National Park Service
Crater lake Phantom Ship
Design and Construction of Circuit Roads
Construction of Rim Drive
Other Designed Features along Rim Drive
Postwar Changes
Design and Construction of Approach Roads
Construction and Use of Other Roads

History of Rim Drive

Crater Lake
View of the lake from a point on the rim above Grotto Cove.

Postwar Changes

World War II effectively delayed the full completion of Rim Drive until the Mission 66 years of park development, largely because budgets at Crater Lake and elsewhere in the National Park System remained at barely custodial levels until 1957. At that point an infusion of project funding began to come as part of preparing for the fiftieth anniversary of the NPS (to be celebrated in 1966) that also corresponded to greater annual visitation that drove the need for new facilities as well as the redesign of existing ones. NPS officials cited Rim Drive as an outstanding example of past collaboration with BPR at the beginning of "Mission 66," and they even singled out the park's road system as illustrating the type of control exerted by the NPS planning process. Master plans and related documents supposedly guarded against "whims of opinion or varying methods of development" brought by changes in personnel.

The "progression of work and revision" guided by the park's master plan for the most part centered on building new employee housing at Park Headquarters and developing a campground near Annie Spring, though a number of smaller projects were also funded by Mission 66. As for changes along Rim Drive during this period, only the parking and trail to the lake at Cleetwood Cove merited attention through revision of the master plan. By the end of Mission 66, however, the master plans once prepared by resident landscape architects and then approved by the superintendent and personnel in central offices had largely given way to sporadic site plans and other assistance supplied by professional staff stationed away from the park.

Much of the Rim Drive became a one-way system oriented clockwise beginning in 1971 in response to a management objective that arose from concern on the part of some in the NPS that the road between Rim Village and the Diamond Lake Junction had become too congested. As the greatest change to circulation around the rim since adoption of the "combination line" between Kerr Notch and Park Headquarters, the one-way system seemed to create more problems than it solved. NPS planners stationed in Denver observed that it generated a greater number of traffic accidents (due to higher vehicle speeds in the absence of opposing traffic) and many complaints over the sixteen summers that it remained in force. The supposedly problematic road segment 7-A opened for two-way traffic again in 1976, so that discussion of widening that portion of Rim Drive gained momentum. Previous development at the Watchman Overlook and subsequent reconfiguration of the Diamond Lake Junction, however, had greater impact on the road as originally designed and built.

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 metalphoto 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.

Scenic Overlook
Watchman Overloo.

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.

Segment 7-B (Diamond Lake Junction to Grotto Cove)

Even if wayside exhibits seemed to be the most ubiquitous addition resulting from Mission 66 to Rim Drive, they remained scarcely in evidence along the northern part of the circuit. One of these interpretive devices could be seen at the so-called Cleetwood "backflow," in the masonry guardrail, across from where wind erosion on the cut slope created during rough grading had resulted in chronic raveling. The other wayside exhibit attempted to convey the "story" of soil at Palisade Point, but in a somewhat secluded location below the masonry guardrail.

Both picnic areas in segment 7-B followed a standardized road loop designed by the resident landscape architect, John S. Adams, in March 1957. These sites were placed just over a mile apart that summer, with another five tables installed down slope of the parking lot for Cleetwood Cove in 1966. The latter possessed the largest number of tables at any picnic area on Rim Drive, even though it remained the most difficult one for visitors to use. In addition to the walk needed for amenities like toilets and garbage cans situated at the parking area, the site lacked surfaced paths and shade during the midday hours.

Development of a new trail to the lakeshore at Cleetwood Cove with associated parking came in response to the difficulties associated with an existing trail from Rim Village. In addition to the existing trail beginning some 900' above the water, increased annual visitation to the park after World War II made parking for boat trips and other activities on Crater Lake an additional source of congestion at Rim Village. Cleetwood Cove, by contrast, offered a southern exposure (thereby eliminating much of the hand shoveling required to open a path to the water each spring) and a potential trailhead only 700' above the lake. Construction of a new trail began in July 1958 so that it became passable the following summer, but regrading of steep sections and other work delayed full completion of this day labor project until September 1962.

Parking at the Cleetwood Cove trailhead initially consisted of simply widening the road shoulders, but this solution quickly became inadequate. The resident landscape architect, Joseph T. Clark, produced a site plan in July 1961 that called for a parking lot holding 100 cars. He proposed an assembly area at the trailhead, one to be separated from the road by metal guardrail. The plan also called for an elongated parking area across Rim Drive from the trailhead, oriented perpendicular to the road instead of parallel. With an adequate entranceway, the parking lot site would also be large enough to allow development of a picnic area with some thirty tables or even a campground. The initial plan called for a plumbed restroom (comfort station) and septic system, though this facility and the proposed drinking fountains depended upon locating a supply of water. In the absence of springs or other sources, contractors began drilling a well in 1962. It remained dry even after a second attempt at locating a potable water supply three years later.

Grading the lot above Cleetwood Cove began in the fall of 1961, but lack of water effectively limited development of amenities other than parking to portable toilets and five picnic tables. These facilities became inadequate as the number of boat tours increased over the next two decades, so landscape architect Joe Dunstan sketched several alternatives aimed at relieving poor circulation and overcrowding in 1991, primarily as a starting point in design. Little in the way of changes resulted from this effort, with the only additional development at the site resulting from a spillage problem associated with fuel delivery to the tour boats. The Fee Demonstration Program thus funded construction of a fuel transfer building situated between the parking lot and Rim Drive in 1998.

Segments 7-C and 7-C1 (Grotto Cove to Kerr Notch)

Placement of wayside exhibits and other interpretive markers more closely corresponded to the earlier list of stations and substations in these two road segments than elsewhere on Rim Drive. All but two substations located between the Wineglass and Kerr Notch received some type of marker, though in one case (the Grotto Cove Nature Trail) this type of interpretation persisted for only a decade. Established in 1968 to promote handicapped accessibility, the trail made use of small metalphoto plaques mounted on posts along a masonry guardrail in order to identify plants along a paved walk originally built as part of the parking overlook. Panels on stone bases appeared at five other points along segments 7-C and 7-C1 during Mission 66, with the only divergence from this type of marker being a wood routed signboard placed near the road loop on Cloudcap.

Funding from Mission 66 also brought about construction of two picnic areas in segment 7-C. One of them, the site near Skell Head, appeared largely as an afterthought in a dense thicket of lodgepole pine and thus received little use in comparison to the other six sites on Rim Drive. Visitors could, by contrast, obtain an impressive view of Mount Scott and the landscape beyond it from the other picnic area. Located just one-tenth of a mile from the Mount Scott trailhead, the name for this picnic area came from the whitebark pines that provided shade for three tables.

Paving of segment 7-C1 (along with 7-D and 7-E) during Mission 66 in some ways represented belated completion of the road construction begun more than twenty-five years earlier. In the interim, the BPR helped the NPS address slides at Anderson Point that periodically closed the roads, which was the most persistent maintenance problem on Rim Drive over the first decade or so of the road's existence. Through a minor change in alignment and measures aimed at slope stabilization, BPR engineers supervised laborers hired by the NPS so as to reduce the incidence of future slides at this location over the summer of 1952. Roughly 100 lineal feet of masonry guardrail replaced an earlier stone barrier along this section the following year in order to complete the project.

Segment 7-D (Kerr Notch to Sun Notch)

Aside from the belated paving of this road segment in 1960, only one project during the Mission 66 period took place in this road segment. It came in response to rockfall that repeatedly damaged, and in some cases, destroyed masonry guardrail along a section of road along Dutton Cliff in 7-D1. After considering construction of "rock sheds" to alleviate this problem during the first part of Mission 66, the NPS let a contract in 1966 to repair some of the guardrail and retaining wall, in conjunction with establishing some additional cross drainage in this section of road. Work also involved replacing damaged sections of the original guardrail with removable metal posts, a measure dependent upon annual installation by maintenance crews and one destined to last no more than a few years.

On the other side of Dutton Cliff, along 7-D2, continual slides and rock fall resulted in an attempt to cut the slope back similar to Anderson Point in the early 1970s. Repairing and rebuilding masonry guardrail along this so-called "Sun Grade" section followed in 1985. The park employed day labor rather than contractors for the latter job, which included rebuilding portions of guardrail that were located across the road from the slopes composed of glacial material. Cuts made as part of the original grading contract remained subject to erosion and raveling, particularly where the slope face remained wet.

Segment 7-E (Sun Notch to Park Headquarters)

Aside from one road realignment near the intersection where Rim Drive terminated at Park Headquarters, virtually all of the postwar changes in this road segment took place in the vicinity of Vidae Falls. Development of the Mazama Campground as a major Mission 66 project turned the attention of park officials away from overnight facilities below Vidae Falls, though grading for a picnic area took place in 1958 where the campground road built in concert with segment 7-E met the old Rim Road. Lack of adequate cross drainage for the loop road at this picnic area eventually led to rehabilitation of the site in 2001, a project that included placement of a vault toilet and new tables. At that point the trailhead for the route to Crater Peak also became part of the picnic area, largely because parking for hikers had previously been situated on a blind curve near Tututni Pass.

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