Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Beyond Words

That's where everybody goes whey the first gaze upon Crater Lake.

By Paul Gerald

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  Somehow the word "lake" just doesn't seem right for Crater Lake. It looks more like a mountain range filled with water. It's 6 miles across, more than 6,000 feet above sea level, and ringed with peaks and old-growth forest. Even if it wasn't filled with water, people would come from all over to see it. As it is, it overwhelms the poor word "beautiful."

And then there's the water: Certainly the word "blue" needs to be replaced with a more powerful adjective, or maybe a smoother one. The water in Crater Lake is bluer than blue. It's so blue that when color photos first came along, the people developing the film sent it back with notes saying, "Sorry, we blew it on your blue." That's because nothing could be that blue. Crater Lake is mind-boggling blue.

Crater Lake is so amazing that Indians were not allowed by their holy men to see it. The average person was deemed unfit to deal with it, and even now, in this age of world travel, people get there and look out across it and say ... well, there isn't much to say. You can actually see their brains short out and give up. "Damn." "Sure is beautiful." "Sure is blue."

Another thing they should change is this word "Crater." When you think crater, you think about a meteor hitting the Earth. That's not what happened in south-central Oregon. They should call it "Caldera Lake." What happened is that a volcano, some 12,000 feet high and known today as Mount Mazama, blew up and then collapsed about 7,000 years ago. They say the eruption was 42 times more powerful than Mount Saint Helens, and the remains of Mount Mazama now lie scattered across eight states.

About 4,000 years ago it cooled off enough to fill with water -- the area gets an average of 529 inches of snow per year -- and now it's the deepest lake in the United States at 1,932 feet. Only six lakes in the world are deeper. The depth is what makes it so gosh-darn blue -- that and the fact that the water is so pure and clean that scientists come to study it. No creeks flow into or out of Crater Lake, so it's what they call a "closed ecosystem." The only fish in it -- trout and lake salmon - come from those introduced more than a hundred years ago.

One of my favorite moments from my weekend at Crater Lake was waiting in line at the Visitors Center and hearing the man in front of me ask the ranger, "So, what is there to do here?" She could have said all sorts of stuff -- 90 miles of hiking trails ranging from 6,000 to 9,000 feet, horseback riding, driving the Rim Drive, taking a boat tour on the lake, admiring waterfalls and strange volcanic features, sipping cocktails or coffee in the luxurious Crater Lake Lodge -- but what she said was, with her sarcasm thinly veiled, "Well, most people just look at the lake -- and take pictures of it."

Ah, yes, take pictures. People drive all 33 miles of the Rim Drive and take photos from every viewpoint along the way because, at the time, every view seems different. Then they come back with 24 pictures of the lake, all of which added together don't do it justice.

There are three theories to shooting Crater Lake: One is to try to capture the blueness of it (and hope the people processing the film know how to deal with it); another is to try to capture the size of it, which I found takes about seven pictures stuck together; another is to pick little spots and highlight them. For example, Lau Rock (rhymes with "how" rock) is more than 1,500 feet high, a sheer cliff of gray rock looming over the lake. If Lau Rock loomed over a 1-acre lake it would make a fine image, so all you can do is get a corner of the blue in there, framed by the green of a fir tree, and call it a photo. (One of the crimes of the print world is that the photo with this column will run in black-and-white.)

Two recommendations for your trip to Crater Lake: For accommodations you should either camp, if that's your thing, or plan way ahead and stay in the lodge. It sits right on the rim but fills up months ahead of time. The lady at the desk told me the "01" rooms are the most popular, as in 101, 201, etc. Room 401 is the best, with a corner view on the top floor, queen bed, and a claw-foot bathtub. The room fills up on weekends a year in advance.

For activities, do the boat tour. You'll have to hike down (and then back up) 700 feet, but it's the only trail that leads to the water. The thing is, actually getting on the lake gives you a whole new perspective. You can look up at the peaks, see all sorts of cool features including a log that's been floating around in it for at least 70 years, peer at the bottom when it's 100 feet below you, and give you a final, up-close confirmation on the only thing you could think of when you first stood on the rim: That water sure is blue.

For more information on Crater Lake, call 541-594-2211 or visit the official Web site at www.nps.gov/crla/ or the Crater Lake listing at gorp.com.

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