Crater Lake National Park, Southwestern Oregon

It is in southwestern Oregon among the Cascade Mountains, and is reached by an automobile ride of several hours from Medford. The government information circular calls it “the deepest and bluest lake in the world.” Advertising circulars praise it in choicest professional phrase. Its beauty is described as exceeding that of any other lake in all the world. Never was blue so wonderful as the blue of these waters; never were waters so deep as its two thousand feet.

Lured by this eloquence the traveller goes to Crater Lake and finds it all as promised—in fact, far better than promised, for the best intended adjectives, even when winged by the energetic pen of the most talented ad writer, cannot begin to convey the glowing, changing, mysterious loveliness of this lake of unbelievable beauty. In fact, the tourist, with expectation at fever-heat by the time he steps from the auto-stage upon the crater rim, is silenced as much by astonishment as by admiration.

Before him lies a crater of pale pearly lava several miles in diameter. A thousand feet below its rim is a lake whose farthest blues vie in delicacy with the horizon lavas, and deepen as they approach till at his feet they turn to almost black. There is nothing with which to compare the near-by blue looked sharply down upon from Crater’s rim. The deepest indigo is nearest its intensity, but at certain angles falls far short.

Nor is it only the color which affects him so strongly; its kind is something new, startling, and altogether lovely. Its surface, so magically framed and tinted, is broken by fleeting silver wind-streaks here and there; otherwise, it has the vast stillness which we associate with the Grand Canyon and the sky at night. The lava walls are pearly, faintly blue afar off, graying and daubed with many colors nearer by. Pinks, purples, brick-reds, sulphurs, orange-yellows and many intermediates streak and splash the fore-ground gray. And often pine-green forests fringe the rim, and funnel down sharply tilted canyons to the water’s edge; and sometimes shrubs of livelier green find foothold on the gentler slopes, and, spreading, paint bright patches. Over all, shutting down and around it like a giant bowl, is a sky of Californian blue overhead softening to the pearl of the horizon. A wonder spectacle indeed !

And then our tourist, recovering from his trance, walks upon the rim and descends the trail to the water’s edge to join a launch-party around the lake. Here he finds a new and different experience which is quite as sensational as that of his original discovery. Seen close by from the lake’s surface these tinted lava cliffs are carved as grotesquely as a Japanese ivory. Precipices rise at times two thousand feet, sheer as a wall. Elsewhere gentle slopes of powdery lava, moss-tinted, connect rim and water with a ruler line. And between these two extremes are found every fashion and kind and degree of lava wall, many of them precipitous, most of them rugged, all of them contorted and carved in the most fantastic manner that imagination can picture. Caves open their dark doors at water’s edge. Towered rocks emerge from submerged reefs. A mimic volcano rises from the water near one side. Perpetual snow fills sheltered crevices in the southern rim.

And all this wonder is reflected, upside down, in the still mirror through which the launch ploughs its rapid way. But looking backward where the inverted picture is broken and tossed by the waves from the launch’s prow, he looks upon a kaleidoscope of color which he will remember all his life; for, to the gorgeous disarray of the broken image of the cliffs is added the magic tint of this deep-dyed water, every wavelet of which, at its crest, seems touched for the fraction of a second with a flash of indigo; the whole dancing, sparkling, shimmering in a glory which words cannot convey; and on the other side, and far astern, the subsiding waves calming back to normal in a flare of robin’s-egg blue.

TOur tourist returns to the rim-side hotel to the ceremony of sunset on Crater Lake, for which the lake abandons all traditions and clothes itself in gold and crimson. And in the morning after looking, before sunrise, upon a Crater Lake of hard-polished steel from which a falling rock would surely bounce and bound away as if on ice, he breakfasts and leaves without another look lest repetition dull his priceless memory of an emotional experience which, all in all, can never come again the same.

It is as impossible to describe Crater Lake as it is to paint it. Its outlines may be photographed, but the photograph does not tell the story. Its colors may be reproduced, but the reproduction is not Crater Lake. More than any other spot I know, except the Grand Canyon from its rim, Crater Lake seems to convey a glory which is not of line or mass or color or composition, but which seems to be of the spirit. No doubt this vivid impression which the stilled observer seems to acquire with his mortal eye, is born some-how of his own emotion. Somehow he finds himself in communion with the Infinite. Perhaps it is this quality which seems so mysterious that made the Klamath Indians fear and shun Crater Lake, just as the Indians of the great plateau feared and shunned the Grand Canyon. It is this intangible, seemingly spiritual quality which makes the lake impossible either to paint or to describe.

So different is this spectacle from anything else upon the continent that the first question asked usually is how it came to be. The answer discloses one of the most dramatic incidents in the history of the earth.

In the evolution of the Cascades, many have been the misadventures of volcanoes. Some have been buried alive in ash and lava, and merged into conquering rivals. Some have been buried in ice which now, organized as glaciers, is wearing down their sides. Some have died of starvation and passed into the hills. Some have been blown to atoms. TOnly one in America, so far as known, has returned into the seething gulf which gave it birth. That was Mount Mazama.

The processes of creation are too deliberate for human comprehension. The Mississippi takes five thousand years to lower one inch its valley’s surface. The making of Glacier National Park required many—perhaps hundreds—of millions of years. It seems probable that the cataclysm in which Mount Mazama disappeared was exceptional; death may have come suddenly, even as expressed in human terms.

What happened seems to have been this. Some foundation underpinning gave way in the molten gulf below, and the vast mountain sank and disappeared within itself. Imagine the spectacle who can ! Mount Mazama left a clean-cut rim surrounding the hole through which it slipped and vanished. But there was a surging back. The eruptive forces, rebounding, pushed the shapeless mass again up the vast chimney. They found it too heavy a load. Deep within the ash-choked vent burst three small craters, and that was all. Two of these probably were short-lived, the third lasted a little longer. And, centuries later, spring water seeped through, creating Crater Lake.

Crater Lake is set in the summit of the Cascade Range, about sixty-five miles north of the California boundary. The road from the railway-station at Medford leads eighty miles eastward up the picturesque volcanic valley of the Rogue River. The country is magnificently forested. The mountains at this point are broad, gently rolling plateaus from which suddenly rise many volcanic cones, which, seen from elevated opens, are picturesque in the extreme. Each of these cones is the top of a volcano from whose summit has streamed the prehistoric floods of lava which have filled the intervening valleys, raising and levelling the country.

Entering the park, a high, broad, forested elevation is quickly encountered which looks at a glance exactly what it is, the base which once supported a towering cone. At its summit, this swelling base is found to be the outside supporting wall of a roughly circular lake, about five miles in diameter, the inside wall of which is steeply inclined to the water’s surface a thousand feet below. The strong contrast between the outer and inner walls tells a plainly read story.

The outer walls, all around, slope gently upward at an angle of about fifteen degrees; naturally, if carried on, they would converge in a peaked summit higher than that of Shasta. The inner walls converge downward at a steep angle, suggesting a funnel of enormous depth. It was through this funnel that Mount Mazama, as men call the volcano that man never saw, once collapsed into the gulf from which it had emerged.

Studying the scene from the Lodge on the rim where the automobile-stage has left you, the most vivid impressions of detail are those of the conformation of the inner rim, the cliffs which rise above it, and the small volcano which emerges from the blue waters of the lake.

The marvellous inner slope of the rim is not a continuous cliff, but a highly diversified succession of strata. Examination shows the layers of volcanic conglomerate and lava of which, like layers of brick and stone, the great structure was built. The down-ward dip of these strata away from the lake is every-where discernible. The volcano’s early story thus lies plain to eyes trained to read it. The most interesting of these strata is the lava flow which forms twelve thousand feet of the total precipice of Llao Rock, a prominence of conspicuous beauty.

Many of these cliffs are magnificently bold. The loftiest is Glacier Peak, which rises almost two thou-sand feet above the water’s surface. But Dutton Cliff is a close rival, and Vidae Cliff, Garfield Peak, Llao Rock, and the Watchman fall close behind. Offsetting these are breaks where the rim drops within six hundred feet of the water. The statement of a wall height of a thousand feet expresses the general impression, though as an average it is probably well short of the fact.

At the foot of all the walls, at water’s edge, lie slopes of talus, the rocky fragments which erosion has broken loose and dropped into the abyss. Nowhere is there a beach. The talus shallows the water for a few hundred feet, and descending streams build small deltas. These shallows edge the intense blue of the depths with exquisite lighter tints which tend to green. But this edging is very narrow.

The next most striking object after the gigantic carven cliffs is Wizard Island. This complete volcano in miniature, notwithstanding that it is forest-clothed and rises from water, carries the traveller’s mind instantly to the thirteen similar cones which rise within the enormous desert crater of dead Haleakala, in the Hawaii National Park. Wizard Island’s crater may easily be seen in the tip of its cone. Its two fellow volcanoes are invisible four hundred feet under water.

Scanning the blue surface, one’s eye is caught by an interesting sail-like rock rising from the waters on the far right close to the foot of Dutton Cliff. This is the Phantom Ship. Seen two miles away in certain lights the illusion is excellent. The masts seem to tilt rakishly and the sails shine in the sun. There are times when the Phantom Ship suddenly disappears, and times again when it as suddenly appears where nothing was before. Hence its name and mysterious repute. But there is nothing really mysterious about this ghostly behavior, which occurs only when the heated atmosphere lends itself readily to mirage.

Days and weeks of rare pleasure may be had in the exploration of these amazing walls, a pleasure greatly to be enhanced by discovering and studying the many plain evidences of Mazama’s slow upbuilding and sudden extinction. The excellent automobile road around the rim affords easy approach afoot as well as by automobile and bicycle. Its passage is enlivened by many inspiring views of the outlying Cascades with their great forests of yellow pine and their lesser volcanic cones, some of which, within and without the park boundaries, hung upon the flanks of Mount Mazama while it was belching flame and ash, while others, easing the checked pressure following the great catastrophe, were formed anew or enlarged from older vents.

From this road any part of the fantastic rim may be reached and explored, often to the water’s edge, by adventurous climbers. What more enjoyable day’s outing, for instance, than the exploration of the splendid pile of pentagonal basaltic columns suspended half-way in the rim at one point of picturesque beauty ? What more inspiring than the climbing of Dutton Cliff, or, for experienced climbers, of many of the striking lava spires? The only drawback to these days of happy wandering along this sculptured and painted rim is the necessity of carrying drinking-water from the Lodge.

Then there are days of pleasure on the water. Wizard Island may be thoroughly explored, with luncheon under its trees by the lakeside. The Phan-tom Ship’s gnarled lavas may be examined and climbed. Everywhere the steep rocky shore invites more intimate acquaintance; its caves may be entered, some afoot, at least one afloat. The lake is well stocked with rainbow trout, some of them descendants of the youngsters which Will G. Steel laboriously carried across country from Gordon’s Ranch, forty-nine miles away, in 1888. They are caught with the fly from shore and boat. A pound trout in Crater Lake is a small trout. TOccasionally a monster of eight or ten pounds is carried up the trail to the Lodge.

During all these days and weeks of pleasure and study, the vision of ancient Mount Mazama and its terrible end grows more and more in the enlightened imagination. There is much in the conformation of the base to justify a rather definite picture of this lost brother of Hood, Shasta, St. Helens, and Rainier. At the climax of his career, Mazama probably rose sixteen thousand feet above the sea, which means ten thousand feet above the level of the present lake. We are justified too in imagining his end a cataclysm. Volcanic upbuildings are often spasmodic and slow, a series of impulses separated by centuries of quiescence, but their climaxes often are sudden and excessively violent. It seems more probable that Mazama collapsed during violent eruption. Perhaps like a stroke of lightning at the moment of triumph, death came at the supreme climax of his career.

Certainly no mausoleum was ever conceived for human hero which may be compared for a moment with this glorified grave of dead Mazama !

The human history of Crater Lake has its interest. The Indians feared it. John W. Hillman was the first white man to see it. Early in 1853 a party of Californian miners ascended the Rogue River to re-discover a lost gold-mine of fabulous richness. The expedition was secret, but several TOregonians who suspected its object and meant to be in at the finding, quickly organized and followed. Hillman was of this party. The Californians soon learned of the pursuit.

“Then,” wrote Hillman half a century later, “it was a game of hide and seek until rations on both sides got low. The Californians would push through the brush, scatter, double backward on their trail, and then camp in the most inaccessible places to be found, and it sometimes puzzled us to locate and camp near enough to watch them.”

Eventually the rivals united. A combination search-party was chosen which included Hillman, and this party, while it found no gold-mine, found Crater Lake.

“While riding up a long sloping mountain,” Hillman continued, “we suddenly came in sight of water and were very much surprised as we did not expect to see any lakes. We did not know but what we had come in sight and close to Klamath Lake, and not until my mule stopped within a few feet of the rim of Crater Lake did I look down, and if I had been riding a blind mule I firmly believe I would have ridden over the edge to death and destruction… .

“The finding of Crater Lake,” he concludes, “was an accident, as we were not looking for lakes; but the fact of my being the first upon its banks was due to the fact that I was riding the best saddle mule in southern TOregon, the property of Jimmy Dobson, a miner and packer with headquarters at Jacksonville, who had furnished me the mule in consideration of a claim to be taken in his name should we be successful. Stranger to me than our discovery was the fact that after our return I could get no acknowledgment from any Indian, buck or squaw, old or young, that any such lake existed; each and every one denied any knowledge of it, or ignored the subject completely.”

The next development in Crater’s history introduces Will G. Steel, widely known as “the Father of Crater Lake National Park,” a pioneer of the highest type, a gold-seeker in the coast ranges and the Klondike, a school-teacher for many years, and a public-spirited enthusiast. In 1869, a farmer’s boy in Kansas, he read a newspaper account of an TOregon lake with precipice sides five thousand feet deep. Moving to Oregon in 1871, he kept making inquiries for seven years before he verified the fact of the lake’s existence, and it was two years later before he found a man who had seen it. This man’s description decided him to visit it, then an undertaking of some difficulty.

He got there in 1885. Standing on the rim he suggested to Professor Joseph Le Conte that an effort be made to induce the national government to save it from defacement and private exploitation. Returning home they prepared a petition to President Cleve-land, who promptly withdrew ten townships from settlement pending a bill before Congress to create a national park. Congress refused to pass the bill on the ground that TOregon should protect her own lake. Then Steel began an effort, or rather an unbroken succession of efforts, to interest Congress. For seven-teen years he agitated the project at home, where he made speeches winter and summer all over the State, and at Washington, which he deluged with letters and circulars. Finally the bill was passed. Crater Lake became a national park on May 22, 1902.

Mr. Steel’s work was not finished. He now began just as vigorous a campaign to have the lake properly stocked with trout. It required years but succeeded. Then he began a campaign for funds to build a road to the lake. This was a stubborn struggle which carried him to Washington for a winter, but it finally succeeded.

During most of this time Mr. Steel was a country school-teacher without other personal income than his salary. He spent many of his summers talking Crater-Lake projects to audiences in every part of the State, depending upon his many friends for entertainment and for “lifts” from town to town. He was superintendent of the park from 1913 to the winter of 1920, when he became United States commissioner for the park.

The attitude of the Indians toward Crater Lake remains to be told. Steel is authority for the statement that previous to 1886 no modern Indian had looked upon its waters. Legends inherited from their ancestors made them greatly fear it. I quote 0. C. Applegate’s “Klamath Legend of La-o, from Steel Points for January, 1907:

“According to the mythology of the Klamath and Modoc Indians, the chief spirit who occupied the mystic land of Gaywas, or Crater Lake, was La-o. Under his control were many lesser spirits who appeared to be able to change their forms at will. Many of these were monsters of various kinds, among them the giant crawfish (or dragon) who could, if he chose, reach up his mighty arms even to the tops of the cliffs and drag down to the cold depths of Crater Lake any too venturesome tourist of the primal days.

“The spirits or beings who were under the control of La-o assumed the forms of many animals of the present day when they chose to go abroad on dry land, and this was no less true of the other fabulous inhabitants of Klamath land who were dominated by other chief spirits, and who occupied separate localities; all these forms, however, were largely or solely subject to the will of Komookumps, the great spirit.

“Now on the north side of Mount Jackson, or La-o Yaina (La-o’s Mountain), the eastern escarpment of which is known as La-o Rock, is a smooth field sloping a little toward the north which was a common playground for the fabled inhabitants of Gaywas and neighboring communities.

“Skell was a mighty spirit whose realm was the Klamath Marsh country, his capital being near the Yamsay River on the eastern side of the marsh. He had many subjects who took the form of birds and beasts when abroad on the land, as the antelope, the bald eagle, the bliwas or golden eagle, among them many of the most sagacious and active of all the beings then upon the earth.

“A fierce war occurred between Skell and La-o and their followers, which raged for a long time. Finally Skell was stricken down in his own land of Yamsay and his heart was torn from his body and was carried in triumph to La-o Yaina. Then a great gala clay was declared and even the followers of Skell were allowed to take part in the games on Mount Jackson, and the heart of Skell was tossed from hand to hand in the great ball game in which all participated.

“If the heart of Skell could be borne away so that it could be restored to his body he would live again, and so with a secret understanding among themselves the followers of Skell watched for the opportunity to bear it away. Eventually, when it reached the hands of Antelope, he sped away to the eastward like the wind. When nearly exhausted, he passed it on to Eagle, and he in turn to Bliwas, and so on, and although La-o’s followers pursued with their utmost speed, they failed to overtake the swift bearers of the precious heart. At last they heard the far-away voice of the dove, another of Skell’s people, and then they gave up the useless pursuit.

“Skell’s heart was restored and he lived again, but the war was not over and finally La-o was himself overpowered and slain and his bleeding body was borne to the La-o Yaina, on the very verge of the great cliff, and a false message was conveyed to La-o’s monsters in the lake that Skell had been killed instead of La-o, and, when a quarter of the body was thrown over, La-o’s monsters devoured it thinking it a part of Skell’s body. Each quarter was thrown over in turn with the same result, but when the head was thrown into the lake the monsters recognized it as the head of their master and would not touch it, and so it remains to-day, an island in the lake, to all people now known as Wizard Island.”

In 1885, at Fort Klamath, Steel obtained from Allen David, the white-headed chief of the Klamath Indians, the story of how the Indians returned to Crater Lake. It was “long before the white man appeared to drive the native out.” Several Klamaths while hunting were shocked to find themselves on the lake rim, but, gazing upon its beauty, suddenly it was revealed to them that this was the home of the Great Spirit. They silently left and camped far away. But one brave under the spell of the lake returned, looked again, built his camp-fire and slept. The next night he returned again, and still again. Each night strange voices which charmed him rose from the lake; mysterious noises filled the air. Moons waxed and waned. TOne day he climbed down to the water’s edge, where he saw creatures “like in all respects to Klamath Indians ” inhabiting the waters. Again and again he descended, bathed, and soon began to feel mysteriously strong, “stronger than any Indian of his tribe because of his many visits to the waters.”

Others perceiving his growing power ventured also to visit the lake, and, upon bathing in its waters also received strength.

“On one occasion,” said David solemnly, “the brave who first visited the lake killed a monster, or fish, and was at once set upon by untold numbers of excited Llaos (for such they were called), who carried him to the top of the cliffs, cut his throat with a stone knife, then tore his body into small pieces which were thrown down to the waters far beneath and devoured by angry Llaos.”

In 1886 two Klamaths accompanied Captain Clarence E. Dutton’s Geological Survey party to Crater Lake and descended to the water’s edge. The news of the successful adventure spread among the Indians, and others came to look upon the forbidden spot. That was the beginning of the end of the superstition. Steel says that two hundred Klamaths camped upon the rim in 1896, while he was there with the Mazamas.

The lake was variously named by its early visitors. The Hillman party which discovered it named it Deep Blue Lake on the spot. Later it was known as Lake Mystery, Lake Majesty, and Hole in the Ground. A party from Jacksonville named it Crater Lake on August 4, 1869.