A visit to Crater Lake in October offered the rare opportunity to wear flip-flops in the snow. Normally I’m a two-pair-of-wool-socks kind of gal when there’s snow on the ground. But the snow at Crater Lake was only in patches and though the wind was blowing and the air was chilly, it was sunny enough that I was able to manage with lots of layers on top and flip-flops below.
Since we’d driven for hours to get to this off-the-beaten-track natural wonder in south central Oregon, and because I like going barefoot in the car, flip-flops seemed like a reasonable choice when we finally made it to the rim of the crater. I had socks and shoes close at hand—just in case—but never needed them. Perhaps that odd reality had something to do with the vortex of energy that exists at this sacred place. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the ground I was walking on is sacred ground and maybe my subconscious wanted my feet as close to it as possible, even in the late October cold.
This land has been sacred to First Nations people for thousands of years. Native tribes including the Klamaths, the Modocs and the Yahooskin, have lived in Oregon for about 12,000 years, long before Mount Mazama exploded creating Crater Lake. Their oral traditions about the explosion are geologically accurate and the discovery of sagebrush sandals buried in Mount Mazama ash in a nearby cave convince both scientists and archaeologists that ancestors of local tribes witnessed the event.
The sacredness of the land comes from tribal legends that tell of a great battle in which four shamans who possessed “knowledge like the gods” sacrificed themselves to protect their people and stop a war. The spiritual knowledge of the “lost shamans” remains in the waters of Crater Lake to this day. Though the lake is now part of a national park managed by the US park service, tribal peoples still use the area for ritual ceremonies, vision quests, and dances.
Mount Mazama Blew Its Top
Crater Lake is actually a caldera formed by a volcanic eruption nearly 8,000 years ago. It stands isolated on the top of the mountain with no rivers flowing to or from it nor does it have any underground sources of water. The lake is the result of centuries of rain and snow filling the crater that formed when the mountain literally blew its top. The almost 2,000-feet deep lake is surround by cliffs, some of which soar to just shy of 2000 feet high. Nearly five trillion gallons of some of the most pure water on earth fills the crater.
With an average of 44 feet of snow annually and record snowfalls of 73 feet in a single season (winter 1932-33) and 75 feet in a calendar year (1950), the water will continue to keep Crater Lake the deepest lake in the US and the seventh deepest in the world. And although there hasn’t been a volcanic explosion since the lake was formed, the presence of heat vents in the deep blue water remind us that this lake is a part of the still-active volcanic Cascade Range that stretches from British Columbia to Northern California.
Summer Visits Have Most Options
If you want to feel the sacred majesty of Crater Lake, you can visit all year round but a summertime visit will allow you to traverse the 33-mile route along the rim by car or bike, stay at camping sites and hotels in the park, and eat at restaurants in the park (such facilities are closed the rest of the year). Hiking trails from simple walks to challenging climbs entice you to explore more than lake vistas and for the brave of heart there’s even swimming.
This sacred ground is worth more than the short exploration we had that chilly October visit. I plan to go back again to put my bare feet on that sacred ground.