When I was seven, my family took the first of many summer vacations traveling through the Pacific Northwest. We camped, hiked, fished and traveled to all kinds of places — from caves to redwood forests to rocky beaches. Some sites we saw only once, others we liked so much that we returned each year. Though I loved every one of these trips, no single experience had quite the impact as the first time I saw Oregon’s Crater Lake. My family reached the viewing point along the rim; I looked out at the immense scene before me and was completely, breathlessly awestruck with the size of it all. Knowing little about natural history at the time, all I knew was that at some point, somehow, nature made all this.
Earlier this week, Crater Lake National Park (CLNP) celebrated its 110th anniversary. Established May 22, 1903, the park covers more than 183,000 acres around Crater Lake itself. At less than six miles across, the lake certainly isn’t the largest in the U.S., but with a depth of 1,943 feet, it is easily the deepest. In fact, it is one of the 10 deepest lakes on the entire planet. The blue water that the lake was once named for — so clear because the lake is fed almost solely from snowfall — sits inside a massive crater that formed roughly 7,700 years ago when the stratovolcano Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed. The resulting crater is so deep that the lake itself only begins more than 2,000 feet below the crater rim. So when you look down into the lake, you look way, way down — so far that it seems impossible.
The rim itself sits at about 7,000 feet above sea level, so if you manage to turn your back on the sight of this lake that seems to sit on the top of the world, you still have a fantastic view of the rest of the Cascades sprawled out around you — much of it more pristine than you could hope to see. Because the park was established, and therefore protected, before commercial logging reached the area, almost all the forests on CLNP are old growth. At the high altitude and with the inhospitable soil that comes from taking root in an area with so much volcanic activity, many of the trees that you can see from Crater Lake have fought to be there for longer than most of us have been alive. So while you may visit to see the lake itself — and I strongly suggest you do — don’t forget that it sits amidst a landscape carved out by raw, natural energy and covered with some of the most determined life on the planet.