To the first Native Americans and Europeans to stumble upon Crater Lake, it must have seemed like an apparition from another world – a sight completely unexpected and foreign to the dense pine forests of Oregon. Indeed, the Native American Klamath tribe, whose oral history includes the creation of Crater Lake, regards it as a sacred site.
Geologists tell us that Crater Lake was formed sometime around 5700 BCE when Mount Mazama experienced a violent volcanic eruption followed by a partial collapse that replaced its summit with a large crater (or caldera). Although no rivers or springs flow into the caldera, over time it filled with water from rain and snow. The lake today is about six miles (9.6 km) long and five miles (8 km) wide. It's average depth is 1,148 ft (350 m) and its deepest point is 1,949 ft (594 m) deep – making it the deepest lake in the U.S. (and the second deepest in North America, after Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada). The water in Crater Lake is considered among the purest in North America.
The size of the lake makes it difficult to capture it all in one photograph (unless you have a very wide angle lens, a panoramic camera, or access to a helicopter or plane). The panoramic view of the lake shown below was made from several individual photos taken with a 28mm lens and then "stitched" together in Photoshop.
Within the lake are two islands. The larger one is Wizard Island, formed after the lake as volcanic activity continued and created a cinder cone that pushed up through the surface of the lake. Eventually trees found root on the island, though the summit remains a volcanic crater about 500 ft (150 m) wide and 100 ft (30 m) deep. A smaller island called the Phantom Ship (because it presumably reminded early explorers of a sailing ship) is much older. Geologists believe the dense lave rock is more than 400,000 years old and represents the oldest rock exposed within the caldera – rock that predates and survived the eruption of Mt. Mazama.
Outside the caldera, a few miles away, stand the "Pinnacles", further evidence of Crater Lakes volcanic and geothermal origins. What looks like a series of fragile mud or clay spires are actually minerals "welded" together at extremely high temperatures within vents (or fumaroles) in the earth's surface. The surrounding surface material eventually eroded away, leaving the minerals molded by the vents as free-standing pinnacles.
Crater Lake National Park is easy to visit by car and a paved road around the crater rim offers many scenic overlooks. It is also possible to take a boat ride on the lake and spend some time on Wizard Island.