Pin Me

The Uniqueness of Crater Lake: Formation, Myths and More

written by: KennethSleight•edited by: Sarah Malburg•updated: 4/21/2011

Crater Lake in Klamath County, Oregon is one of the most spectacular natural features on Earth. What is unique about Crater Lake? Is it the deep blue color of the lake that has left visitors lost for words, some even calling it an “indescribable blue”?

  • slide 1 of 6

    Crater lake oregon There are several things that make this lake unique; from its crystal clear water to its extreme depth. There are Indian myths and a tree stump that has been bobbing around for at least 100 years. Even the islands in the lake offer a bit of personality from the aptly named "phanotm ship" to the largest "Wizard." How it was formed is just as interesting as some of the more enduring features.

  • slide 2 of 6

    How It Formed

    Crater Lake was formed during a massive volcanic eruption. Mount Mazama blew its top over 7700 years ago and caused the top of the mountain to collapse inward forming a caldera. This bowl-shaped hollow then filled with snow and rain forming the lake that we see today.

  • slide 3 of 6

    Common Myths

    Local Native American tribe, The Klamath, have an interesting mythology surrounding the formation of the lake. It is said that a great battle between the god of the heavens, Skell, and the god of the underworld, Llao resulted in the destruction of Skell’s home at the top of Mount Mazama. The detail of the account lends validity to the belief that the Klamath people were actually present at the time of the eruption. The mountain and Crater Lake are still of major spiritual importance to the Klamath and are still the focus of vision quests and rites of passage.

  • slide 4 of 6

    Physical Features

    Crater Lake The amazing clarity of the lake has been attributed to the fact that there are no inlets or feed streams for the lake. All of the water in the caldera is from rain or snowmelt. The limited mineral content in the lake comes from thermal vents in the base of the crater. These vents are ecological hotspots for bacteria and other small organisms in the lake. Besides the great clarity and deep blue color of the lake, there are several other unique physical features.

    This beautiful lake is the deepest in the United States and one of the ten deepest lakes in the entire world, measured at 1,943 feet in 2000.There are two islands in the lake, the largest of which, the one square mile Wizard Island, was formed by a volcanic cinder cone that began to leak after the lake had already begun to form. It rises over 750 feet above the lake surface.

    phantom ship island The second, and much smaller, Phantom Ship was named for its physical appearance. Although it looks small in the aerial views of the lake, it actually rises up over 160 feet from the surface of the lake and is about 300 feet long. This island is comprised of the oldest volcanic rock in the region (a remnant of a previous volcano at the site of Mt. Mazama).

  • slide 5 of 6

    Quick Fun Facts

    CRLA CRLA sounding-machine Crater Lake was first measured in 1886 with a simple piano wire sounding machine at a depth of 1,996 feet. That’s incredibly close to the measurements taken with sonar equipment over a hundred years later.

    Another anomaly in the lake is the presence of a sustained population of at least two species of fish, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon, which were introduced during stocking between 1888 and 1941. There are no indigenous fish due to the way in which the lake was formed.

    Crater Lake was named in 1869 by the editor of the Oregon Sentinel in Jacksonville, John Sutton. He named it for the beautiful symmetrical shape of the bowl. Before this it had been known as the unimaginative “Blue Lake” and “Majesty Lake.”

    Old Man of Crater Lake One of the lesser known attractions at the lake is the "Old Man of the Lake", a tree that has been bobbing up and down vertically in the lake for over a century. It was first documented in 1896 and free floated all over the lake until 1988, when it was tethered to Wizard Island to prevent boating hazards.

    Crater Lake gets an average of 533 inches of snow every year and it isn’t odd to find up to 15 feet of snow on the ground throughout the winter season.

    To see unique things at Crater Lake, here are three government operated webcams in the Crater Lake area that can be viewed by the public.

  • slide 6 of 6


    Image of Lake Relief courtesy of the United States National Parks Service

    Phantom Ship Island courtesy of the United States National Parks Service

    Image of Sounding Machine courtesy of the United States National Parks Service

    Image of Crater Lake courtesy of WikiMedia Commons/Zainubrazvi

    Image of The Old Man at Crater Lake Courtsey of the National Parks Service