Eight thousand years ago, Mt. Mazama, one of many active volcanoes in the Cascade Range, suddenly exploded, sending volcanic ash and rocky debris across the surrounding landscape and then collapsing to produce a broad caldera, six miles in diameter. Within a few hundred years, another volcanic cone began to develop within that caldera, which was gradually filling with snowmelt and rain water. Today, that second cone stands above the lake waters as Wizard Island and the lake itself, famous for its clear, blue waters, reaches over 1900 feet in depth, the deepest lake in the U.S. and the 7th deepest in the world. Filled with 5 trillion gallons of water, Crater Lake and its fabulous surroundings are now protected within a National Park.
From the Eugene area, we headed southwest along the Williamette River Valley, passing horse and sheep ranches before climbing into the mountain forests. Approaching the crest of the Cascades, we stopped to marvel at Salt Creek Falls, a spectacular cascade and the second highest waterfall in the State. We then crossed Williamette Pass (5100 feet) and headed south across the high but noticeably drier terrain of south-central Oregon before climbing back onto the spine of the Cascades and turning into Crater Lake National Park. As with most natural wonders, photos and descriptions only begin to represent the size and grandeur of this lake-filled caldera, set among pumice deserts, rocky mounds and a rich coniferous forest.
Climbing to a lookout above the rim, we enjoyed views extending along the Cascades, southward to the Klamath Basin and eastward across the mountains and deserts of southeast Oregon; on clear days, one can even see Mt. Shasta, in Northern California. In addition to the fabulous vistas, we encountered a variety of native wildlife, including golden-mantled ground squirrels, Steller's jays, gray jays, rock wrens, a lone Lewis' woodpecker and, of course, those ubiquitous ravens; of special note were the Clark's nutcrackers, more numerous than I have observed at any other location. After spending much of the day on or near the rim of Crater Lake, we took a side trip down to the Pinnacles (still within the Park); these spires of rock, lining a post glacial valley, were formed by the action of fumeroles within Mazama's volcanic debris.