The Blue Jewel of Oregon

It’s officially summertime, and here at the ODNP, one of our favorite things about this glorious season in the Pacific Northwest is visiting Crater Lake without the hindrance of snow. Not only do the lake and surrounding landscapes provide breathtaking views and recreational enjoyment; historic newspaper communications played a significant role in advocating for the preservation of the lake and the creation of Crater Lake National Park.

Image of a hand pointing to text that reads: Crater Lake is Open! Finest scenic trip in Oregon now ready for you inspection. Full details at stage office. Western Transfer Company. 419 Main Street, Klamath falls, phone 187

The Evening herald. (Klamath Falls, Or.) July 11, 1921, PAGE SIX, Image 6.

High along the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range in southern Oregon, the magnificent blue lake sparkles as a symbol of both geological and cultural change. The Native American nations of the region, including the Takelma, Upper Umpqua, Molala, and the Klamath people, descendents of the Makalak Nation, have many stories about the formation and existence of the lake, all of which portray the site as a venerable place of great and often dangerous power.

Image of mountains, one with a crater at the top, with test stating: How Crater Lake was formed.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) July 20, 1902, PART THREE, Page 21, Image 21.

Crater Lake was created by an ancient volcano, now known as Mount Mazama, that once reached a soaring height of 12,000 feet, slightly taller than Mount Hood (11,240 feet) but not quite as tall as Mount Shasta (14,179 feet). Approximately 7700 years ago, Mt. Mazama erupted violently, spreading volcanic debris all over Oregon and leaving a huge caldera where the mountain once stood. Over about 750 years, the crater filled with rainwater and snowmelt to form the deepest lake in the United States – 1943 feet deep – at about five by six miles wide. Legends indicate that Native Americans witnessed the eruption of Mt. Mazama and have known about the lake ever since, but early European explorers and traders were never told about the lake because it was believed to be sacred.

Photo of Wizard Island in Crater Lake, covered with snow.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Or.) January 14, 1906, PART FOUR, Page 45, Image 45.

No rivers flow into or out of Crater Lake; it is completely contained, and evaporation and precipitation continually refresh the lake’s water supply, making it the cleanest water in the world. Later volcanic eruptions formed Wizard Island, the signature landmark that rests in the west side of the lake.

Color image of Crater Lake

Wizard Island in Crater Lake. The black and white images found in our historic newspapers do little justice to the dazzling blue color of Crater Lake. Photo by Stuart Seeger.

Europeans first set eyes on the brilliant blue water in 1853, but excitement about the “discovery” took a backseat to the urgency of the gold rush at the time. The first published account of the lake didn’t appear until about ten years later, when Chauncy Nye, leader of an exploratory expedition that stumbled upon the lake in the Cascades, submitted a descriptive article to Jacksonville’s Oregon Sentinel on November 8, 1862:

Excerpt from the first published description of Crater Lake, written by Chauncy Nye: "Before us, and at our feet, lay a large lake, encircled on all sides by steep and almost perpendicular bluff banks, fully as high as that we were standing upon. The circumference of this lake was could not estimate at less than twenty-five miles, and from the banks down to the water, not less than three thousand feet. At no place could we see the remotest chance of being able to climb down to the water, without aid of long ropes and rope ladders. Near the south end of the lake rises a butte island, several hundred feet high, and drifts of snow lay clinging to the crevices of the rocky banks. The waters were of a deep blue color, causing us to name it Blue Lake.

Oregon sentinel. (Jacksonville, Or.) November 08, 1862, Image 2.

Dissemination of information about the lake’s location and striking appearance via Oregon’s early newspapers soon led others to explore the area, and word quickly spread about the lake’s intense beauty. In 1869, editor of the Sentinel, James M. Sutton, led another expedition to the lake and wrote an article for the Jacksonville newspaper in which he referred to the lake for the first time as “Crater Lake”:

Newspaper clipping reads: Crater Lake. In approaching the lake from whatever direction, we had to ascend a mountain; it being located on a high point of the dividing ridge of the cascade mountains. From the south we gradually ascended the mountain through heavy open timber, principally hemlock and spruce, until within two hundred yards of the lake, when we passed out of the timber into a fine grassy lawn mottled with sealberry and other flowering shrubs peculiar to high regions.

Oregon sentinel. (Jacksonville, Or.) August 21, 1869, Image 2.

In 1870, William Gladstone Steel , a young boy living in Kansas at the time, happened to see an article about Crater Lake in the newspaper page that had been used to wrap his lunch. The description fascinated him, and he promised himself that he would visit the lake someday. Steel and his family soon moved to Portland, Oregon, and he was finally able to visit Crater Lake 15 years after he first set eyes on the newspaper article. After viewing the lake for himself, his mind was made up to do whatever it took to preserve the lake as a public park. Steel was included in the first expedition to create a map of the lake in 1886, and he spent the next 16 years lobbying and rallying support for the preservation of Crater Lake.

Birds eye view map of Crater Lake.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) January 01, 1913, NEW YEAR’S EDITION, PAGE EIGHT, Image 8.

In 1893, the lake was included in the Cascade Range Forest Reserve, which offered some protection from mining and lumber interests, but Steel was not satisfied until Crater Lake was officially made into a National Park on May 22, 1902.

Newspaper article reads: Creation of a Park. This wonderful lake was first visited by white men June 12, 1853, and in the early days of Oregon was known as Lake Mystery, Deep Blue Lake, Lake Majesty, Hole in the Ground, and finally as Crater Lake. On August 16, 1885, the work of agitation for a National Park was begun, and on May 22, 1902, President Roosevelt signed Congressman TOngue's bill, and Crater Lake National Park became a permanent fixture in the laws of the country. Immediately thereafter Mr. Tongue secured an appropriation of $2000, and W.F. Arent, of Klamath County, was appointed superintendent. He is deeply interested in the lake and the region surrounding it, and I believe, Is the right man in the right place. I do not know on what plan the park will be managed, but, in my opinion, before improvements are commenced a broad and comprehensive plan should be devised, not only for present needs, but for the future too.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) August 31, 1902, PART FOUR, Page 29, Image 29.

Discussions of building a road to Crater Lake began soon after, in order to improve accessibility to the natural wonder for all people to see.  Controversy surrounding the Crater Lake road system can be traced through Oregon’s historic newspapers, with discussions of the pros and cons of building the roads and especially concerns about the monetary cost of the project:

Newspaper clipping reads: The United States government is spending, under direction of the war department three-fourths of a million dollars in improving and constructing a system of highways around Crater Lake. One hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars has been already appropriated, half of which was spent the last season, and $200,000 additional requested for use the coming year, with $100,000 additional each succeeding year.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) January 01, 1914, NEW YEAR’S EDITION, HIGHWAY SECTION, PAGE FOUR, Image 30.

The road construction effort proved essential to a greater scientific understanding of the lake, allowing geographers, botanists, and other researchers to visit and study the area:

Images of several old style automobiles lined up, with people in and around them. Caption reads: 33 Automobiles Convey Visiting Geographers from Medford to Crater Lake.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) January 01, 1913, NEW YEAR’S EDITION, PAGE EIGHT, Image 8.

Black and white image of four men, with caption: World Famous Botanists on Visit to Crater Lake. Bottom - Dr. Tansley of the University of Cambridge, Dr. Paulsen of the University of Copenhagen, Dr. Rubel of the University of Zurich, and Professor Fuller of the University of Chicago in a Rogue River valley orchard.

Medford mail tribune. (Medford, Or.) January 01, 1914, NEW YEAR’S EDITION, HIGHWAY SECTION, PAGE FOUR, Image 30.

Geological and ecological researchers continue to visit Crater Lake today, and thanks to the ease of access provided by roads, people from all over the world can enjoy the wonderful sights, hike the trails, swim in the lake, and go camping:

Drawing of three tents with people standing around. Caption reads: Camping at Crater Lake.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) August 31, 1902, PART FOUR, Page 29, Image 29.

As the summer sun melts the accumulation of snow along the ridge of the Cascades, the temperature warms up and conditions for enjoying the outdoors at Crater Lake are ideal. Summer brings many opportunities, but a visit to Crater Lake is one of the most unique experiences that Oregon has to offer in the summer months. In the words of William Gladstone Steel, “father” of Crater Lake National Park:

Newspaper article reads: Crater Lake is beginning to be talked about in other states than Oregon, and well it may, for it stands alone in its class in all this world. It has no peer, no rival, to divide its charms, but stands alone, the one, the only Crater Lake. Many years ago, when standing on its walls with the late Professor Le Conte, I asked him how it compared with the Yellowstone or Yosemite. With deep emotion he replied: "Yellowstone has its glories, and so have the Yosemite and Crater Lake, but their grandeur is not in common. You cannot compare unlike things. There is but one Crater Lake!" The overpowering impressiveness of its grandeur cannot be described, and no idea of its masterful influence over the human mind can be conveyed by words. It must be seen to be appreciated.

The Sunday Oregonian. (Portland, Ore.) August 31, 1902, PART FOUR, Page 29, Image 29.

Sources and additional information:

Crater Lake: History. National Park Service and U.S. Dept. of the Interior; Crater Lake National Park, 2010. Web. 29 June, 2012. < >

Crater Lake Institute. Web. 3, July, 2012. < >

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon. National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, 2012. Web. June, 2012. < >

Crater Lake Reflections: Visitor’s Guide. National Park Service and U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Summer/Fall 2012. Web. 29 June, 2012. < >

Oregon Secretary of State. “Oregon Focus: Native American Legends: Crater Lake.”  Oregon Blue Book. 2012. Web. 29 June, 2012. < >

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