Trekking around Mount Mazama

Trip Start Aug 13, 2010
Trip End Oct 14, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Oregon
Monday, September 6, 2010

When we planned the national parks portion of our trip, we wanted to include some parks that were off the beaten path, and that we would be unlikely to visit on a standalone trip in the future. Crater Lake definitely fit this profile.  The closest populated areas were Eugene, about 3 hours to the north, and Medford (home to Harry & David pears), about 2 hours to the southwest, and even these aren't large metro areas.  We arrived in Crater Lake later than planned, and by the time we got into the park, it was pitch black without any ambient light.  The last hour of the drive was very slow because it was so dark, and there were deer on or just off the road every couple of miles.  At one point, we pulled off the road to look at the stars.  It was some of the best stargazing we’ve seen in a long time, and we were able to spot Mars and the Milky Way (but no Snickers).  Because so many stars were so visible, though, it was difficult to distinguish different constellations.  When we got to the campground, the registration building had closed, and our name and the color for our RV slot was posted on the door, along with a map of the campground.  Why an RV spot?, you might ask; after all, Todd and Rachel only have a Hyundai Sonata.  Well, we reserved an RV spot because all the tent sites were booked when we tried to make our reservation.  So we spent $6 more and wedged ourselves in between the RVs. 

By the time we finally found a vacant "yellow" slot, it was close to 9:30pm, and the temperature had already fallen to 39 degrees.  We pitched the tent in record time, but because of the time and the temperature, we didn’t spend any time clearing the area before setting up.  This made for a rocky (literally) night, as well as a very, very cold one; but it’s always great to get as close to nature as you can….

The next morning, we made our way to the park’s visitor center.  In sharp contrast to Yellowstone and some of the other parks we’ve visited, this park was not congested at all, something we really appreciated.  Crater Lake itself was formed when Mount Mazama, a mountain of the Cascades, essentially imploded.  Mt. Mazama was an active volcano, and several thousand years ago, the underlying lava bed collapsed.  When it collapsed, the mountain could not sustain its own weight, and imploded, creating a crater about 6 miles long.  The shape of the basin, however, remained intact, and over time, melting show and rainfall filled the crater (“caldera”).  At its deepest point, the lake is almost 2,000 feet deep, and contains some of the most pristine, sapphire water we have ever seen.  The water absorbs all colors except blue, so when you look at the surface, it’s almost as if you are looking at a mirror image of the sky above.  Also, because of the purity of the water, scientists have found that sunlight may penetrate deeper here than in any other body of water on earth – they’ve detected sunlight at a depth of 460 feet.  We drove the 33-mile Rim Drive around the entire caldera, and stopped at several viewpoints.  One of the interesting formations viewable from several spots along Rim Drive was Wizard Island, a 770-foot high cone that was formed by cinders that were ejected from the caldera after Mt. Mazama collapsed.  Wizard Island received its name because it resembles (kind of) a sorcerer’s hat.  We also enjoyed the Pinnacles, impressive spires of hardened ash.  These formations continue to be shaped by erosion. 

After the drive, we hiked down the only trail in the park that allows you to reach the water’s edge; all other areas of the caldera are considered too unstable due to loose volcanic rock to be able to walk on.  The hike leads down to a boat dock, where the National Park Service runs daily boat tours.  The NPS boat tours are the only recreational activity allowed on the lake apart from fishing, and even then, they ask fisherman to use only plastic or other artificial lures to preserve the condition of the lake.  The hike down was steep – and the hike up much, much steeper! – but it was satisfying to see the lake up close.  We thought about a boat tour, which would have allowed us to see Wizard Island up close, but our views from above were spectacular enough that we didn’t think a tour was necessary.
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