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Crater Lake: the deepest lake in the United States, and once the site of epic destruction that lives on in myth.

4 min read

Crater Lake, Oregon, has been known different names.
It was first known, to non-Native Americans anyway, as “Deep Blue Lake,” as named in 1853 by its discoverer, John Wesley Hillman, an American prospector. Later, in 1885, it was dubbed Lake Majesty, and finally Crater Lake.
Today Crater Lake and the Crater National Park that surrounds it are popular destinations for hikers and campers, but it was once the site of enormous geological upheaval, and one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever witnessed by humans, so terrifying that it has been recorded in the myths of the area’s native Indian tribe and passed down via story for nearly 8000 years.

Back to 7700 years ago (humans having arrived to the Americas at least 14,000 years ago) a volcano mountain, later named Mount Mazama, exploded with the force of a very large hydrogen bomb. The 3,350-meter-tall mountain blew some 1500 meters of its top off and collapsed in on itself. After it cooled, it left an almost 600-meter-deep, five by six mile-wide crater where there had once been the mountain. So large was the crater that, as it filled with 4.6 trillion gallons of rainwater, it was transformed from crater into the deepest lake in the United States, and the ninth deepest in the world.

With such a dramatic show, it is no surprise that the native Klamath tribe, regard the lake as an “abode to the Great Spirit”, and they have a popular legend about Crater Lake that has been passed down for 7700 years. The other Indian tribes of the area also have myths relating to the eruption, though with different gods and mythology. Klamath oral history tells of a battle between the sky god Skell and the god of the underworld Llao (a prominent feature at Crater Lake is Llao Rock). The war is described by a Klamath chief as such:

With such a sound as had never before been heard, the throne rock of Lla-O burst upward and outward, and great objects and smaller fell through the air, bearing with them the very stars of the heavens. Full seven days no sun was seen and there was no way to tell this day from another, and there was no light save the glare of the flaming mountains, and every day of those seven days the yellow water-smoke took toll in agony from those that could not live.”

Mount Mazama was destroyed in the battle, creating Crater Lake, called giiwas in the Klamath language. The legend includes many other elements including the fact that “two holy men offered to sacrifice themselves by jumping into the pit of fire on top of Lla-O’s mountain,” as well as the story of a last battle. This final tale explains the volcanic formation of “Wizard Island,” a mini-volcano with its own mini-crater lake, known as the Witches Cauldron, which rises from the larger Crater Lake.


Besides Wizard Island, Crater Lake is known for a number of other features, including the “Old Man of the Lake,” a full-sized hemlock tree that has been stuck vertically in the lake since at least 1896, and Phantom Ship Rock, named for the fact that in fog, it looks very much like a ship.
The Klamaths revered the lake and the surrounding area, keeping it undiscovered by white explorers until 1853. That year, on June 12, three gold prospectors, John Wesley Hillman, Henry Klippel, and Isaac Skeeters, came upon a long, sloping mountain. Upon reaching its highest point, a huge, awe-inspiring lake was visible. “This is the bluest lake we’ve ever seen,” they reported, and named it Deep Blue Lake. But gold was more on the minds of settlers at the time and the discovery was soon forgotten.
Captain Clarence Dutton was the next to make a discovery at Crater Lake. He commanded a U.S. Geological Survey party which carried the Cleetwood, a half-ton survey boat, up the steep slopes of the mountain then lowered it to the lake. From the stern of the Cleetwood, a piece of pipe on the end of a spool of piano wire sounded the depth of the lake at 168 different points and yes. The lake was very, very deep.
Interestingly, since the collapse of Mount Mazama, no fish inhabited the lake until William G. Steel decided to stock it in 1888 to allow for fishing. Regular stocking continued until 1941, when the fish could maintain a stable population without outside interference. Six species of fish were originally stocked, but only two species have survived: Kokanee Salmon and Rainbow Trout.




Images from Web – Google Research

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