Mount Mazama, a peak formed by a succession of overlapping volcanoes, had a cataclysmic eruption 7,700 years ago. Spewing rocks and ash up nearly 30 miles into the air, the sheer force and volume of the magma caused the 12,000 foot peak to collapse into the empty magma chamber. As it continued to erupt, it continued to collapse, leaving in its place a five-mile wide, 4,000 feet deep depression, known as a caldera. As time moved on, more eruptions sealed the caldera and rain and water from the melting snows began to fill the hole and give us what we know today as Crater Lake – the deepest lake in the United States.
Here is the story of our three-day trip from the Upper Willamette Valley to this amazing sight, and all the stops in between.
We started our trip on a Monday morning. Our plan was to travel south and stop in the city of Eugene to have lunch and check out a couple of the many craft breweries in the town. We made what was supposed to be a quick stop at a bike shop first – and while we were there, the car battery died. And I mean died We had to get help jump starting it. I was amazed how many people came to our rescue!! One young man spent over a half an hour (while his beer sat in the bar going flat) helping us get the car moving. Got to Les Schwaab to find it was going to be a two-hour wait. Well, alrighty then. We walked a couple blocks to a pub – The Bier Stein – and had a beer (OK, a couple). This place was great! Although we didn’t eat, we were told by several people the food was excellent (The beer cheese soup was recommended twice!). Not only did they have quite an extensive tap list, they sold bottled beer as well – local and imports!
OK – now, moving on –
The time and money spent getting the battery replaced changed our plans a little. We skipped the breweries in Eugene and headed out to our motel. A two-hour drive through the mountains – it was really very pretty.
Here is a shot of Odell Lake – a basin formed by a glacier and filled with Oregon Rain!
And then on to The Whispering Pines Motel and Market in Chemult. There aren’t many places to stay near Crater Lake when you’re on a budget, but this little gem is one!
It’s an old building that needs some cosmetic work, but the rooms are clean and spacious!
When we checked in we met Karma – very friendly!!
The room is not air-conditioned, but there is a fan. Open all the windows, put on the fan and it’s pretty comfortable. They also include a microwave and refrigerator. We brought some artisan cheese and salami, a baguette and some wine – voila! Dinner!
A cup of coffee and we were on our way !
We reached the park entrance, paid the $15 fee and in we went! The first stop had a great view of Wizard Island. This island was formed after the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Mazama. A series of smaller eruptions continued in the area, forming a cinder cone in the lake – The Huffington Post wrote a great article on the feature – Oregon’s Wizard Island is Shrouded in Ancient Mystery…
We continued driving south on West Rim Drive. It was really beautiful looking down on the lake and seeing the clouds reflection on the water –
One of the informational displays noted that a 21-year-old prospector “discovered” the lake while he was out searching for gold – but the reality is, he was not the first to see this wonder…
We stopped at the Rim Village near the south end of the lake. They have a gift shop and cafe – And I suggest you buy your souvenirs here – the same items will be higher priced at the Park Headquarters and Mazama Village. The food is a self-serve, pre-made variety.
A quick stop at the visitor’s center and a short hike down to another view-point of the lake – Just gazing out at the water was a serene experience, in spite of all the people.
We drove over to the lodge after this stop to see if they sold beer at 10am – and they did! Although the lodge is a spendy place to stay, I wish we would have stayed just one night to see the sun set and rise on the lake.
We sipped out beer out on a veranda that offered a wonderful view of the lake.
We stopped at the park headquarters, Steel Visitor Center expecting to see some exhibits, but found none! We learned afterward that they are actually housed behind the Rim Visitor center (the first one we stopped at) and is called Sinnott Memorial Overlook – I wish we would have checked that out!
Now, down a little further to the south entrance of the park and Mazama Village. The website says they have great burgers and beers on tap at Annie Springs Restaurant – Open 8am to 9pm for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What they don’t tell you (so you can plan for it) is that they are three separate services with a 30 minute closure between each one. We arrived at 10:30 ready to eat and were told, sorry, you have to wait. It was pretty disappointing. We went to the camp store and got a pre-made sandwich – most of which went in the trash. In my opinion, Mazama Village isn’t worth the extra 15 minutes drive from the Rim Drives.
SO – back up to the lake and a turn onto East Rim Drive. We missed the waterfalls, but I hear they are beautiful! We did drive the seven miles down Pinnacles Road to view this site. The pinnacles (called fossil fumaroles) formed from sheets of hot pumice from the volcanic eruption. Hot steam and gasses flowed through vents from the bottom, turning the pumice into cement like needles. As the surrounding, softer materials eroded, these vents were left to stand alone. You can access the views from the Pinnacles Trail.
Continuing north on East Rim Drive, we stopped at a view-point of the Phantom ship. It gets its name because it looks a little like an old ship just sitting out on the lake. They say it’s a little eerie when the fog settles around it! It is formed of lava and is the oldest rock on the lake.
Our final stop on our 33 mile loop around the lake, a view from the highest point in Oregon that can be reached by paved road – over 7800 feet in elevation – Cloud Cap Overlook.
We were unable to access the Cleetwood Trail due to maintenance. It is the only access to the banks of the lake.
It was a beautiful drive – a few disappointments with the visitor centers and shops, but the main focus of our trip was the natural wonders of this amazingly formed lake. It is truly a wonder and must be seen with your own eyes to really appreciate its beauty.
Heading home today – and we WILL hit the Ninkasi Brewery in Eugene – post to follow!
Learn more about Crater Lake’s history at these sites: