I’ve never craned my neck so eagerly in my life. I had bundled myself out of our rented car (still miss you, Flo) and started to march up what was the rim of a collapsed volcano in a clumsy schoolgirl fashion, just waiting to get the glimpse of the lake beneath.
The drive into Crater Lake National Park had been surprising. When you think lake, you think water, blue, green. When you think Crater Lake, you think even bluer. In my research, I had been told how intense a blue Crater Lake was. “How blue can it really be?”, I asked myself, making sure I didn’t blow my expectations out the water (ha, pun unintentional). But the drive into the National Park didn’t make you think blue… it was an arid, lonely landscape. A few trees, a lot of grubble and intimidating, powerful looking mountains on the horizon.
How was any intense blue water meant to be found anywhere near all this?
I opened up the pamphlet we were given when we paid our $10 (per vehicle) entrance fee and confirmed my suspicions of where we were: Pumice Desert. We were in a desert. Earlier that day I was on a mountain brimming with trees! Oregon, you’re a strange state but you keep me on my toes!
Back to the first lookout, craning my neck, I was impatient to see what the hell was going on with this place. And wow. The moment you’re standing on the rim looking down into the caldera of water – pure water from rainfall and melted snow – it hits you just how big Crater Lake is.
To put it into perspective, Crater Lake is 8km wide; at the rim you’re standing 900 feet above the lake; the mountain (Mt Mazama) it used to be was estimated at around 12,000 feet and it’s now the deepest lake in the US at 1,900 feet. There’s even a volcano within the lake, its peak poking out – that’s Wizard Island.
You feel absolutely tiny compared to that expanse of water. The fact that it really is so intensely blue just makes it seem even larger; compared to the faded browns on my eye level, the lake pops out, utterly mesmerising.
It’s not hard to see why the Native American Klamath Tribe still find this site so sacred. When Mt Mazama exploded almost 8,000 years ago, they believed it was a fight between Llao, the spirit of the underworld, and Skell, the spirit of the sky. Mt Mazama had become an empty bowl by the end of the battle, with Llao forced back into the underworld.
I love these legends.
With the water as blue as it was, I felt I needed to be up close to it. For it to seem more real, and kind of to get to the magic/sorcery behind this madness.
Cleetwood Trail winds its way frustratingly down into the jaws of the hollowed out mountain. Alan and I were a bit nervous because the trail was described as ‘strenuous’, and somehow we took this incredibly seriously. It was fine; you just have to keep an eye on your footing on the way down and bring lots of water! And apparently not throw rocks at people beneath you, as the trail kindly warned us. I don’t know either.
At the bottom of the trail is where you embark on the boat trip tours to Wizard Island. Stupidly, we didn’t plan ahead enough to pick up on the fact that the last tour leaves at 3:30pm – we were far too late, and the tour takes 2 hours, which isn’t particularly convenient when you need to drive 4-6 more hours to California that day.
So we enjoyed the base of Cleetwood Trail as much as we could. We had our swimwear on, hopping from rock to rock and dipping ourselves into the water until it froze our insides (i.e. immediately). At the base of this trail is the only place you can swim in Crater Lake. It was funny how the water could be such a solid, intense blue from the rim, but incredibly clear and transparent close up.
Either way, it was one of the most mesmerising places I’ve experienced which somehow felt like its own magical land, the quiet and desolate atmosphere hushing you to keep its secret.
P.s. Sorry I’ve blabbed.