Glimpses of our National Parks
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Special Characteristic: Lake of Great Depth Filling Collapsed Volcanic Crater

IN the heart of the Cascade Mountains of our Northwest, whose volcanoes were in constant eruption in the ages before history, and now, extinct and ice-plated, shine like huge diamonds in the sunlight, there lies, jewel-like in a setting of lava, a lake of unbelievable blue. The visitor who comes suddenly upon it stands silent with emotion, overcome by its quite extraordinary beauty and by a strange sense of mystery which even the unimaginative feel keenly and which increases rather than decreases with familiarity.

This is Crater Lake.

One of the very largest of these ancient volcanoes was Mount Mazama. It stood in the southern central part of what is now Oregon, two hundred miles south of Mount Rainier and nearly as lofty. It was about the height of Mount Shasta, in plain sight of which it rose nearly a hundred miles to its north.

Showing the Watchman, Glacier Peak, Wizard Island, Llao Rock and Mount Thielsen in the distance
Photograph by Fred H. Kiser

But this was ages ago. No human eyes ever saw Mount Mazama. Long before man came, the entire upper part of it in some titanic cataclysm fell in upon itself as if swallowed by a subterranean cavern, leaving its craterlike lava sides cut sharply downward into the central abyss.

What a spectacle that must have been!

The first awful depth of this vast hole no man can guess. But the volcano was not quenched; it burst up through the collapsed lavas in three places, making lesser cones within the greater, but none quite so high as the surrounding rim.

Then the fires ceased and gradually, as the years passed, springs percolated into the vast basin and filled it with water within a thousand feet of its rim. As you see it to-day one of these cones emerges a few hundred feet from the surface. The lake is 2,000 feet deep in places. It has no inlet of any sort nor is there any stream running out of it; but the water is supposed to escape by underground channels and to reappear in the Klamath River, a few miles away.

Geologists find Crater Lake of special interest because of the way nature made it. Many volcanoes have had their tops blown off. Mount Rainier was one of these. But no other in the United States has fallen into itself, like Mount Mazama.

The evidence of this process is quite conclusive. The lava found on the slopes that remain was not blown there from an exploding summit but ran, hot and fluid, from a crater many thousands of feet higher. The pitch of these outer slopes enables the scientist to tell with reasonable probability how high the volcano originally was.


The Indians believed that Crater Lake was the home of a great spirit whom they called Llao. The blue waters teemed with giant crawfish, his servants, some of them so large that they could reach great claws to the top of the cliffs and seize venturesome visitors. Another great spirit chieftain, whom they called Skell, was supposed to live in the Klamath Marsh near by and to have many servants who could take at will the forms of eagles and antelopes.

War broke out, so the Indian legend says, between Llao and Skell and Skell was captured. The monster from the lake tore out his heart and played ball with it, tossing it back and forth from mountain top to mountain top. But it was caught in the air by one of Skell's eagles and by him passed to one of Skell's antelopes, and by him passed to others who finally escape with it.

Skell's body miraculously grew again around his heart and, in time, he captured Llao and tore his body into fragments, which he tossed into the lake. The giant crawfish, thinking them fragments of Skell's body, devoured them greedily. But when, last of all, Llao's head was thrown in, the monsters recognized it and would not eat it.

The remains of Llao's head remain to-day sticking out of the water of Crater Lake. Some Indians still look upon it with awe, but scientists, recognize it as the little cone described above. Its name is Wizard Island.

But finally Llao had his revenge. His monsters seized the brave who first ventured, bore him to the highest part of the rim, and tore his body into small pieces. The spot where this was done is to-day called Llao Rock.


Crater Lake is one of the most beautiful spots in America. The gray lava rim is remarkably sculptured. The water is remarkably blue, a lovely turquoise along the edges, and, in the deep parts, seen from above, extremely dark. The contrast on a sunny day between the unreal, fairylike rim across the lake and the fantastic sculptures at one's feet, and, in the lake between, the myriad gradations from faintest turquoise to deepest Prussian blue, dwells long in the memory.

Unforgettable, also, are the twisted and contorted lava formations of the inner rim. A boat ride along the edge of the lake reveals these in a thousand changes. At one point near shore a mass of curiously carved lava is called the Phantom Ship, because, seen at a distance, it suggests a ship under full sail. The illusion at dusk or by moonlight is striking. In certain slants of light the Phantom Ship suddenly disappears—a phantom, indeed.

Another experience full of interest is a visit to Wizard Island. One can climb its sides and descend into its little crater.

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Last Updated: 30-Oct-2009