12 Deep Facts About Crater Lake National Park

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iStock

If you aspire to be one of about 500,000 people who trek to Crater Lake National Park each year, chances are you'll try to spot its strikingly blue lake during one of just three or four months when there isn’t snow on the ground. But the area has more than liquid assets. Located in southern Oregon, Crater Lake National Park’s 183,224 acres are filled with evergreens, old-growth forests, and volcano remnants. Here are 15 more highlights from Oregon’s only national park.

1. THE PARK’S NAMESAKE FEATURE WAS FORMED FROM A COLLAPSED VOLCANO.

The basin that eventually became Crater Lake formed when a 12,000-foot-tall volcano called Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed 7,700 years ago. The volcanic basin, called a caldera, eventually filled with water and became the lake that we know today.

2. CRATER LAKE IS THE DEEPEST LAKE IN THE U.S.

Bottoming out at 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America. (For some perspective, if you placed New York City's One World Trade Center at Crater Lake’s deepest part, there would still be 151 feet of water above the tower’s highest point.) The body of water also ranks as the ninth deepest lake internationally.

3. THE AREA WAS ONCE REVERED BY THE KLAMATH PEOPLE.

Long before it became a national park, the Klamaths and other Native American tribes considered the lake to be a spiritual place; only those who possessed great wisdom and strength could view it. Llao Rock, which rises nearly 2,000 feet above the lake’s surface, is named after one of the Spirit Chiefs that the Klamath believed created Crater Lake.

4. A CHILDHOOD DREAM LED TO IT BEING DESIGNATED AS A NATIONAL PARK.

In 1870, a child in Kansas named William Gladstone Steel read about Crater Lake in a newspaper. He vowed to visit the lake one day, and finally did in 1885. Steel then made it his mission to have Crater Lake named as a national park, which finally happened on May 22, 1902.

5. THERE ARE NO STREAMS FLOWING IN OR OUT OF THE LAKE.

The water level is maintained only by precipitation, evaporation, and seepage, which helps to explain the water’s clarity and extremely blue appearance. In fact, when white explorers discovered the area in 1853, that’s exactly what they called the pristine body of water: Deep Blue Lake.

6. SNOW COVERS THE PARK FOR EIGHT MONTHS OF THE YEAR.

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The park is snow-covered from October through June, but with an average annual snowfall of 44 feet, snow can stick around into July. Although it’s cold enough for flakes to fly, the lake itself doesn’t completely freeze over. The last time the surface was completely frozen was 1949, though it came close to a total freeze in 1985.

7. THERE IS A SHIP-SHAPED ISLAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE LAKE.

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Known as Phantom Ship, the island is an ancient rock formation resembling a large, abandoned sea vessel standing 170 feet above the water.

8. A DESERT OF PUMICE STRETCHES ACROSS THE NORTHERN PART OF THE PARK.

The eruption of Mount Mazama shot astronomical amounts of ash skyward, and helped create the park’s Pumice Desert, approximately 50 feet deep, following the eruption. The desert is porous and cannot sustain much plant life, though what does exist there is rugged enough to endure the landscape.

9. THERE IS ALSO A PUMICE CASTLE ON THE GROUNDS.

If a pumice desert isn’t enough volcanic rock for you, then perhaps a castle will do the trick. The park’s Pumice Castle is a bright, rust-colored pumice outcropping on the eastern wall of the caldera.

10. THE PARK'S PINNACLES, A COLLECTION OF NEEDLE-LIKE ROCK FORMATIONS, WERE REVEALED AFTER YEARS OF EROSION.

The tall, skinny forms rising above the Sand Creek Canyon once acted as vents for steam and gas that swirled below the canyon’s surface. The rising heat solidified the ash into the towering pumice figures that stand at over 50 feet.

11. WIZARD ISLAND ISN'T MAGICAL.

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Don't expect to find Harry Potter on the island. Named for its resemblance to a sorcerer’s hat, Wizard Island is the top of a cinder cone volcano within Crater Lake. Boat tours of the lake include a stop at the island to let visitors get a closer look at the 800-year-old trees growing there.

12. A HEMLOCK HAS BEEN FLOATING UPRIGHT IN THE LAKE FOR OVER A CENTURY.

When people talk about the Old Man of the Lake, they aren’t disrespecting their elders; they’re talking about Crater Lake’s 30-foot-tall floating hemlock. Visitors can try to spot the four-foot section that rises above the lake as the wind currents slowly move it along.

Amazon's Best Cyber Monday Deals on Tablets, Wireless Headphones, Kitchen Appliances, and More

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Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

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Watch: In 1948, Idaho Officials Sent 76 Beavers Parachuting Into Idaho’s Wilderness

A young beaver with all four feet firmly on the ground.
A young beaver with all four feet firmly on the ground.
yrjö jyske, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

When people started building up the area around Idaho’s Payette Lake after World War II, its original residents began interfering with irrigation and agricultural endeavors. They weren’t exactly staging an organized protest—they were just beavers doing what beavers do.

Nevertheless, officials at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game decided their best bet was to find a new home for the long-toothed locals. The surrounding wilderness provided plenty of options, but transportation was another issue entirely. Traversing the undeveloped, mountainous terrain would require both trucks and pack animals, and experts knew from past relocation efforts that beavers weren’t fond of either.

“Beavers cannot stand the direct heat of the sun unless they are in water,” department employee Elmo W. Heter explained in a 1950 report [PDF]. “Sometimes they refuse to eat. Older individuals often become dangerously belligerent ... Horses and mules become spooky and quarrelsome when loaded with a struggling, malodorous pair of live beavers.”

To keep Payette Lake’s beavers healthy and happy during the journey, their human handlers would need to find another method of travel. As Boise State Public Radio reports, that’s when Heter suggested making use of their leftover WWII parachutes.

Two beavers would sit inside a wooden box attached to a parachute, which could be dropped from an airplane between 500 and 800 feet above their new home in the Chamberlain Basin. The cables that fastened the box to the parachute would keep it shut during the flight, but they’d slacken enough for the beavers to open the box upon landing. After testing the operation with weights, Heter and his colleagues enlisted an older beaver named Geronimo for a few live trials.

“Poor fellow!” Heter wrote. “You may be sure that ‘Geronimo’ had a priority reservation on the first ship into the hinterland, and that three young females went with him.”

Once Geronimo had certified the safety of the mission, the team began migrating the whole beaver population. During the fall of 1948, a total of 76 beavers touched down in their new territory. It wasn’t without tragedy, though; one beaver fell to his death after a cable broke on his box. Overall, however, the venture was deemed much safer (and less expensive) than any trip on foot would have been. And when department officials checked in on the beavers a year later, they had already started improving their ecosystem.

“Beavers had built dams, constructed houses, stored up food, and were well on their way to producing colonies,” Heter wrote. As Idaho Fish and Game’s Steve Liebenthal told Boise State Public Radio, the area is now part of “the largest protected roadless forest” in the continental U.S.

You can watch the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s full 14-minute documentary about the process below.

[h/t Boise State Public Radio]