When President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill on 22 May 1902 for Crater Lake National Park to become nation's fifth oldest park, William Gladstone Steel's dream had become a reality. Steel, the father of Crater Lake National Park, had been preoccupied with Crater Lake since 1870 when he was a sixteen year old boy in Kansas. He learned of Crater Lake by reading a newspaper that was use to wrap his lunch. Two years later he moved to Oregon and in 1885 he and a druggist named John Beck joined a group headed for Crater Lake. When the two men, Steel and Beck finally spotted the lake, the water was so blue it startled them. "All ingenuity of nature seems to have been exerted to the fullest capacity to build a grand awe-inspiring temple the likes of which the world has never seen before," said Steel. His involvement with Crater Lake covered 49 years. After it was made a national park, he realized his work had just begun. Even before then, Crater Lake was the basis of much local Native American legend, as the stories of its creation have been passed down through the centuries. The lake was formed after the collapse of an ancient volcano, posthumously named Mount Mazama. This volcano violently erupted approximately 7,700 years ago. That eruption was 42 times as powerful as the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. The basin or caldera was formed after the top 5,000 feet of the volcano collapsed. Subsequent lava flows sealed the bottom, allowing the caldera to fill with approximately 4.6 trillion gallons of water from rainfall and snow melt, to create the seventh deepest lake in the world at 1,932 feet.
Rolling mountains, volcanic peaks, and evergreen forests surround this enormous, high Cascade Range lake, recognized worldwide as a scenic wonder. On summer days, neither words or photographs can capture Crater Lake's remarkable blueness. For much of the year--usually October to July at higher elevations--a thick blanket of snow encircles the lake. Snowfall provides most of the park's annual 66 inches of precipitation.
Crater Lake rarely freezes over completely; it last did in 1949. Heat from the summer sun stored in the immense body of water retards ice formation throughout the winter. On the earth clock, natural forces only recently constructed this landscape. Lava flows first formed a high plateau base on which explosive eruptions then built the Cascade volcanoes. Humans probably witnessed the cataclysmic eruption of Mount Mazama about 7,700 years ago.
Shamans in historic time forbade most Indians to view the lake, and Indians said nothing about it to trappers and pioneers, who for 50 years did not find it. Then, in 1853, while searching for the Lost Cabin Gold Mine, some prospectors, including John Wesley Hillman, happened onto Crater Lake. Soundings with piano wire by a U.S. Geological Survey party in 1886 set the lake's depth at 1,996 feet, close to sonar findings of 1,932 feet officially recorded in 1959.
The clean, clear, cold lakewater contained no fish until they were introduced by humans from 1888 to 1941. Today, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon still survive in Crater Lake. Wildflowers bloom late and disappear early here, thriving in wet, open areas. Birds and other animals often seen are ravens, jays, nutcrackers, deer, ground squirrels and chipmunks. Present but seldom seen are elk, black bear, foxes, porcupines, pine martens, chickaree squirrels and pikas.
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