating cultural history surrounds Crater Lake. In one story, Gmo’Kam’c — the Creator — pushed his way out of the underworld and through the mountain to create the rivers, trees, animals and people.

One day, another spirit named Llao peeked out of the hole and saw a beautiful woman. He sent an ambassador to ask for her hand in marriage, but the woman didn’t want to marry Llao and live in the underworld. So her father, a chief, refused the proposal. This made Llao angry and he blew through the hole. Llao flew through the air and hurled fire, forcing the people into Klamath Lake to escape the flames.

Hoping to appease Llao, several medicine men sacrificed themselves on the mountain, but this was too much for Gmo’Kam’c to bear. So he fought Llao for days, and finally pushed him back into the hole as the mountain closed up around him. After Llao fell, blue water gushed out. 

Klamath Indians called the lake Giiwas, and the area became a sacred place where members of many tribes went to pray, mourn, hunt and forage, and to seek understanding and power.

At 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and one of the deepest in the world. The depths were first explored in 1886 by a group from the U.S. Geological Survey. Their sounding device consisted of a lead pipe attached to piano wire. After lowering it into the water at 168 locations around the lake, they determined the deepest part was 1,996 feet. Amazingly, this was only 53 feet shy of the official depth measurement recorded with multibeam side scan sonar in 2000. Impressive!

This volcanic island resembles a wizard’s hat and rises 767 feet above Crater Lake's surface. During the summer, Wizard Island boat tours go around the lake’s perimeter and let you spend three hours on the island. That gives you plenty of time to hike, take in the panoramic views and explore this unique part of the park.

While you’re on the island, hike the Wizard Island Summit Trail. This moderate hike is approximately one hour to the top of the island, with a path leading to the 90-foot deep crater at the summit. The trail is 2.2 miles round trip.

Many animals can be found around Crater Lake, but it’s the only place in the world where you’ll find the Mazama newt. This subspecies of rough-skinned newt, also called the Crater Lake Newt, is native to the lake. Usually found hiding under rocks or logs, you may spot one of these rare creatures around the edge of the lake.

Crater Lake has inspired people of all ages for decades. In 1870, William Gladstone Steel — a young child from Kansas — read about Crater Lake in the newspaper. Fascinated by this amazing natural wonder, he vowed to visit the lake one day, which he did in 1885. After that fateful visit, Steel made it his mission to have Crater Lake named a national park. He achieved this momentous goal on May 22, 1902.

Mount Mazama, a 12,000 foot volcano, erupted and collapsed over 7,000 years ago. This explosive occurrence formed Crater Lake. Legend from the Makalak people explains that the fall of the mountain was caused by a battle between the spirit of the sky and the spirit of the mountain. The destructive eruption signaled the end of the fight, but many natives mourned the loss of the sacred volcano.

Crater Lake National Park is one of the snowiest inhabited places in North America, with 43 feet of annual snowfall. Every year, this snowy oasis attracts thousands of cross-country skiers and snowshoers who desire to experience the best winter recreation in Oregon. 

In addition to being beautiful, snow is important to the park for many reasons, including providing water for the lake. One of the reasons it’s considered the cleanest and clearest lake in the world is because the water is almost entirely pure snowmelt.

Whether you visit for a few hours or spend several days exploring Crater Lake, you are destined to discover something new and exciting. 

Plan your visit to Crater Lake at TravelMedford.org.

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